DETROIT—It’s business 101: The key to success is finding a void in the market and filling it.
By that standard, you can call Kid Rock one of the shrewdest musical entrepreneurs of our age. Each chapter in his lengthy career has been marked by a savvy embrace of some inconspicuous but wide-open niche—the suburban hip-hop of his early years, the rap-metal hybrid of his breakout period, the country and Southern rock of recent albums.
And now, four years since his last studio effort, the Detroit rocker has zeroed in on another under-tapped market: classic rock, `70s style. On “Rock N Roll Jesus,” due in stores Tuesday, the 36-year-old star whips up a batch of melodic, riff-driven guitar tunes, the stuff the music biz used to call AOR, or album-oriented rock.
It’s the sound of all those midlevel bands that humbly round out the playlists at classic-rock radio stations: the Bachman Turner Overdrives, the Bad Companies, the REO Speedwagons. It’s as if Rock had a look, figured there must be a reason this stuff has continued to draw audiences, and realized there was something in it for him.
Rock will be the first to pat himself on the back for any number of reasons, but he plays modest when he talks about his skill at pinpointing niches. In many cases, he says, he’s simply been blessed with fortunate instincts.
“I’ve always gone by what I love and what I like,” he says. “I’ve just shot from the hip and from the heart, and it’s been incredible how it’s worked out. I mean, (the 2001 hit ballad) `Picture’ comes out—then all of a sudden everyone’s jumping over, wanting to make a country song. I guess you call it lucky.
“But then, I don’t like following the group. Obviously.” He chuckles. “When something’s going one way, I run the other way. Everybody going left? I’m going right.”
These are high times for Kid Rock. The new album, his first studio effort in four years, is accompanied by what just might be the biggest promotional push he’s enjoyed since “Cocky” in 2001, which came on the heels of his blockbuster breakout album, “Devil Without a Cause.”
As he sets out on a four-week club tour, warm-up for a full arena tour to start this winter, Rock is enjoying a whirlwind media tour, his profile boosted by ongoing celeb-press attention—most notably his public fight last month with Tommy Lee, fellow former husband of model Pamela Anderson.
Rock talked with the Detroit Free Press:
Q: We were getting reports that you got in deep with this record—really honing and tweaking the material. Tell me a bit about the process.
A: It was very scattered for the first few years. There was a lot going on. I was doing a lot of traveling. So I’d just write where I could. I didn’t get too serious until last February. And once I did, it was on. I mean, we just started pumping out songs, zeroed in on that mode where you could do no wrong. Every day something great was happening.
There’s nothing I do by the book, nothing I do routine, really, except make my bed.
Q: I recall at one point you talked about making “the great American rock album,” a big, old-school, arena-rock record. Did that mindset stick the whole way through?
A: It did. And a lot more soul came out, with songs like “Roll On.” We were doing stuff like that, and I was like, “Wow, that’s a great soul record.” It made me feel—gave me that feeling of Motown. We’re actually getting ready to shoot the video here, around the city, down at Hitsville.
I really wanted to make an album, that sort of record I always wanted to make—i.e., a great album. Because it doesn’t seem like there are great albums anymore.
Q: There are bits of religious imagery throughout the album, and more of a storytelling sensibility in these songs as well. Do you feel you’re coming into a new place as a songwriter?
A: No question. I don’t think there’s any way I could look at things the same way I did when I was 18. It’s impossible.
I’ve really been conscious of my songwriting. Really conscious of it. Not so much in terms of radio songwriting—I know the song has to be 3 ½ minutes, all that. Just in terms of writing a great song with a great hook with great lyrics and a great melody.
Q : How do you see the new work fitting into your larger catalog?
A: I really think it rounds it out, to be honest. I always wanted a few of those songs to complete my catalog live, because that’s what’s most important to me. When we look at the set list now, it’s like, “Wow, we have it all covered here.” There’s no stone left unturned.
It’s like a rock `n’ roll revival. If you’ve been to church—if you go because you want to go, not because your parents made you go—it’s really enlightening. It’s like working out: You just kinda start your day and feel good about yourself.
I want the show to be like that. I want people to come, have a ball, and feel good about it when they go out of there. I don’t want `em leaving like, “I wanna beat somebody’s (butt).” I want them to come and have a really good time.
Q: How conscious are you during the writing stage of how a song will work in a concert setting? Listening to a song like “Amen” (on the new album), it seems custom-made for a big stage.
A: Yeah, when I’m sitting in the studio, I can see everything: I see the lights, I see the crowd, I see way down the road. I see doing something huge in Michigan, with three choirs there, having a whole crowd just screaming “Amen!” with beers held up. (Laughs) I think that would be so powerful.
Q: Well, it’s worked. The audience for your stuff—it seems they’re not always getting served elsewhere.
A: I don’t think people realize—even other musicians, other performers—how difficult it is to write a hit record, a hit song. It’s difficult. To write two of them is incredible. To write three or four… I don’t even think people really can put a gauge on that.
You can touch on whatever the flavor of the moment is, and people do it all the time. You can put together a team—Clive Davis had teams of people, factories. Kind of like Motown used to be. But to be a singer-songwriter, and write a hit, it’s tough.
Q: It’s got to be that ideal combination of a lot of things. It seems like there’s more commercially ripe material on this album. Was that a conscious effort, or just a result of having done this for so long and figured it out?
A: I kind of reevaluated everything. When the personal life started to overshadow the music ... And I knew that was going to happen. ... But when you step back from it, and you see that’s the only thing going on, it kind of makes you go, “Damn, what do I really love? I love music.” That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I started out doing. Thank God I made it on my own terms musically before all that happened. At least I proved myself before I jumped in the boiling water.
But success is the sweetest revenge. That’s enough motivation in itself. There’s nothing better—I work great under pressure.
I just went back to what I know how to do best: make music, and take control of the ship. It seems like the last few albums I got away a little bit—I tried to open up and let other people do more, in hopes that I could free up my time. ... I found out I can’t do that. It’s not gonna work. At every level, I have to make the call.