Justin Moore, A Road Warrior Finding His Foot Again

Photo by Cody Villalobos

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When he hopped back on stage in June, Justin Moore was “a little apprehensive,” he admits. Returning to tour life, and grasping onto something resembling normalcy, had him worried that he’d forgotten “the show that we put together a year and a half ago,” he says with a laugh. He even fretted over whether he would even know the words to his biggest hits. But ultimately, “we went out there and did it, and it was like we had never taken a single day off. It was pretty amazing.”

In the last two months, Moore’s summer tour has crisscrossed the country, hitting up stops in Indiana, Missouri, and Nevada. He’s even stormed the stage at Country Concert in Fort Laramie, Ohio, alongside the likes of Jon Pardi, Luke Combs, and Alan Jackson. It’s a bit of a full circle, performing on the same stage as Jackson, who’s clearly one of Moore’s biggest influences and mentors.

When Moore first moved to Nashville in the early aughts and signed with Big Picture Publishing, founded by Keith Stegall, who happened to be Jackon’s long-time producer, the stars seemed to quickly align. Moore was right out of high school and had the world at his feet. In those days, to submit a song to a publisher, you had to have “a little digital recorder and build a track with an acoustic guitar,” he recalls.

On the day he was turning in a song, Jackson happened to be in the adjoining studios. “I think they were working on an album maybe or something. He probably doesn’t even remember that. After that, we randomly met each other at different moments through the years,” he continues. “Then, I had a little bit of success, and we met at some award shows and that kind of stuff. He’s always been very kind to me and a guy I looked up to for a long time for a number of reasons.”

With his current radio single “We Didn’t Have Much,” from his latest studio record Straight Outta the Country, looking to become another chart-topper, the singer-songwriter takes a moment to really bask in his continued success. “It’s pretty wild to think about how long we’ve been able to do this and stay on the radio as long as we have,” he says. “It’s been a huge blessing and a lot of fun for sure.”

Early in his career, he might have considered himself an obsessed chart-water but not so much anymore. “I looked at it weekly and sometimes daily 一 until I realized I was driving myself nuts,” he says. “I learned early on what things I can control, and I let the other stuff work itself out. I was gonna probably give myself a heart attack if I continued down that path.”

“I think now a lot of it’s probably getting older because we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy as much success as we have,” he continues. “But I think more than anything, it’s just trusting in the relationships, not only with fans but with our friends at radio, those relationships we’ve developed over the last 14 years or so.”

But he’ll be the first to confess there are two songs he wished would have become bigger chart hits. The first is a 2014 reimagining of The Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” with Vince Neil. “I was really proud of that record, and it didn’t sound like anything on the radio,” he remembers. “We kind of cut it as a country record, obviously, and it was a familiar song. For obvious reasons, we still play it to this day and people lose their minds over it.”

Maybe “radio was scared,” he says. The landscape, however, was much different seven years ago. In 2014, it was a sea of bro-country, a term coined by journalist Jody Rosen. Perhaps it was simply the wrong time. Moore’s performance of “Home Sweet Home” peaked in the 20s, but it has continued being a must-hear staple in his live shows.

Similarly, his song “Bait a Hook,” off his 2011 LP Outlaws Like Me, didn’t quite do as well as he had hoped either. “I would argue it might be our biggest hit 一 and certainly as our biggest hit live. I mean, it was a top 15 record, but the day that we actually stopped working it [at radio], it tested number one in the country. It’s a hit, but it’s not one of our number ones or top fives. Now, that song is having a ridiculous resurgence right now because of TikTok.”

As much success Moore has seen, he’s just a simple man living a simple life. Unlike most artists of his caliber, he doesn’t live in the glow of Nashville lights. In fact, he lives back home in Poyen, Arkansas, a town of 300 people. “You know, we live a little differently than most people who do this for a living. We still do the small-town stuff. My kids go to school where I did, and I’m coaching softball and basketball. My wife and I literally work the concession stand making burgers and stuff. So, I think that might be always the norm for guys who do what I do for a living. I’m sure some folks do. But that being said, I’m sure there were things we certainly did take for granted.”

A new lease on life, as he’s become more relaxed about his work and career, certainly resulted from forced lockdowns in 2020. Conversely, his creativity suffered. “If you’d told me, ‘You’re gonna be a year and a half off the road, and you still get a paycheck, and you still can pay all your 20-plus employees, and there’s not gonna be all this death and destruction in the world, and you can just kind of chill out for a year and a half on vacation,’ I would have probably been a little more creative. But because of the circumstances that surrounded us being off, it kind of baffled me, to be honest with you. I haven’t written that much.”

He’s dabbled with the odd song here and there, and fortunately, he had three records ready to go before the pandemic hit last March. Leading into the release of his 2019 album, Late Nights and Longnecks, he’d written nearly 40 songs and originally had the idea to put “them all out together, you know, in a trilogy,” he says. But he eventually decided a three-piece series was the best way to go. He released the second installment, Straight Outta the Country, back in April.

“Looking back on it 一 we had no idea what was to come 一 I’m glad that we’d made that decision,” he continues. “It allowed us the opportunity to put out new music that nobody was familiar with and hadn’t heard in a time where we couldn’t get out there and see people on the road.”

He’s slowly been flexing his songwriting muscles more and more these days. But “what I’m writing now will not be on the next album, but it’ll be on the one that follows,” he teases.

Across six albums, beginning with his 2009 self-titled debut, his first for Valory Music, Moore has learned plenty about the craft of songwriting, as well. More than anything, it all comes down to practice, really. “I think anything you do, whether it be personally or professionally, the longer you do it the more comfortable you get and the better you get at it. If not, you’re probably doing the wrong thing,” he explains. “I had a good idea early on in my career about what I wanted to say and who I wanted to be as an artist. When I wrote my first album, I was 20 years old. Now, I’m 37 and have been married for 14 years, and have four old kids. As you change and grow as a person, you certainly grow as a songwriter and see the world differently.”

“You’re a little more brave and a little less concerned about what you’re saying if that’s really what you mean,” he adds, “and you’re not as concerned about what other people are going to say about it. You’re a little more comfortable in your own skin if you will.”

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