Aaron Lewis is in the middle of a seismic shift. Don’t mistake him for a pop star looking for a little crossover appeal on a lark. Lewis’ previous band, Staind, has sold in the vicinity of 15 million albums. Hit Parader magazine named him one of the 50 greatest metal vocalists of all time.
So for him to decide, after two decades of success as a metal act, that country music was the way to go, well, that’s not something undertaken lightly. For Lewis, country music isn’t a fad. It’s not a trend to be followed and, frankly, he couldn’t care less about the crap that’s being played on country radio stations right now.
“Country music is the first music I ever heard as a kid,” Lewis said in a phone interview from his Massachusetts home. “I was surrounded by it. It was all I heard until I was old enough to pick what I wanted. Which, after having it pushed on me for so many years, wasn’t country. Everything else was kind of a rebellion.
“You can call (the current radio hits) ‘bro country,’ or you can call it ‘a lack of country elements,’ ” he continued. “The only thing ‘country’ about some of these songs these days is the country cliches they put in it. But even those are getting played out. I’m pretty sure not everyone who listens to country is interested in getting drunk on the beach and driving a big truck.”
Staind was a lot of things for Lewis: A huge opportunity for artistic expression, a way of working through some inner insecurities and a chance to hone his abilities as a songwriter and performer. But, eventually, the band became less of a passion and more of a job. And it wasn’t coincidental that Lewis rediscovered his passion for the classic country sound at about the same time that he was losing his interest in where Staind was headed. But it was the comparison between the two that really showed Lewis where he was.
“I had finished my contractual obligations to Staind in our record deal,” he said, referencing the band’s 2011 self-titled release. “The last record was a pretty difficult record. The last Staind record took six months to write and record. My last country album took 36 hours.”
Lewis hasn’t come at his new musical vocation with an expectation of privilege. If anything, his metal background has made country purists view him as an interloper in their land, and that’s a challenge that Lewis has come at head on. And so, Lewis spent a couple of years working through dollar cover honky tonks and working his way up from lowest levels of music for the second time in his life. But this time he’s relished every sold-out bar and gin joint he’s played. He’s viewed every 200-person capacity crowd as a victory.
“(It’s) refreshing,” he said. “A new challenge. How much more could you ask for after selling 15-20 million albums with one project? It was time to try again with the cards stacked even more against me than the first time around. It’s kind of funny now that some of my biggest haters are some of my biggest supporters.”
And Lewis’ biggest point of pride is that those new fans haven’t come through name recognition. Instead, he’s living proof that as long as your music comes from a place of honesty, fans are the same, regardless of sound.
“Staying true to myself and staying true to the genre has always been most important to me,” he explained. “I feel like every time I’ve done that, it’s never hurt me.” CV