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Mark Chesnutt: Business can be hard or fun. It's what you make it

Posted by: Petr Mecir
Interviews 06/15/2015

Mark Chesnutt is a class act, he always puts on a great high quality show and it's always a pleasure to meet him. This time I caught him up in Memphis, TN and after a fabulous concert in the middle of the city we hanged out on his bus for a while, where I taped another interview with him. We discussed recent events in Mark's carreer, plans for an upcoming album as well as George Jones' legacy.

I was watching your online show at StageIT the other day and I think it was pretty cool. How did you feel about this new type of thing, doing a live show and streaming it online?

"I think it was the coolest thing in the world. Back in the 90's, when I first started in 1990, at the beginning of the decade, the TV exposure that we were getting from TNN was a whole new world for country music. We had so many live TV shows that you could go on and tape shows. It really eclipsed the Opry at that time. And it was really more important to do the Ralph Emery show and to do TV shows like that where you performed live and everybody saw you. And that's gone. Now we've got the StageIT thing which takes the place of that and it's great. I thought the idea was wonderful."

Mark Chesnutt
Didn't feel it weird that there wasn't a live audience in the room?

"No, because I knew what it was all about 'fore I went there. And it was great because the guy who was producing the whole thing was Tim McDonald, he played the piano for me for years, and he's doing all that stuff now. So I was working with old friends and it was so cool. It was a lot of fun. You know this business can be hard or it can be fun. It's what you make it."

You released a new single called "When The Lights Go Out". How did that come about?

"I wrote the song with Jimmy Ritchey and Roger Springer. I was in town to write and that was the first and only song we wrote throughout the whole three days. I think there's a reason for that. Hank Cochran, the greatest songwriter that ever lived, he told me 'you gotta write what you know' and that's where this song came from. We had appointments to write for three days, but it wouldn't work this way. It wouldn't work in the office. I told the guys: 'Y'all come to my hotel room. Bring a couple bottles of wine, let's sit down and have some drinks and unwind and let's think about music for a while and just quit thinking about business.' And Roger had the line 'when the lights go out'. He said: 'It's all I got but I think it's pretty cool.' And I took it from there and I wrote a song about my life being on the road with my wife for all these years."

What was Tracie’s reaction when she heard it for the first time?

"The first time, it was after I recorded it. It was after I actually made the master recording. I didn't let her hear the demo, because I didn't want her to hear that, because it was rough. I wanted her to hear the finished thing, the steel guitar, the fiddle and all that stuff. So she waited for almost a year until she could hear it. I said: 'I wrote you a song' and said: 'OK, good.' She's running around and rankling kids and stuff. She ain't got time to mess with me. But when she heard the song, she cried."

Writing this song was a brand new experience for you. Do you think you'll write more songs after this?

"I hope so..."

Would like to write with any more people other than Roger and Jimmy?

"I don't know, man. I don't get along with a lot of people. Songwriters are a different breed. And Jimmy and Roger, they're really good country boys from the south. Well, Jimmy's from the Washington state, but he grew up with hardcore country music, Johnny Bush, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, you know. And Roger's from Oklahoma, all about country music. So Jimmy Ritchey moved to Nashville because of me, because of my music, yeah, ain't that nice. You know, I got to think about that. Some of these guys, yeah find me some money who's got the same shoes that I got. I believe there's a few guys that can write that have written with Jimmy and Roger some great tunes. But I don't know if I'll ever write with anybody else. It's possible.

Mark Chesnutt
I can hear that a new album is in the works...

"Yeah, the guys are writing, but it may take a while. We're gonna have a new CD, hopefully this year. What the hell. Time ain't gonna stop. We're gonna keep going."

Would you like to keep it traditional as the old stuff or to appeal to mainstream radio?

"Noooo. We're not working radio. I'm working my crowd. My fans, that's who I'm worried about. I'm not worried about radio, because they're not worried about me. And if they play my music, great! But if they don't, we've been doing pretty damn good without them for over 10 years."

Whatever you do, please don't rap.

"You know what, man? There will not be no Chesnutt rap songs unless somebody does one about me. No Chesnutt will not rap. "

This new album will come out on your own label...

"Yes, my own label. I'm a record executive now. I've got my own label. We ain't got no money, but we got a whole lotta music."

What do you see as the biggest advantage and disadvantage of being independent?

