Jason Michael Carroll may not have a record deal at the moment, but he has a new album.
In February, shortly after Carroll’s latest single, “Hurry Home” off last year’s “Growing Up is Getting Old,” peaked at 14 on the Billboard Hot Country chart, Arista Records in Nashville decided to drop the singer-songwriter. But he didn’t let that stop him — he already has 12 new songs written and recorded and has begun shopping them to labels this week.
But in the meantime, he has been enjoying his newfound freedom from the major label scene in Nashville.
“It was actually kind of liberating to be in the studio and record the songs the way you wanted to record them and have them sound like what you wanted them to sound like,” he said from a recent tour stop in Naperville, Ill.
Who: Blake Shelton, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Michael Carroll, David Nail, Chuck Wicks, The JaneDear Girls, The Hillbilly Horns
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Altamont Fairgrounds, Route 146, Altamont
How Much: $40, $35 (until Friday), children 10 and younger free
More Info: www.wgna.com
“It’s not always like that with a label, but with Nashville as a whole, you have to do something crazy to make your mark. As a whole, what I’ve seen it do to other artists, and to myself, is try to take a cookie-cutter approach to everything. It’s less about individuality or what made these people popular before they came to the label.”
With his as-yet-untitled new record, Carroll is hoping to showcase more of his individuality. Of the 12 songs, he co-wrote 11, the most he’s ever written for an album.
“The last record, I co-wrote three songs, and I had a lot of my artist and writer friends in Nashville tell me that they think I’m a better writer than that,” he said from a recent tour stop in Naperville, Ill. “They didn’t mean anything by it, anything hurtful; they meant it for what it did — it was meant to be a motivator to get more on this record.”
A few of the new songs have already started making their way into Carroll’s sets on his current tour, which includes a slot in the 17th annual WGNA-FM Countryfest on Saturday. The singer-songwriter is making his second appearance at Countryfest after playing a raucous set last year, when he was second on the bill.
This year, he is third on a bill also featuring Blake Shelton, Gretchen Wilson, David Nail, Chuck Wicks, The JaneDear Girls and local openers The Hillbilly Horns. Carroll, who regularly performs at outdoor festivals such as Countryfest, has fond memories of such events from when he was a kid.
“I remember growing up and whenever the fair came to town, you’d just have a good time in general — you ride the rides, eat food and check out a concert,” he said. “To be a part of that now, to be one of the people that everyone gets excited to see, is a really awesome feeling.”
Carroll has been performing with a band of some sort for at least 13 years, by his count, but it’s been a long road to stardom for the singer. Growing up in Youngsville, N.C., as the son of a conservative Christian minister, he was not allowed to listen to secular music in the house but quickly discovered country radio through friends.
“I’m a huge fan of Radney Foster, and part of the reason is on Sunday afternoons after church I would go home with friends of mine,” Carroll said. “And their parents, without fail, would say, ‘Jason, don’t tell your mom and dad what we’re about to do,’ and they’d turn to a country station. One of the first songs I heard was Radney Foster’s ‘Just Call Me Lonesome,’ and to this day I love it. If you don’t own ‘Del Rio, TX’ you should pick it up; that’s one of the best records ever — a desert island disc for me.”
He began playing in local bands after high school while working for a motor company. By this point, his tastes were eclectic, covering everything from country to hip-hop to rock ’n’ roll.
“I think country opened my eyes to all the different forms of music out there,” he said.
Despite his parents’ initial wariness, his mother was the one who encouraged him to enter a singing competition, “Gimme the Mike,” on a local Fox station. He won and thanks to the exposure was eventually signed to Arista Nashville two years later.
Although Carroll is thankful for his time spent with Arista, which also encompassed his 2007 debut “Waitin’ in the Country” and his self-penned breakthrough hit “Alyssa Lies,” he is looking forward to finding a new label that’s the right fit for him. He has thought about going the do-it-yourself route, but his ultimate goal is to end up back on the radio.
Seeking the right fit
“I really feel like we’ve got a shot at it with the songs we’ve got, and with the relationships I’ve developed in the last several years, I’m excited to see where this will go,” he said. “Getting with a label will be a good thing, but at the same time, I want to make sure it’s the right fit. If it’s not the right fit, I don’t need to be there. It’s all about finding somebody who believes in this music as much as I do.”
The new album was recorded with some previous collaborators, including producer Patrick Davis, who co-wrote “Growing Up is Getting Old’s” first single, “Where I’m From.” Davis and Carroll once again collaborated on some of the new songs. Other songwriters Carroll worked with include Tommy Lee James, Rivers Rutherford and longtime friend Josh Thompson.
“I got the idea — we were playing a fair in Virginia, and I got the idea to write this song that really kind of spoke about where I was at that point,” Carroll said. “I wrote a few choruses, and the next week at the songwriting session with Josh Thompson, I brought the song I was working on. I said, ‘If you want to work on it, we’ll finish it,’ and he said, ‘Man, let’s do this.’ It was exciting to hear Josh say he wanted to do that.”
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Categories: Life & Arts