INTERVIEW: Tracy Lawrence "The Rock"

Tracy Lawrence is an icon in the genre of country music. His songs have always had a message and a meaning as well as story lines his listeners could relate to. As Tracy emerges with his new CD titled THE ROCK, he keeps a promise to his parents who have been encouraging him to record a spiritual album for years.

A few words taken from the promotional packet included with an advance copy of the CD that I felt summarizes the feeling of the music and sets a mood on what you can expect on this project.

“In youth, the road of life is paved with distractions and temptations. A false sense of invincibility and immortality skews our vision and direction; dreams of riches and the perception of our own mortality blur the line between fantasy and reality. A meaningful life has chapters – each more fulfilling with learned patience and faith. Character replaces ignorance; pride replaces shame, truth in place of deception, hope for despair, forgiveness of guilt and harmony where none existed all in the cradling arms of God."

Tracy and I took a few moments to chat about this new project and how life has changed him and what the future might hold.

Bev: I know you have waited for many years to do this project, do you recall the moment you decided this was the right time?

Tracy: I jut knew in my heart that the time was right. I grew up very spiritually and the road I have traveled to come full circle back to this place I am in right now in my personal life has taken me a long time. I think my kids have been a big part of the decision as well. My wife and I agree it is very important to raise our children with the church, so we have started to attend services again and be involved with the church and making it a priority in our lives. It has had a positive affect on me in a lot of good ways. I ran from it for a very long time. God has protected me from myself for a very long time. I did not want anything to do with it, and it is really strange, because this project has probably landed in my lap at one of the most appropriate times when you look at the situation the country is in and it truly feels like there has been an upper hand in it.

Bev: Speaking of raising your own children in a Christian way, was your own upbringing in a strict religious fashion or were you not exposed to it so much?

Tracy: It was pretty strict. We attended church every Sunday and I was very very involved in the youth activities in our church. I was president of our local UMC Youth Group and I was elected the district president, youth delegate, and you name it. There was a point that I actually considered going to seminary. Country music had such a strong hold on me and I felt so strongly about following the music, that I chose that path. Looking back now, I believe that this was all a part of his plan and that the full circle was to enable me to experience some of the bad so that I could be in the place I find myself now. I have seen life from so many perspectives, that I am now able to write some of the best music I have ever written in my life because I have so much to draw from; bad marriages, bad mistakes, just so many things that as an artist, the more you live the more believable the songs are when you write them. Had I done the same songs at twenty three, they would not be accepted the same as they are today.

Bev: In the past you have always had songs which had a story line and a meaning, did you try and incorporate that same concept into this CD project or were you aiming for a different direction?

Tracy: I did not want to depart from what I have done in the past. I did not have a blueprint of exactly what I was looking for, I just knew as I listened to all the songs what hit home for me and which songs moved me, and those are the kinds of songs I wanted to put together to make this album. I did not have a goal to choose any specific sound or have a specific message.

Bev: Being a husband and parent, how has it changed the way you view life and your career?

Tracy: For me I am in a place where every decision I make I put my family into consideration first, where it used to be all about me; all of the time. It is a drastically different for me, and what blows my mind is the less focus I put on me and the more I put others first, it seems the more success I gain in my own career. Everything seems to fall into place and life continually gets a little easier. I wish I could have figured that out ten years ago.

Bev: How do you feel you have changed as an artist and songwriter from when you first started to where you are now?

Tracy: I have grown a lot. The kid in me is still there, but the one thing I have noticed is that there was a point in time when I lost my passion for the music, but I am very proud to say I have found it again. I am enjoying writing again, and performing and getting up on stage. I am so thankful after almost twenty years on the road that I can get out there and sing “Sticks and Stones” and enjoy it, because there are many who do lose it and not find the love of it again. I am happy at home, and I have found the peace and foundation to enjoy my family and all that encompasses. It is special to me and I think all of those factors reflect in my music.

