James Stroud Talks Making Magic On "Town Line" With Aaron Lewis
Mon, 04 Apr 2011 10:38:52
"Good things are happening down here, my friend," declares James Stroud with a wide smile.
Stroud's referring to the massive success that Aaron Lewis's Town Line has become, but he's more directly referencing the creative bond he's built with the Staind frontman. The legendary country music producer and Stroudavarious Records founder has been behind a ton "good things" for artists as diverse as Shania Twain and Hank Williams, Jr. However, he and Aaron have touched upon something very special.
"Making Town Line was effortless," he goes on. "We didn't toil at all. We just had a great time. I believe that joy, happiness, and confidence come through in our music."
Take one listen to Town Line, and you'll hear and feel exactly what Stroud's talking about. It's present in the warm melodies of "The Story Never Ends" and the haunting refrain of "Massachusetts." It soars during the declaration of self that is "Country Boy," and it's deep inside "Vicious Circles." Stroud produced Town Line with Aaron and the results are a modern country classic…
Right after the record's debut, James Stroud spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about Town Line and so much more.
You and Aaron really captured something magical and timeless on Town Line.
You're exactly right. I like the word "magical" because we had never met, but we'd heard of each other. I just became an instant fan of his. When he came to the studio and we started working, I just knew something special was going to happen, and it did. It was very natural and easy. We had a lot of fun, and we put the music first. We let it take us where we needed to go!
Was the process fairly quick?
We usually go in and get it done, but the reason why it went so well is because Aaron was extremely prepared. He was ready to record. He was comfortable with what he had written and what he wanted to say. For me, it was a matter of staying out of the way. When I produced the record with him, my goal was to enhance what he already worked on. I determined really quickly that I didn't have to tinker with his arrangement very much, with the textures, or with the instrumentation. It was just a matter of expanding on what he had written. That's really what happened. We fell into this groove the very first day. I looked at what we needed to do as far as who we needed to have on the record for instrumentation. Thank goodness, I cast the right band for him. When we started listening to what we recorded the first day, it was immediate. His job was to get that music ready, and my job was to enhance it and take it from the demo stage to the record stage. It just fell in place. By the end of the week, we were just about done [Laughs].
Would you say there's an urgency to the music?
We didn't over-think it, which is what makes Aaron such an awesome artist. He doesn't second-guess or over-think what he writes and how he writes. He goes to the bottom line really fast and that is, "This is who I am. This is what I wrote. This is what I want to say." You let that build from there, and you've got it. During the whole time we recorded, I don't ever think we got bogged down or to a place where we stuck about what to do. It did have a natural urgency. The music didn't fool around. It got to where it needed to go really fast. When we'd get through with a track, he'd come in, listen, smile, and say, "What's next?" That doesn't mean that we didn't do some exploration with the music. You owe the music that. For me as a producer, I owe him that. We naturally knew when to stop. It was like, "We're going in the wrong direction" or "This is good the way it is. Don't tinker with it. Don't second-guess it. Don't take it out of its element."
What made you want to work with Aaron?
When he and I spoke, I went and got his music. I'd certainly known about Staind and their success, and I'd heard about Aaron. I really researched his music in depth after I spoke to him and we decided to work together. The very first thing that struck me was his voice. I don't think he knows how good he sings. He has that unique ability to be able to marry the things he writes and the things he plays to this awesome voice. When he writes and sings, it's a very natural process that he uses. When he came in and we started working, I'd become a huge fan because I was listening to his voice. Then of course, I got into his songs and realized how great of a writer he is. We got together the night before we recorded on his bus, and he pulled out his acoustic guitar and started playing. I was like, "Wait a minute, here's what we need to do…don't change anything! Let's take exactly what you're doing on the bus and put it in the studio." That's exactly what we did. He played his guitar on the record and he sang as he played, and it was just magic. I thought, "This is why this works." This texture of what he does and how he plays complements the way he sings and the voice he has. To me, that's what was really exciting about working with him. On top of that, he became a really close friend. Now, we have this really great friendship, and we're living a dream of what we talked about initially that this music needs to be in this genre and it needs to be heard and this is who he is. He is the country boy.
