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Steve Azar hopes his wait is over

By Dan MacIntosh, May 2002

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So it should comes as no real surprise that his single "I Don't Have to Be Me ('Til Monday)," has been an out-of-the box hit, as there was an immeasurable amount of emotional elbow grease that went into its preparation.

Azar didn't have what you might characterize as a typical Southern upbringing growing up. In a land loosely divided between whiskey-drinking heathens and strict Baptists and Pentecostals, his father was the non-drinking owner of Mississippi's first ever liquor store, and both parents were dedicated Catholic church-goers. In fact, some of Azar's first songs were written for the youth group at his church.

"One of the guys that kind of ran the whole thing (at church) said, 'I want you to start doing some of your songs for meditation,'" Azar recalls. "And at the time, I was really just writing songs about real life. It kind of got me going and writing songs and playing them for people at a really young age."

Song writing, as with most kinds of writing, is a lifelong learning process. Azar, the fourth of five children - he has two brothers and two sisters - may have discovered his knack for the talent at a young age, but he's still learning this craft - even now as an established musician.

"I'm definitely at the point in ' my life - for the last five, six, seven years or so - that I feel like, when I put it down, it makes more sense in the scheme of things. And it's saying what I want it to say, and every 'if, and and but' feels right," Azar says proudly.

While Azar has been delighted with this evolutionary process as an artist, it took finding a producer who also recognized these growth traits to help him jumpstart this latest. These days, Azar has nothing but the highest regard for his new producer, Rafe Van Hoy.

"I had to find a Rafe Van Hoy in my life to say, "I love it, let's don't change it." And that's exactly what he told me one day."

Azar first met Van Hoy when they were teamed up together for a writing session. They hit it off right away, and this led to their newfound recording partnership.

"We wrote "You Don't Know How It Feels," which is the first one we recorded, and we recorded it that very night. And he (Van Hoy) said, 'I love it. Let's don't change what you do.' I'd never heard myself sound like that on tape. He just knew who I was. Immediately, we started writing and working together."

Azar is equally pleased with his record label, which he says is allowing him the opportunity to express his unique individuality through music.

"Mercury allows you to do that, whether your personality is good or bad," he says with a chuckle. "Whether mine is good or bad, they're (at least) giving me a chance to be able to show that in music. So that's amazing to me."

Nashville would do well to better support some of its unique artists, give them the chance to be themselves. In the past, such a big umbrella approach has given us some of our most talented stars.

"When I came to town, it was Vince Gill, and it was Dwight Yoakam, and it was Garth, and it was Clint Black, and it was Marty Stuart, and it was Travis Tritt. It was all these acts. And then it was the girls: and it was Pam Tillis, and it was Trisha, and Kathy Mattea. And the point was, everybody was unique. Everybody was at least different sounding in that way."

But it will take more than just unique voices and musical approaches to restore country music's tainted artistic credibility. It will also require songs that speak to people's lives. And these musical expressions don't always have to be love songs.

"I really believe that we got away from real songs about real life, and I think country music has (in the past) been more about life than anything else," Azar states. "We're all in life, but we're not always in love all the time. If love has something to do with it, great. But we need to hear about what's going on in our lives, and I think country always portrayed that and always spoke that with a really loud voice. But I really believe that (reality) is going to make its way back (into country music) again."

"(When) people come out there to see a show, I don't think they necessarily want to hear about how my hair was blowing in the wind all night. They want to hear about what was wrong with my hair. They want to know what happened to me today, and why I felt that way. And trust me, there are a lot more bad hair days than good hair days, if you counted them all up."

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