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Chesnutt keeps his promise

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 1997

Don't ever accuse Mark Chesnutt of breaking his word.

A few years ago, the traditional honky tonker said he would invest more of his time and energy into writing songs for his own albums.

Chesnutt's new disc, "Thank God For Believers," out Sept. 23, finds the Texan living up to what he said. In fact, he wrote half of the 10 songs with so.

"I'm a man of the word," Chesnutt says in a telephone interview from Nashville.

And in keeping with his past, Chesnutt also recorded a song about a jukebox.

Chesnutt says he wanted the new disc to "sound rich. I don't care for a whole lot of production. We just want performances. We didn't want to make a perfect album. Hell, anybody can do that...This was something that Mark and I always said we were going to do together."

"Mark" is Mark Wright, his long-time producer with whom he had a break after not seeing eye-to-eye during the recording of his last full length studio album, "Wings," in 1995.

"You can go in there and a do a song so many times," Chesnutt says. "You can put a little meter (in) that will put you in perfect pitch. To me, that ain't doing it right. Listen to the old music. They weren't perfect."

And Chesnutt says that includes Hank Williams Sr., one of his greatest influences.

Wright acknowledges the need to make a change from recent efforts. "We just got a little bit too contemporary with him at times," he says. "A couple of records were not as country as they should have been. That's where he wanted to head."

"Now we're back on the real country stuff, it's good," Wright says. "This is definitely the most country album we've ever done."

"Obviously the songs are so country that it's kind of hard to mess them up," he says. "You start with a real country song. It's real hard to dress it up with anything else."

Chesnutt's distinctively strong voice is front and center on the album.

The disc makes it clear from the start that Chesnutt's brand of country is different from most of the radio fare you hear these days. "Goodbye Heartache" is a Western swing number that sets the tone, making you want to hit the dance floor. And not for line dancing.

The title of another track, "Hello Tonky Tonk," describes the song quite well.

Chesnutt's favorite song is "That Side of You." "We were listening to George Strait... That's where the inspiration came in. It's just a great song. The melody is strong. The words are perfect. It's a song I can really sing."

"Numbers on the Jukebox" continues a jukebox theme. When chided about his jukebox fixation, Chesnutt demurs light-heartedly. "I've recorded seven albums and three songs that contain (the word) jukebox," he says. "That doesn't mean a damn thing."

Of course, if he has as much success with "Numbers on the Jukebox" as he did with "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" and "Brother Jukebox," he won't be complaining either.

And even though he denies the need to write about jukeboxes, Chesnutt does very much like them. "I'm still fascinated with jukeboxes by the table," he says. "That's real neat."

Springer has emerged as Chesnutt's songwriting buddy.

"Everything I write that's worth a damn was written with Roger," Chesnutt says, adding, "He remembers everything I say and writes a song about it. "

Explaining why they click so well together, Chesnutt says, "Roger and I both love county music. We love to hunt and fish. We have a lot in common. It's mainly our love of country music - the old stuff. A lot of people here in Nashville write great songs. They're great people, but I can't write with them. He's one of my best friends. You got to like each other."

Chesnutt says Springer tends to come up with the melody, and then he helps with lyrics.

Another change from his last regular album is the return of Wright, an executive at Chesnutt's label, Decca Records, producing the disc.

Chesnutt says he did not like Wright's direction, apparently away from a traditional country sound. Chesnutt's music was marked by traces of Hot New Country, a bigger sound. "I think he learned his lesson," Chesnutt says of Wright. "Mark and I kind of got away from each other for awhile because we needed it. We both lost a little bit of what we started together."

Wright does not begrudge the change. "If we'd been blowing them away and sellling two million albums, I would have been (upset)," Wright says. "The fact is that we were on a downslide."

Chesnutt does not place the blame squarely on Wright. "Neither of us was impressed with the other. Both of us got sidetracked I guess."

"It really hurt me that we didn't get along for awhile," Chesnutt says. "That's all in the past."

But Chesnutt says he knew their split would not be permanent.

"We started all over," Chesnutt says. "It was like we were never apart. It was great. We had a ball. I can't wait to do it again."

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