"Massachusetts" really stands out. It's haunting and beautiful. What was it like to record?
He sang about Massachusetts, but to me, he's singing about Texas and Louisiana where I grew up. The sentiment is the same. It's that emotional connection with where you grew up, what you're all about, and where you came from. When I listen to "Massachusetts," that melody is haunting. The way he sets up that chorus takes you where he came from, but it also takes me where I came from. If I could sing like that, I would say the very same thing, except where I grew up. Everybody who hears it can relate because they all come from somewhere that gives them the same sentiment he has, sings, and writes about.
Is there that much of a difference between hard rock and country? Aaron's not really doing anything different when you break it down. There's just country accompaniment instead of distorted guitars.
You hit the nail on the head. They call country music, "American music," and the common thread that runs through rock is the same common thread that runs through R&B and soul and that is country melds all of those different types of genres in two ways. The first is the lyrics. There are some awesome lyrics in rock, country, and R&B. There's a common thread there. The other thing is, as far as chord structure and progressions, a lot of what happens in country music happens in rock. If you listen to The Rolling Stones, a lot of those three-chord progressions are the same thing in country and R&B. To me, the textures make the difference. You may have a crunch guitar playing exactly what a steel guitar might play. Or you may have a screaming organ playing what a guitar would be playing. The textures are different. When you talk about Aaron, you look at that great band Staind, and this great writer and artist, the difference is the textures. Aaron is on both sides, and he's at home in both genres. It's awesome. It works for the entertainment industry, because he's one of those rare artists who can move from genre to genre in a healthy, positive way, and it's accepted by everybody. I think it only helps country music to have someone like Aaron representing us. It helps us as a genre in the rock side because that very same music could be used over there but with a little different texture.
It reaches back to the '60s and '70s. Some of Led Zeppelin's music sounded like country, while some of it sounded like metal. What you and Aaron did hearkens back to that boundless spirit.
It's absolutely that! I think the word you and I are looking for is "Innocence." There is an innocence to this music. It does not have boundaries. It wasn't intended to have boundaries. We recorded this music without even thinking about boundaries. We thought about the music and we let it lead us to what we needed and wanted to do. As a result, the innocence of this thing shows through in every genre. It's pure, innocent music. That's what's shining through. That's the reason we have a #1 record. Everybody is embracing this and saying, "Holy smokes, this is the way it used to be. This is the way we used to cut music when you didn't think about what you had to do, what you needed to do, and how you needed to bend this thing around to make somebody happy." We didn't do that. We used our creative senses, and we let the music stay innocent. It's something everybody looks for. There's no baggage with this music. It's pure, cool, great-sounding music.
What else is happening with Stroudavarious?
We've got a great record from Lo Cash Cowboys out right now! We have a new artist by the name of Andy Gibson with a record coming out this summer. We have a new single from Margaret Durante. We're really excited about the future, and we feel like because of Aaron and what has happened in our world with him, that we can apply those thoughts to these artists and certainly have the effort with them we did with Aaron, and it's going to pay off. We're thinking about this in a totally different way. Our little company is very small, but it's really effective. Every person on my staff has experienced success in other places. That's why I put this staff together. They understand how to get to a place, be professional, and first and foremost, they know how to have passion for this music. David Geffen told me, "If you take care of the music, the music will take care of us." That's our saying, and that's what we do. It's certainly working for us. Thank goodness!
Are you excited to get back into the studio with Aaron?
I can't wait! He's writing right now, and he's cutting—I'm sure—a great Staind record. We're extremely excited about the next time we meet and we promised each other, "Just don't do anything different! It's working. Don't fix it. Let's keep that same process of enjoying what we do." Let Aaron go write those great songs, and I'll make sure we make a great record.
Watch an exclusive video interview with Aaron Lewis here!
Watch Aaron Lewis perform "75" acoustic for ARTISTdirect.com here!
Watch Aaron Lewis perform "Country Boy" acoustic for ARTISTdirect.com here!
See our review of Town Line here!