A couple years have passed since Staind frontman Aaron Lewis announced he was going country. Although some might wonder how he balances the two genres – Staind hasn’t officially broken up – Lewis said he has been focusing entirely on country music, an appreciation for which he developed while living with his grandfather in rural Vermont, before moving to New Hampshire and then on to Massachusetts at age 13. But not just any country. His influences mirror his grandfather’s tastes: The outlaws of country music. Lewis comes to Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel Dec. 11 – 14 to perform songs from his recently released album, “The Road.”
You got into country because of your grandfather. Can you tell me a little bit about some of your influences there?
My grandfather loved that outlaw country: Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels.
Would you say those are your influences as well?
Absolutely, that’s the music I was basically being forced-fed as a child (laughs).
Not so much, to be quite honest with you, especially once I was old enough to choose what I wanted to listen to myself, because I really didn’t have a choice back then. It also helps that the people I was friends with, and I had moved away from Vermont where my grandfather was and all that country music was, and now everybody around me was listening to rock and the very first Twisted Sister record and like Quiet Riot and that first wave of stuff from the ’80s. I ended up going down that path and ended up in a rock band. And now I’m old and life goes in circles and I feel like I can relate a lot more these days in life to country music. Now, am I saying what you hear on country radio is country music – no, that is not what I’m saying at all. But I find that I tend to relate to country music more these days as an old man (He’s 41).
I find your draw to outlaw country interesting, and wonder if there’s a rock connection there for you?
Well, Waylon Jennings was a guitarist in a rock band before he came over to country. I guess the correlation is that there has always been that bad boy image to being a rock star and playing rock ‘n’ roll and that same kind of bad boy image is also there in outlaw country. Not that I’m some bad boy, but I certainly fit the mold.
What can Vegas audiences expect?
Mostly country music. I’ll stick a couple of songs during the break down in the middle of the set that aren’t country, and I’ll throw in a couple of songs that I have written over the years, but it’s primarily supporting the country record that I have out.
What were the album’s influences?
I tried to not let too much influence come in. I just tried to naturally tap into what in the back of my mind, in my world, was country. And just try to go with that, flow with that.
And what is country to you?
Music that tugs at the heartstrings, music of the heartbeat of America. It’s the music of the heartland. It’s the music of the folks that don’t live in the big city that really make up the mainstay of this country.
Do you see yourself ever leaving rock behind and devoting yourself entirely to country?
I don’t know. That’s kind of what I’ve done right now, because of the fact Staind is just not touring and not doing anything. We’re not in the studio making another record or anything. So, I’ve kind of turned the corner and doing all country music now, but there will definitely come a time when it’s time for Staind to make another record again.
Are any of you guys writing?
For Staind? No.
(Lead guitarist) Mike (Mushok) has a solo record coming out that he has a whole bunch of guest vocalists on. I think Cory Taylor (lead singer for Slipknot) did a song, Adam (Gontier) from Three Days Grace did a couple songs, Ivan (Moody) from Five Finger Death Punch did a song, (and) I’m doing a song. We might release the song that I do basically as a Staind single, but we’ll see.
When about is that coming around?
Oh, I don’t know.
You grew up in New England. For a lot of people, when you think country, you think cowboys, but from what I remember of living in Massachusetts, there’s not a whole bunch of country.
Well, where did you live?
I lived in East Boston.
Yeah, exactly. Come out to my end of the state. I’m about a half an hour from the New York (state) line in a town of 1,200 people, and tell me there isn’t any country in Massachusetts.
OK. Fair enough. Do you feel like you’re a part of the changing sound of country music? It’s starting to reach wider audiences and it’s much more mainstream.
Do I feel like I’m a part of that? Thankfully, absolutely, not. If anything, I am clinging on for dear life to what was country and in my mind is country. What’s being called country now, isn’t so much.
You’re more of the outlaw, then. Is that how you’d describe your music?
Absolutely. Against the grain (and) the mainstream country that’s going on right now.
Which seems to totally suit you. You’ve got the tattoos, the rocker persona, when they hear your name, that’s who they think of.
Well, not on purpose. It’s just how I feel it. I really don’t relate and don’t feel this pop-ified country that is so prevalent today.
How is writing country music different from writing for metal?
It really just differs in the sense that I can write songs in a different way.
Can you write about experiences..?
Yeah, I can tell stories in my songs instead of picking my psychological scabs, if that makes any sense.
It’s like what you were saying, growing up or a much more mature music.
Yeah, I guess so. It really comes down to being able to tell stories about life without it being so exposing, I guess, in more of a true to facts – not facts, because it’s not like I was making up the stuff with Staind – but it was more internal. With the country thing, I can tell external stories. A perfect example, “Endless Summer.” It’s a story about taking my daughters to the beach for a weekend. It’s not about my internal struggles, it’s not about my pain from childhood, it’s not about any of that. It’s about taking my daughters to the beach for the weekend. It really kind of frees me up to be able to not pick those proverbial psychological scabs and just tell stories.
How are your fans responding to you now vs. when you were writing and performing for Staind?
It’s a mix. I’m pretty happy to say that more so are accepting than unaccepting, but there are some people out there that would really, really like nothing more than for me to never sing another country song. But there are people out there that would like nothing more for me to never sing another song again period, Staind or otherwise. You can’t please everybody. I’m inspired. The last Staind record took upwards of six months to create and record and this country record I did last year, “The Road,” took 30 hours to create and record. So there’s a level of inspiration that’s there that I haven’t had in a long time.
Are you saying the creativity is flowing a lot more easily?
So easily. I found myself walking through the airport this morning and my pedal steel player Ben (Kitterman) said some line about it being 10 miles from his house to the door of the something – I don’t remember – and it instantly triggered lyrics in a song, a country song, in my head. I’m just following my inspiration and anybody who can’t understand that obviously does not understand inspiration and life.
Your song “Party in Hell” is about a Vegas trip, from what I understand.
It was written in Las Vegas. I wrote it in the basement of the Palms Hotel, in the recording studio, so that’s where the lines, “And the devil be dealing the cards as they lay” that’s where those lines came from.
Do you think there might be a country version?
(laughs) Well, I’m sure I can write one, for sure. The closest thing to hell is Las Vegas, where there’s no consequences to anyone’s actions and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.