"Well, I get to sing what I want and I don't need like a million dollars to produce an album. And I don't need to sell like 5 million to make a profit. I'm making music. That's why I got in this business. That's what I was doing when I was, quote, discovered. I was singing in a honky tonk. I was singing. I really never actually was out hunting for a record deal. I kinda feel guilty about that, but I actually just felt I wanted it, but I ain't gonna after it my whole life. I went to Nashville because I wanted to go to Nashville, but I've always lived in Texas. Music to me was so special. When I got to Nashville for the first time, I was so disappointed, because it was so business and music had no place there. So it was really weird, but I've got to a point now where I play music and that's what I do."

Mark Chesnutt
I really loved your piece of writing. A couple of years ago your wrote the story about to
uring Europe and how KT was left at the gas station at night. I think the story was called "That's what I got for thinking." Do you think you might write an autobiography at some point?

"I doubt it."

Delaney: "I'll write his autobiography!"

"I don't know, man. It's not very interesting."

Delaney: "It's more interesting than you think it is."

"I don't think it needs to be said." (laughs)

We lost George Jones two years ago. What will you remember most about him?

"His friendship. Everybody's gonna remember his voice and his singing and his music. We all love that about George, but I knew him personally like so many other people. I had a close personal relationship for so many years. He was just a great man. I never saw the bad George Jones that you read about in his book. He even told me those stories, but I never saw that George. I saw the real George Glenn Jones from Saratoga, Texas that was a natural country boy, who's insecure, shy, but also the most powerful singer I've ever sat there in front of. He was sitting there on my bus with me and drank beer with me before his shows when I was touring with him. And he would smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and play my guitar and sing his old songs from the 50's and the 60's until Nancy came and got him. And I'll cherish those days forever. And nobody was ever in this bus and never took a picture of anything like that. Nobody can say that, man. I heard his voice raw and live. That's the think I'll remember most about him."

The first time I went to America, I was working at McDonald's in South Carolina for three months. I was 22 and it was a student exchange programme. And I rode a bicycle 25 miles on a highway up to North Myrtle Beach to see George Jones in concert. I was a member of his fanclub, so I got to meet him through meet & greet and Nancy took a picture of us. And it makes me kind of proud that at the age of 22 I wasn't crazy about Shania Twain and I was a member of George Jones' fanclub...

Mark Chesnutt
"That's what makes this business keep going, brother. People like you. Because you know it's easy to follow what's hot. If you really think about it, it's a lot easier to follow your heart and what's in your mind. And that's what you did. And listening to these guys that are outdated, that's what the Internet is for. We got that. We don't need TV. We don't really need radio. We got the Internet and we can listen to what we want to, we can see what we want to. I get people all the time come up to me in meet & greet lines. They're teenagers and they tell me: 'Man, I never heard of you before until I went on Youtube, I went on iTunes and I found your music. I heard a song on the radio on classic country stations.' Thank God country stations are still playing my music in recurrent airplay. I downloaded everything you ever recorded, man.' And they're at my shows buying merchandise and they're out there listening. You know, that's what we want to do. That's why I'm singing George Jones to them, and Merle Haggard and Waylon songs. I can probably get on stage and sing for 8 hours, there's so much I wanna do. But they would leave, my band would walk off stage."

I remember last time we talked, you said you wanted to cut a duet with Hank Jr. Do you think it might happen this time?

"I'd love to do that, but I don't know, man. I haven't thought about it since you brought it up this time. It's possible. It'd be a dream come true. I love Bocephus, man. It'd have to be something special."

How are your boys doing? Last time I talked to Waylon, he said he wanted to start a rock band. Do they still play?

"Oh yeah, he's playing guitar and drums. He fools around playing with some different people. Casey's playing country music, playing around in different places. He's doing acoustic shows like I started out. He's 18 years old, playing restaurants and stuff. And my youngest son Cameron, he's the smart one. He likes music, he plays guitar and he sings real good, but I think that boy is gonna be a biologist. I really do think that, because he's really interested in that stuff. I don't know, I could be wrong."

Thank you for the interview.


Mark Chesnutt & Petr Mecir
(Mark Chesnutt & Petr Mecir - Memphis, TN, 07/04/2013)



Mark Chesnutt - "A Hard Secret To Keep"

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