Bev: Do you think that you lost the passion because of the business side of the music or were there other factors that pushed you away?

Tracy: It was a lot of the business side. I will admit I made the business much too much of a high of a priority in my life and even towards the end of last year, I found myself overwhelmed. We had opened our own company here and I was here every day when I was not on the road, and we were trying to get new acts recognition and I got to a point where I knew I needed to be where I could be creative and writing and let others do the business side. When I did that, I accomplished so much and have already written more than 20 new songs and have been able to channel the negativity into creativity.

Bev: Do you feel more pressure now that you own your own label?

Tracy: Oh, without a doubt. I am the captain of the ship and if I am not working, the bills do not get paid. There is office staff, the people on the road and I am the guy that has to make sure we are successful and things as a whole are successful. I got to a point that I really had to ask myself what the priorities were for me and what I needed to do to take care of those priorities in my personal space and life.

Bev: Are you the kind of person who always says yes when asked to do something and then find yourself overwhelmed trying to keep everyone happy?

Tracy: No. I am pretty good at saying no. I am a very structured person. I am used to being pulled in many directions at one time. I do not give any answers or make and decisions without looking at my calendar. I always want to know what is going on around me and I like to know what I have going on in my life. This is the one thing that does keep me sane.

Bev: You have amazing talent as writers on this CD, how involved were you with the songs, or did you select them after they were written?

Tracy: I chose the songs after they were written; I did not make any lyrical changes at all. I did structurally change them so that the album came out as dynamic as it could be and I was very involved in making sure the tracks moved and transitioned.

Bev: The song “Jesus Come Talk To Your Children” has a choir that sings with you, is this a special group of people or do they have a significance to the album, or is it just a back-up choir?

Tracy: It is a group of back up singers; it is very cool isn’t it?

Bev: Do you find it easier to sing something you have written and possibly have a connection too or is it just as easy to sing someone else’s song?

Tracy: No it is not a factor for me. When you spend a lot of time with a song once you have chosen it, you become connected to it.

Bev: Do you find yourself choosing songs you have a personal connection too over songs that are simply jingles or message free?

Tracy: Absolutely. I never have been the kind of artist to sing a little ditty. I need something that is personal and I can sing and be happy with the rest of my life.

Bev: I have seen you perform many times, both in small personal settings and in big arenas. You always connect with the crowd, do you prefer on kind of setting over another?

Tracy: No I am just as comfortable in a large arena as I am a small stage. I have gotten so that lately, I am enjoying the intimate acoustic shows in front of very small crowds, but comfort wise I do not have a preference.

Bev: Let’s talk about awards. Which one of your is the most treasured?

Tracy: The ACM and CMA awards that I won last couple years mean more to me, for many reasons. When I went through my divorce in the nineties and I watched so many doors close to me because of how nasty the whole situation was, I spent may years rebuilding my career and to be on an independent label and have my first number one record in ten years; then to win an ACM off of it was extremely validating for me. As I bounced around the major music labels it was very frustrating for me to feel that what I had to say and contribute did not matter. This really gave me a boost and proved my worthiness not only the industry and my fans, but to myself that I still knew what I was doing and had a lot to contribute.

Bev: You always hear stories of the fans telling you how much a song means to them, have you ever gotten a new song idea because of a reaction someone had to a different song?

Tracy: Wow, no, I cannot think of a situation that I have written one from that kind of scenario.

Bev: Going back to “The Rock”, do you think being strong in one genre and now reaching over to another is a benefit since you are a household name already, or do you feel you have to start all over again with the Christian genre?

Tracy: I am not trying to be a Christian artist. I have seen so many artist who have had success in the country format, and feel they do not have anything left to give in this genre, that go to another format. I felt that I am back in the game, I am not desperately looking for a new audience, but I want to share a message and for the right reasons; to move people. I hope if nothing else to bring more of an audience into the country music format that may not have been before. This is a powerful project and I think it will combine the audiences.

