Rodney Atkins may be a man of few words, but this quiet country singer is quickly amassing a body of hits that speaks loudly to his place as one of Nashville's emerging power players. Since his platinum 2006 album If You're Going Through Hell, Atkins has spun together a string of five number one hits, including his latest, an anthemic ode to small town life and heartland values titled "It's America." In advance of his this evening at Cheyenne Frontier Days, Atkins took some time out from his tour schedule tell us about his work in the studio with an old friend, what he brings to his live show, and about being one of country music's more "seasoned" newcomers at 37. Read the full interview after the jump.
Westword (Jim Malec): Five number one singles, a platinum album and an ACM Award for Top New Male Vocalist -- all in the last three years. Not bad for a kid from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. After all, it wasn't that long ago that you were singing on songwriter demos. Has your success surprised you, especially considering that you didn't score your first number one until you were 37 years old?
Rodney Atkins: There definitely are moments that I catch myself being in awe of moments that happen on stage. When 10,000 folks are singing one of my tunes, it's very humbling. I realized a long time ago that things aren't on 'my' time schedule; they're on the good Lord's. All I can do is keep working hard.
WW: One interesting fact most people don't realize about your career is that you brought Ted Hewitt, one of the producers you worked with on some of those songwriter demo sessions, with you to your record deal at Curb. What makes your relationship with Ted so musically successful?
RA: I think we just click together. He brings something different to the record making process. He's an incredible 'song' guy. I wouldn't be having success without Ted. He cares as much about the details as I do. The bottom line is that he believed in me and I believed in him when no one else in town would take a chance on either of us.
WW: How does your maturity and experience affect and inform your songwriting? Do you sense a difference in approach between yourself and your younger contemporaries, some of whom are half your age?
RA: There is a difference of course. It's part of the evolution of a songwriter. I wasn't writing hit songs 20 years ago though. I guess some of us take longer to bloom.
WW: All five of your #1 singles--from "If You're Going Through Hell" to "It's America"--have been uplifting, life-affirming songs about faith, community and family. What do you find artistically appealing about those types of messages?
RA: If you've been through tough times and a few struggles, you learn that dwelling on the negative, complaining, self-pity and doubting will get you nowhere.
WW: What made you fall in love with your new single, "15 Minutes," which is about drinking, smoking and women (and, specifically, about not wanting to give those things up)?
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RA: I love that it makes people laugh. It's about camaraderie and it's just a great punch line. I really love a good ol' country shuffle out there on the radio. I think the song is timeless. Sometimes you just gotta let yourself have fun.
WW: You're known for up-tempo anthems with powerful production and big, sing-along hooks. How do go about creating that same kind of energy during your live shows?
RA: I try to approach every show like it's the last show I'll ever get to do. I love what I do and want the folks to know that I gave them everything I had to give. It's an honor to play.
Rodney Atkins performs at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days on the Main Stage East.