Tim McGraw Earns His Freedom

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

My favorite album of yours is Everywhere. The songs were outstanding all the way around.

To me, that’s one of my favorites. I think that was a watershed moment in my career and a watershed moment for me. I think that was the first album where I was legitimately a co-producer. It was at a point in my career where I had a couple of albums behind me. I felt like it was time to step up and completely own everything I did. I had always been heavy-handed in everything I did, but that was a time where I really wanted to solidify everything I was doing and to reach another level.

That’s what all of the songs were about for me. It was a very intentional direction I was going with those songs. It was very reflective. Among all my records, I think that’s the one where you can really go back and see what was going on in my career and in my life and what I was thinking. Not just lyrically, but musically.

Musically speaking, I think fans can hear that Tim McGraw sound on everything you’ve recorded. How important is production to conveying the message and emotion of the song?

Production is my favorite part. I love creating a track and the sounds. Luckily for me, I never go into the studio and think there are parameters about how a record has to sound. I’m influenced by the music I hear or what my daughters are listening to on the radio. I’m influenced by new people today in country, pop, rock, R&B, whatever. Anybody who listens to my records can tell that I’m really influenced by ‘70s rock. It’s a big influence on what I do. The Eagles are a big influence on what I do.

So I try to mesh all that together. It comes into my head and comes out as my sound in a lot of ways. But I always know that it sounds like my voice, no matter how hard I try to sing like someone else … In fact, I’ve gone into the studio several times and said, “I’m really going to sound like so-and-so on this record and I’m really going to push myself to make my vocals better.” And at the end of the day, it comes out and I’m like, “F—, it sounds like me.” [laughs]

Please Remember Me” seems like it’s challenging to sing, but also thrilling. It’s very dynamic. Is that part of the reason that one pulled you in?

Yeah, it’s epic-sounding to me. It’s one of those songs that is cinematic in a lot of ways. I loved Rodney Crowell’s version of it when he first recorded it. I always loved his record on that – and of course he wrote it. It always painted this vivid picture to me. It’s tough to sing live but for some reason that was a one-take vocal. It was take number six. We kept the whole take.

I’ve seen a photo of your set list where it says “BBQ Stain,” rather than the song’s actual title, “Something Like That.” Can a little phrase like that, tucked inside of a song, really sell you on recording it?

Yeah, sometimes that’s everything. I mean, it all has to be there, but a hook in a song or even a guitar lick … I try to think in terms of, “What are the nuggets in there that are going to stick in people’s minds the way it sticks in my mind?” Also, if somebody is getting tired of a song about two minutes into it, then it’s time to put a cool lick there, or a cool sound, or a cool keyboard thing that shows up and gets your attention back. But certainly that phrase – I think everybody calls that song “Barbecue Stain.”

As for more serious and sensitive songs, you took chances with “Grown Men Don’t Cry” and “Angry All the Time.” Did anyone say, “You’re releasing that as a single?”

Yeah, and “Red Ragtop” was one of those, certainly, that people fought against. But I thought it was such a great song that told a story. For me it wasn’t about issues. It was about a poignant story. I think that sometimes you get caught up on what the issues are and not about what the story is. And musically I really liked the way that song sounded.

Still to this day, my favorite songs on my albums are not necessarily singles … I sort of cringe when I think that people judge my career according just to what they’ve heard on the radio. To me, the body of work is so much better or deeper than the singles are. If I had to pick a song for someone to judge my career, it would be “Kill Myself” or “I Think Something’s Broken” – one of those kinds of songs.

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