In 2005, after nearly a decade of honing his skills and waiting for a chance to score a single that resonated with fans, Rodney Atkins scored with the hit “Honesty (Write Me A List)” and while the Honesty album didn’t have another hit like the title track, it did showcase to fans that Rodney Atkins was a talent worthy of paying attention to. Rodney paid those fans back with his follow-up album, If You’re Going Through Hell, which featured the title track and was followed-up at radio with three more Number One chart hits in “Watching You,” “These Are My People” and “Cleanin’ This Gun (C’Mon Boy).”
After the platinum success of that album, Rodney and his team went back to work to record the follow-up album It’s America [click to read the review]. The lead single was the title track and it too became a chart-topping hit. The follow-up single “15 Minutes” proved to be a bit too quirky for country radio and stalled inside the Top 20. Still, the traditional country song has helped keep Rodney on the charts as he prepares to release the third single from the album.
In an exclusive interview with Roughstock, Rodney talks about his career and how the peaks and valleys and ‘overnight success’ have helped make him a better artist and songwriter. He also reveals what the third single from It’s America will be while telling us what to expect from one of his live shows.
Matt Bjorke: While you’ve have had success lately, before you’re first Top 10 single “Honesty” hit the charts, you’d been signed with Curb and working towards a recording career for nearly 10 years. What did you do in the years while you waited and waited for the ‘overnight success’ to happen?
Rodney Atkins: Well, I just lived my life and continued to write songs. I worked towards making myself a better writer and using my life experiences for my songs.
Matt: Some people think you were an overnight success yet I remember somewhere around 1997 Curb Records sent out a single to stores…
Rodney: We didn’t even have a publishing or record deal at the time and so we just went in and recorded a demo and Curb decided to release that, with a scratch vocal, to see how it would do.
Matt: By becoming that ‘overnight success’ it must’ve been heartening but then disheartening when follow-up singles failed to ignite at radio, what was it like to go through the peaks and valleys of a career like that?
Rodney: Yeah, it could have been difficult but we just kept working, trying to write and find songs that we believed in and felt sure that fans would believe and connect with. The success of an artist depends on that; finding the right song for the right situation and the right amount of fans to connect with it. The great thing about Curb Records, for me anyway, is they allowed me the autonomy, or the authority, to go look for the right songs for me and they gave me the time to do it.
Matt: Has the success you’ve achieved with “If You’re Going Through Hell” and all the hits that followed felt ‘sweeter’ than you could’ve imagined?
Rodney: It’s been great because it allowed me to get out on the road and perform in front of the fans and to see them singing back every word of my songs to me, and not just the singles, has been a wonderful and touching experience.
Matt: You recently released your third album It’s America. How is this record different from the previous albums, if anything?
Rodney: The album has some stuff that is different and some things that are the same. When we told Curb that we wanted to come out with “It’s America” for the first single, some people at the label thought we should push the song back to the next album because of the current economic situation but I said, ‘that’s exactly why the song should be released now.’ As for “15 Minutes,” Mike Curb just fell in love with it and suggested it for the second single.
A big thing that I learned is to find songs that people will remember long after their run as a hit. There are many songs that are hits but that arent’ remembered once they’re done so we’ve made a choice to only look for songs with that potential to be remembered and we think we’ve done that with this album, like we did with If You’re Going Through Hell.
Matt: Most of the record is up-tempo songs like the hit title track. Was this the way you wanted to go with this release or did it just sort of happen this way?
Rodney: It wasn’t an intentional thing to record all tempo and one ballad but that’s how the songs sort of dictated we go. We’ve learned how to record better songs, and also have learned the value in recording at a quicker pace. That’s what took so long to get from the first record to “If You’re Going Through Hell,” the pace of recording. So with this album, we [including co-producer Ted Hewitt] got everything ready to go and we’re starting to work on the next record in a similar, quicker manner.
Matt: With “15 Minutes” nearing the end of its run as a hit on the charts, what song or songs are you and your label Curb considering for the follow-up?
Rodney: Whenever I’m home and my wife and I have put our son to bed, we will sit out on the back porch and talk and during one recent conversation she talked about some things that inspired me to go write a new verse for the song “Chasing Girls” and after tinkering with it in my home studio, my wife laughed and just loved it so I played it for Curb and they loved it and that new version of the song is the next single.
Matt: Will it replace the older version of “Chasing Girls” on the future pressings of the album?
Rodney: It will be available for download on places like iTunes soon and it probably will be included with future shipments of the album.
Matt: How would you describe your live show to somebody who hasn’t seen you perform before?
Rodney: It’s a lot of energy and I talk and interact with the fans in between songs. We want to entertain the fans and it falls somewhere between a Garth Brooks and Bruce Sprinsteen show. Standing and singing isn’t what I do. It’s about giving fans a great time.
Matt: What are your favorite songs to sing live?
Rodney: You know, of course the hits are great to sing live, like “Watching You.” To see and hear fans singing the words back to me, and not just the hit songs, is very special.
Matt: It must be particularly special when you see so many fans singing “Watching You” considering how it was inspired by your son…
Rodney: It’s an incredible feeling. As we’ve gone from being an opening act to a headliner, we’ve had fun deciding on what songs to add into the set every night and the band and I have just had a blast figuring out how to make the show even more fun. I’ve inserted a little acoustic set in the middle of the show and that has been a great addition and since we’ve gone from 15-20 minute sets to 60-80 minute sets, it’s been a way to import some of the album cuts here or there.
Matt: Do you pepper in some favorite songs from the artists who influenced you growing up, like say Bruce Springsteen?
Rodney: While I have never been a big cover guy, that’s part of where the set changes almost daily as we’ll switch up a song or sing something if fans ask about something during the show, like the song that got me my first gig. We were asked about it one night, so I told the story of singing a Garth Brooks song at a café near Tennessee Tech -where I was going school at the time- and after the performance, the owner of the café asked me to do a regular acoustic show for tips.
Matt: What Garth song did you sing that night?
Rodney: It was “Much Too Young [To Feel This Damn Old].”
Matt: How has the internet helped you keep in contact with your fans?
Rodney: It’s certainly helped me get closer to the fans, in a more personal way. It’s amazing to me to see how many responses people will send me when I send something out on twitter.
What would you like to say to the fans who are reading this interview?
Rodney: Thank you. Thank you for listening to my music, thank you for coming to the shows and I hope to see you soon.
You can find out more information about Rodney Atkins by visting his website (click here).