You don’t need to talk with Chris Cagle long before realizing that when he sings about getting his country on, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He knows how to get his hands dirty planting crops and walking away with bruises after training a horse. In other words, he’s the real deal.
Dan MacIntosh (Roughstock): I first want to talk about how your new album, Back in the Saddle, has been described as a ‘lifestyle’ album. Why do you think it’s been described that way?
Chris Cagle: It’s kind of odd to me that everybody’s so surprised that I actually live a country lifestyle, and pick up horse shit and grow my own beats and grow my own eggs and my own chickens. I mean, I live on a farm. The last time I checked, this music was supposed to be for country boys. I raise horses and we have some land. I cut hay three times a year. We harvest pecans. This year our blackberries came in and they are so sweet – it’s like I put sugar in their roots when I planted ‘em. They’re unbelievably sweet.
Roughstock: You’re making me hungry now.
Cagle: I cut my hay in April, and I dropped eight tons of nitrate on the ranch, and it looks like a dark green crayon in a crayon box. Everything around me is brown. It’s the middle of June, almost July and my place still looks like an Astroturf green map, and we’re about to make our second cutting. So it’s just…you know how when you were a kid you used to spin that thing…it’s called Life, and you move the pieces around?
Roughstock: Yep, I do.
Cagle: It’s like, now I don’t have anything to spin. It’s not really a game; it’s real. The mistakes are real and the successes are real. But it’s like I was talking to my wife. ‘Why do we spend four bucks for lettuce? Why don’t we grow it? And she’s like, ‘Oh my god! What a cool idea.’ So we grew lettuce this year and it was…don’t get me wrong…everything that you grow yourself tastes much better because you grew it. It’s the whole psychological thing. It could be bitter, and you go, ‘Oh, this is a good salad!’ This is a great example: The other night, I had these long banana peppers that I grew. I grew a bunch of peppers because my wife loves peppers. So the other night I took my banana peppers and put them on the grill and roasted them, cut the tops off and stuffed them with this sausage mixture, lined them up like enchiladas, topped them with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, put them in the oven and baked them and we had those stuffed peppers with a salad, and it was, like, insane.
Roughstock: Well, you have a song on the album about growing your own called “I’ll Grow My Own,” right?
Cagle: Actually, we do. I wish I’d written that one. That’s one of my favorite songs on the record. My grandfather…anything that’s good in me, comes from that man. I think I gravitate to the farm so much because, you know, it’s kind of unfortunate and it’s sad to a degree that I don’t have my best memories with my mom and dad.
My best memories are when I knew I was completely safe and on papa’s farm. And papa had about a one acre garden. We got up at 5:30 every morning, and we went to the dairy farm. We milked. We came back. He used to fix these flapjacks, dude, that were like the size of the entire iron skillet. And then he’d flip ‘em over, but he’d never use a spatula. And he’d top ‘em with, like, two sunny side eggs and bacon. And he’d put pepper on the eggs and I’ll never forget. I used to go, ‘What is that black stuff on my eggs?’ And he’d go, ‘Frog eyes.’ And I’d laugh, ‘You can’t put frog eyes on eggs.’ Then I’d see a frog and look at their eyes and go, ‘Yep, those are frog eyes.’ I remember all that stuff with him from when I was little. I can tell you the truck he had. I can tell you his smell. I can’t say that about my parents. So I think because of that, psychologically, I’m super, super drawn to raising my kids in that environment.
I wake up in the morning and I put my boots on. Not my cowboy boots, but my steel toes and I go out and work. There’s nothing like coming inside from being outside all day. The sun’s going down. You sit on your back deck and you light a fire in your little fireplace. And we’re lucky we have some nice little patio furniture, whatever. Sit outside and drink a cold beer. Watch the horses run around and kick after they’ve eaten. Watch the kids swing, try and flip each over on the hammock or whatever they do. I’ve got a big German shepherd and I know if you come on my ranch when I go to bed, it’s your ass. That’s what he does. And to top all of it off, I get to be in the music business again. I get to go out on stage and sing. That’s my job and I love my job. I’ve worked hard at making sure the rest of my life is going to be phenomenal.
Roughstock: You call the album Back in the Saddle, which is also the name of a great old cowboy song. Was that in the back of your mind when it came to calling it that?
Cagle: Honestly…you’re talking about [singing] “I’m back in the saddle again.” I never thought of that, to be honest. You know what this means to me? Back in the saddle was what I feel like I am in life. More on the inside than on the outside.
We do raise horses. I ride horses as much as I can when I come home. And it’s a violent ride. If you fall off, you’re pretty much getting hurt. And I’ve done it plenty of times. When I first bought my practice horse, he was way too much horse for me. It’s so cool to have the relationship I have with him. I’ve had the horse for about two years now, and when I walk outside he’ll run up to the corner of his pen and chuckle at me. His name is Santana, and sometimes when we ride in the arena I’ll play some Santana, just for grins. It’s kind of how quirky I am.
But, needless to say, Back in the saddle is just how I feel as a human. I think all of us lose our way. I think the beauty of this world is when you have the guts to turn around and go backwards to the place where you lost your way, and start going down the path you should have been on, everybody is…well, I think everybody in my world is, pats you on the back and says, ‘Hey, I’m so glad you did that because I was worried about you.’ It’s just a nice feeling to have people rooting for you.
Roughstock: Would you say that leading up to this album you had lost your way a bit?
Cagle: Here’s what happened: Three years ago I quit. I was at a place in my life where I hated the business of music. I loved the music, but I hated the business. I didn’t want to be on Capitol Records. I never pitched my music to Capital Records. I was moved to Capitol Records as a product of EMI shutting Virgin down and I had some issues with a manager….just a bunch of stuff. I just got to a place where, ‘Dude, you’re angry and you just don’t know who you are anymore.’ And I didn’t like who I was. And instead of dealing with my problems, I was to the point where I started medicating and I didn’t know how to deal with…fuck the word medicating; I was drinking a lot and I didn’t know how to deal with my problems. And everyday I’d wake up and they’d still be there, no matter how much fun we’d had the night before. Sometimes I’d wake up and go, ‘Oh shit, what’d I do?’ When you’re 20 and you’re reckless and your attitude is, ‘I’m invincible,’ and you do that kind of stuff, youth is involved and immaturity and stupidity is involved. When you’re 35, it’s no longer immaturity and stupidity. It’s, ‘He needs therapy,’ you know? I went and got some, and my therapy was I bought a big, blank piece of land and I started building with my bare hands. Tearing down and building up. I was doing the same thing internally, and not realizing it. When I quit, I remember saying to myself, ‘If I ever get a second chance, make sure you make the most of it. But if you don’t, you made it farther than they ever said you would, so live with it.’
Roughstock: Let’s talk about the single “I’ve Got My Country On.” It doesn’t sound like it’s something you need to put on; it, country, is something that’s already on.
Cagle: First of all, it’s a hit. I wish I’d written it. And that’s my first criteria for cutting anything outside of what I write. I have to respect the song as the writers wrote it, number one. And I did tremendously. But I knew being gone as long as I was, this was a comeback. In that process I thought, man, in part of coming back is that people would be wondering, ‘What have you been doing?’ And that is what has been going on in my life. Whether it’s been working on the ranch. Whether it’s being on the road. Whatever it was I did, I’d come home and get my country on. Also, it is the quintessential sound that I started with back in the day and I think any time there’s a separation from your fans and radio, one of the most important things about reestablishing yourself is reestablishing what got you there. And that record and that song is what got me there before I left. And the new single, “Let There Be Cowgirls” is a continuation of it.