DETROIT — Trace Adkins chuckles when he considers his place in the 2010 country music world: In this new era, he’s old school.
“I never thought the day would come that I’d be thought of as a more traditional artist, carrying the banner for traditional country,” says the 48-year-old Louisiana native.
But so it is. Fourteen years after rambling into the scene with sentimental, radio-friendly fare like “There’s a Girl in Texas” and “Every Light in the House,” Adkins plies a meat-and-potatoes brand of country music, an easygoing blend of ballads and honky-tonk.
After 11 records with Capitol Nashville, Adkins is fresh into a deal with Show Dog, the label operated by his buddy Toby Keith. Life has settled into a comfortable rhythm for the former alcoholic and barroom brawler.
Question: Talk about the deal with Toby Keith’s label.
Answer: I toured with Toby last year and got to see firsthand how his operation works, how the people at his label work, and the passion with which they do their job — along with the fun they have while they’re doing it. And it reminded me: Isn’t that why we all got into this business in the first place? It’s supposed to be fun.
When I heard about the merger between Show Dog and Universal, it really piqued my interest. From there, it was a phone call, and a week later, we had a deal.
With Toby, I get an assurance that it’s an artist-driven situation, and I’ll still have the freedom to do what I want to do. I’ve pretty much always had that freedom, the ability to make my own mistakes. So it’s still going to be that way. What I’m excited about is the passion there.
Q: Can you tell us about your coming album?
A: We’ve got eight songs done. I’ll go back in the studio, track for another day, and I’ll be finished with it.
Toby said the music has got a smile on it, and maybe that’s just a reflection of where I’m at right now, how I feel. I’m feeling more optimistic, more upbeat. It’s really hard to say why, but it’s just this change and it’s reflected in the music. I’m just invigorated. I’ve got a renewed sense of dedication.
Q: What has helped bring that comfort zone, that new sense of peace?
A: As an old picker like me, at some point you recognize, “Hey, I’ll always be able to just get on a bus and play beer joints, if it comes down to it.” So that’s comforting.
I think spending seven or eight years playing clubs, driving a beat-up van, pulling a beat-up trailer with beat-up gear ... when you get to a place like where I am these days, traveling a lot more comfortably, even when it gets its busiest, you realize it’s still a great gig.
Q: It helps put things in perspective. You seem to have found a good steady career pace.
A: I’ve never really concerned myself with what anybody else is doing. I record what I want to record, say what I want to say, and if I have success with that, it’ll be legit. I just roll the dice, man, and keep plugging along, working hard every day to get better at what I do.
This past year we did about 90 shows. It was 140 the year before that. I made a conscious decision that 140 was just too many. Not because of the work. It’s just that I miss too much at home. I was gone too much. So this year will be about the same.
Q: Give us a quick take on your tour mates (Martina McBride and rising star Sarah Buxton).
A: I’ve always been a fan of Martina’s. Just her vocal ability is astounding — she’s a freak of nature. It really is unbelievable. Here’s this little 100-pound woman who can sing louder than I do. And Martina is supermom out on the road. So me and my crusty old boys just try not to offend anybody.
Sarah is a great songwriter, and I love listening to her sing. She’s got a really sexy, sultry voice. Real unique. She’s been known around Nashville — she’s no secret there.
// Notes from the Road
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