Eric Church goes deep in our Q&A, talking about his new album ‘Heart & Soul,’ how music will save us, and why you can’t go half-Meat Loaf.
The country-music rebel on his wildly ambitious triple album, needing to get back on the road, and why you can’t go half-Meat Loaf
Ampersand‘s purple?” I sat back, and I went, “Maybe. That’s interesting.” I could kind of see how that would look. But I was never a fan of “And.”You’ve committed to touring in the fall. What is your vision for how we all get back to shows, whether they’re in a club, a field or an arena?
I think it starts with vaccinations. I think that is critical. I’ve said to everybody, “Listen, I’ve been in every meeting, every phone call. I’ve looked at this every way you can look at this. And the easiest way, the fastest way, for us to get back is not vaccines, it’s vaccinations.” It’s needles in arms. I’m a big proponent of that. There’s going to be festivals that play this summer, at capacity. It’s going to happen.
In the United States?Yes. There’s going to be a couple that happen in June. But they will happen, and once the vaccine is fully available, I believe we’re going to play in the fall. The issue is going to be the municipalities and how do you do that, because I’m not sure that’s an [all] 50 state deal. This has been the most challenging thing by a mile that I’ve ever seen. You don’t need a plan — you need a plan and 52 contingency plans, because it’s a moving target. I think a lot of [artists] kind of punted to ’22, and ’22 is going to be good. But I think we’ll play in the fall. I think we’ll play in arenas in the fall. I think we’ll play at capacity in the fall. A lot of that depends on vaccinations and if these numbers continue improving. I anticipate that they will. headtopics.com
Did you get your vaccination?Yes. And here’s what I would encourage everybody to do. Take it upon yourself for your own health. What I did was, early on, I [registered with my first name] as Kenneth Church, not as Eric. I put myself on a waiting list on numerous sites and got a call from a county near where I live. They said they had vaccines that were expiring and if I wanted to do it, I could do it. But I took that upon myself: People should be looking for these things until [vaccines are] widely available. Very soon they’re going to be widely available and at that point in time, I would encourage anyone who can, to get the vaccine. It’s common sense to me. The fastest way for me to strap on a guitar and have people there that I can shake a hand with and jump in a pit with is a vaccination. Period.
Social justice and racial issues have dominated country music this year. Does it feel like the genre is at an inflection point?Yeah, maybe, and I think that’s great… Historically, diversity is always the best thing for the music. Always, no matter what genre you’re in, diversity usually leads to some breakthrough things. That’s what you want. That’s what you’re trying to inspire. And I think it’s great for country music. I do think we’re at a pivotal moment. I think it’s a moment that’s been coming for a long time, and I think it’s a healthy moment. I feel like we’re in the same place the country is in. I think we as country music represent the United States of America in a lot of ways. We’re having a lot of the same conversations about the same stuff. The important thing is we continue to move the dialog and we continue to have those conversations. And I can tell you when I walked to the mic at the Super Bowl to sing [the national anthem] with an African-American R&B singer [Jazmine Sullivan], what was going on in our format was on my mind. And the fact that it’s on my mind means that we probably got a lot of things to address.
Did it sting when you saw the video of Morgan Wallen using a racial slur? He cut a song that you co-wrote, “Quittin’ Time,” on his album.Yeah. It was a heartbreaking deal. Heartbreaking is the best thing I can say. Morgan’s got to work on Morgan now and where that goes. I think that’s something I hope he does, and anticipate he’ll do. I think that as a format, though, we just have to continue to strive to be better, and I think it can end up being a really healthy thing. As we have these conversations, it’s a good thing for all of us.
In your 2018cover story, you said, “We don’t talk to each other enough. We dig in, we don’t listen and we don’t talk.” Do you feel that we’ve gotten better or worse at that?Worse. I think Covid’s made it a lot worse just because without concerts, without sporting events, everything has been about what divides us as a society. “Which side are you on?” And that’s insane to me. It’s asinine, because when I play a concert, those 20,000 people or 50,000, whatever they are, they don’t have a side. They got their arm around the guy beside them and they’re singing a song. Tribalism is the most dangerous thing. headtopics.com
Let’s go back to the Super Bowl for a moment. Issinging the anthemas nerve-wracking as they say?More, more. In a show, if you come out and you have some nerves, you got four or five songs to work them off and you’re in your groove. The anthem’s different. We rehearsed on Friday on the field and they had a video that they played and I made the mistake of looking at the video. It was all these patriotic images of soldiers. Then the color guard came up and one of the soldiers kind of gave me this [
salutes]. And dude, I almost couldn’t sing. I told Katherine, my wife, after that: “If you see me staring at my feet the night of the Super Bowl, it’s because I can’t look at what’s going on around me.”So Super Bowl night, we come in the tunnel early — they get you there like two and a half hours before you gotta sing. The color guard was there and they were praying. And one of the Marines, an African-American Marine, turned around and said, “Permission to shake your hand, sir?” I have not had a handshake since Covid started. And I went, “Granted, yessir.” He took his white glove off — and keep in mind we’ve been tested to death, so this is not unsafe — and he shook my hand and then all 15 of them did. Then I walked to the mic, and that’s when I realized this is about more than just what this means to me or a career or whatever that shit is. It’s about the country, it’s about those people, it’s about the [country music] format. I felt like I needed to represent the format in that moment and it just added to all the energy and the emotion of it. I felt every ounce of that.
So maybe they’ll ask you to do the halftime show next.That’d be something ….You’re going to be 44 in May. What’s motivating you now?Getting back onstage and getting us back to normalcy. I believe music is going to be the thing that’s going to save us all, because it always has. You go back to Roman times, and it was about the painters, it was the writers. It was about the bohemians that had their finger on the pulse of what was going on. We’re in unprecedented times. People talk about 1918, but what I always throw back at them is, “How many touring acts were national acts in 1918? Who tried to tour?” Nobody’s ever tried to do what we’re all trying to do to get everybody back in [venues]. And it is complicated and it is hard, but I believe it’s absolutely worth the effort. I had somebody ask me, “Why 2021? Why not just wait?” I don’t think we can wait. I think it’s too important to wait. I think we got to try. So that’s where I’m holding out hope. I’m just trying to get the guitar on again and start to put back together all the pieces that are broken.Read more: Rolling Stone »
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