Released this past Tuesday (Dec. 3), Days of Gold is the Vero Beach, Florida native’s fourth studio album, coming after 2011’s massively successful Barefoot Blue Jean Night. That album produced four No. 1 songs in a row, perhaps most notably the grinning title track, which has turned into something of a signature song for Owen.
But as he explained in an interview with Radio.com this week, Owen may have grown up in Florida, where a good time means friends hanging on the beach, but there’s a lot more to him musically than just “Barefoot Blue Jean Night. Yhat’s where Days of Gold comes in. Songs like the easygoing “Beachin'” and the pumped-up title track may echo the good-time vibes of previous hits, but at the same time he deliberately chose to exhibit a wide range of styles, songs and moods this time around. “I want people to see all sides of me and not just be a one trick pony,” he said.
So for every “Days of Gold,” there’s also a “Ghost Town” or “What We Ain’t Got.” The latter is a slow, introspective song that is easily among the album’s highlights — and was a surprising hit during Owen’s live shows this summer, even though it was still months away from release. On the album, “What We Ain’t Got” is stripped down and bare, just Owen with a piano and a steel guitar. He admits that puts it at quite a distance both musically and emotionally from what he calls “the rocking chaos” of the album’s title track, but as he explained, “I think those are two songs that complement each other in a weird way” — the yin and yang that make Days of Gold, as a whole, a compelling listen.
After touring stadiums in past years opening for Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean, Owen will be hitting the road in 2014 as a headliner. And he’s determined to create a live show that stands out. “I’ve progressed over the years and learned about myself,” he explains, which includes having an increased “comfort level” on stage. Sure, he’ll bring the hits — and he may just have a few more big ones under his belt by then — but as he puts it, it’s perhaps most important to create a genuine experience and “make people feel that you care about them.”
Radio.com: Tell us about the title track, “Days of Gold.” Was it a song that grabbed you immediately when you first heard it?
Jake Owen: It did. It was on a friend of mine’s album, the Cadillac Three — their first album [watch a live version]. Nothing ever happened [for them] with that song, and I was always a fan of it. I used to ride around in my truck listening to that song, going, ‘Man! I’d love to sing this.’ So when I asked [them] if it was OK if I recorded it, [they were] gracious enough to say ‘yeah.’ And I put my own little spin on it.
Growing up in Florida and being someone who was used to always living in the sunshine…I thought it was really important to have a song that personified that. [And] just with the melodic structure and the tempo of that song, it seemed very conducive for the kind of atmosphere I want to have at my concerts that we’re headlining next year.
Is there one song on the record that represents where you are musically right now?
I wish I could give you one song, but I really, truly believe the whole record does. I think that’s the point of records, to show people where you are musically and creatively. If you listen to the album, there’s songs like ‘What We Ain’t Got’ [that is] a long way from ‘Days of Gold’ in terms of melodic structure and even lyrics. I feel like, even in the most golden days, you can dream of more and want more. And as great as things are going right now for me, I still find myself wanting to be better. So I find that I’m always pushing myself to want more than what’s right in front of me. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a selfish thing, it’s just being a competitor, and wanting to be better.
[The song ‘What We Ain’t Got’] is definitely a musical statement, just me and a piano and a steel guitar, which is a long way from the rocking chaos in the song ‘Days of Gold.’ So I think those are two songs that complement each other in a weird way, because they are so far apart from one another.
It’s interesting to hear you put such positive, personal spin on “What We Ain’t Got.”
The song itself — and honestly too, the songs “Life of the Party” and “Ghost Town” — a lot of these songs have the sentiment of, the girl or the significant other is gone, and you wish you had them back. But for me, I don’t think songs have to be literal in order for [listeners] to truly relate to them. I’ve definitely been there before, where I’ve let someone go that I shouldn’t have. And looking back I could probably have been a better person. But where I am in my life right now, I have everything I need. I have a wife that I love, and a beautiful girl [his 1-year-old daughter Pearl]. But I kinda also want to be better dad, I want to be a better husband. And I think that’s that same sentiment of wanting more than what you have right now.
Since you brought up “Ghost Town,” can you talk about what first struck you about it?
That was actually the first song I recorded for the album. It was just because when I heard it, it’s infectious. The way that the verse runs into the chorus, and then the chorus runs into this post-chorus. It’s kinda like it never stops. Making an album, it’s important to have songs that melodically make people not forget them, but also [inspire you] to sing along.
A lot of the sentiments in these songs are places I’ve been and feelings I’ve felt. I think if you know where you’ve been in your life, and you know where you want to go in your life, and you know where you are in your life, all at the same time, then you can feel pretty grounded. Whereas there’s been many times in my life where I didn’t really know where I was, much less where I was headed. And to finally have all three of those things put together in my life, it made it a lot easier to go, ‘OK I’ve felt this emotion before, I want to sing about it.’
Considering that [on this record] I recorded all outside songs, as opposed to the first couple where I wrote everything, it really freed me up to be able to sing about those emotions without necessarily feeling the pressure to re-create them [through songwriting].