Bev: Your parents encouraged you to do this kind of album for years, what are they saying now?

Tracy: They are very happy to see where I am in my life and career. As a parent that is what we all want to see in our children.

Bev: Talk to me about the songs on this album, do you have a favorite to sing?

Tracy: There is one, it is called “I’m Done” and it reflects so much about me and where I am personally. I am ready to let go, move on and when I heard the song, it really moved me.

Bev: I read recently you are venturing into a new arena in the digital arena as well bringing the concerts to the fans in a digital download, can you elaborate on that?

Tracy: We are offering live performances over the internet to the fans. We are recording every night, full songs and more often than not, full shows. It will be all audio, not video. There have been a couple songs I have written this year I already have in my live show, and it is the only way you can get these songs right now is to get them in this fashion.

Bev: Of all the songs you have written, what is your favorite? Why?

Tracy: “Front Porch” is my favorite that I have written and the one I did not write is “Time Marches On”. Lyrically it says more in three minutes than any song out there.

Bev: You are involved with charities and have done a lot of fundraisers and helped in many ways, do you have any one in particular you are close too?

Tracy: My non-profit organization, The Tracy Lawrence Foundation back home in Texas which I have been doing for fifteen years. We have two different scholarships at two different Universities, we have built a pavilion for an orphanage, put computers in the high school, helped the police department and fire department, we have raised money for the local Alzheimer’s chapter and in so many other ways we have been able to give to others in need.

Bev: Do you have a specific event that raises the funds or how do you raise the money?

Tracy: I have two. There is a golf tournament every April and a concert in June. This will be the last year for the concert. I have tapped out on that by asking all my friends to contribute (jokingly says he has run out of friends), it is hard to keep a committee this long and it has run its course. The golf tournament raises a large amount of money and has less overhead so we will just do the golf thing for now.

Bev: Will you replace the concert with anything else?

Tracy: I am actually am wanting to start a non-profit in Tennessee and start up a golf tournament here because there are local things I would like to do and to help with, so this is something I am planning on getting started.

Bev: You used your own band in the studio on this project, how did you arrive at the decision to record in this way and do you feel this is becoming more and more common?

Tracy: I felt like I was confident enough in myself as a producer that I could make it work, but also felt like the guys in the band rose to the occasion and are just as good as the studio musicians. We cut twelve tracks in two days and that is what I set out to do. I definitely think I will continue to do this on future projects. It adds something to the synergy and makes everyone a part of the project, plus it gives them some incentive because they get a piece of it. I would like to see it become more of a trend in the music industry. I think it takes more preparation; you have to be efficient with your time when you do not have a big label behind you.

Bev: Do you have your own studio you work out of in your home?

Tracy: No, I feel like I am much more productive and fresh if I can get up and go to the studio vs. working from home. I want to be able to come home and leave my work at work and enjoy my time with my family when I am there.

Bev: Besides the traditional radio promotions, are you doing anything out of the ordinary to promote this CD?

Tracy: We are doing some commercial advertising with this project, and of course doing the Christian radio format as well. Otherwise we will be doing all the same marketing structures as we have in the past. We utilize the internet and other mediums out there to get the word out to the fans.

Bev: Have you gotten caught up in the world of technology and all the social networking, Twitter, Facebook etc?

Tracy: I do not participate in any of it. I text on my phone and check my email, but I personally do not have time to do all of that. I have staff members that keep my fans updated using that technology though.

Bev: Do you feel these are beneficial to bringing fans and artist’s closer on a personal basis or are there boundaries where too much information is available to anyone these days?

Tracy: I have always believed that there is a lot to be said about the mystique of being an artist. I do not feel it is necessary for fans to have all your personal information. I think people are so consumed nowadays with all of it.

Bev: Tracy, it is always great to see you and I always enjoy talking to you. I wish you all the best with this project.

Tracy: Thank you so much it was good seeing you too and thank you for the time you put into doing this for us.

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