By Brian Ives
Kenny Chesney took a year off from the road in 2014 to give himself ample time to work on his ambitious latest album, The Big Revival. That’s no small decision considering Chesney’s 2013 tour took in $90 million.
But he felt he needed time to make an album worthy of his catalog. As he told Alan Light in a Radio.com interview, “It would have been very easy for us to make this record on a conveyor belt, because I’ve been guilty of that before. But I felt like I was at a place in my life where I deserve more and [the fans] deserve more. It was worth really digging into what I wanted the record to be and to see how I was going to take my audience to a place that maybe collectively we haven’t been before. And that’s hard to do — it’s hard to take time off the road because it’s a business, and for us it’s really big business.”
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Chesney wanted to album to split the difference between some of his commercial juggernauts like When the Sun Goes Down and Hemingway’s Whiskey and more left-field albums like Be As You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair) or Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates. So the choice of first single for The Big Revival was an important one. It had to be a bit left field, but also accessible enough to remind fans that this is the guy behind anthems like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem,” “Beer in Mexico,” and “Keg in the Closet.”
Enter “American Kids,” written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally.
“‘American Kids’ was that one thing that I was looking for that was different,” Chesney said. “There’ s not that many of those songs around. We’re an industry of chasers and copycats, we really are. That’s just the way it is. And when you hear something completely different… I knew when I heard that song, that I was going to record it.”
The song describes small town life and includes lyrical references to classic rockers including Elton John and Bruce Springsteen and even Cheap Trick (“Blowin’ that smoke on a Saturday night/A little messed up, but we’re all alright” has shades of “Surrender”), Chesney felt his generation of mid-40-somethings might relate to it, but then realized that the song has even wider appeal.
“Especially if you come from a small town, I think there’s certain values that are inherent, that are very universal, in how we feel and the fears that we have and the insecurities that we have. There’s probably a lot of kids out there who want to be Drew Brees, or whoever, and they’re told as kids, ‘Well, that’s never really gonna happen for you.’ But it can happen for you. I was that kid, that was dreamin’, that didn’t have enough courage to dream until later on. I would go into the backyard at my grandmother’s house in eastern Tennessee and stare at the sky and wonder if there was anything for me past my county line. I think there’s a lot of kids out there like that, a lot of people who had that emotion. And I think that goes to the heart of ‘American Kids.'”
He admits that he’s also been that guy in the lyric, “Makin’ it to second base, but sayin’ you went all the way/Monday afternoon at practice.”
“I’ve been the guy at football practice, maybe stretching the truth just a little bit, about what happened with some girl over the weekend. That song is so real, it hit me right in the heart.”
The video shows Chesney performing the song in a hippified bus with a bunch of free-spirited American kids. Chesney says that he and his team took on the task of making it look psychedelic.
“That ‘American Kids’ bus, we painted it. That was the best therapy I’ve had all year, painting that bus. It was white before we started. But I doubt the inside of that bus has seen as much fun as ours.” That story, however, was reserved for a different song on the album, “If This Bus Could Talk,” which Chesney co-wrote.
And that bus is about to hit the road; Chesney’s next tour kicks off March 26 in Nashville.
The 50th annual ACM Awards air Sunday, April 19 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.