A Conversation With ... Aaron Pritchett
Growing up in northern British Columbia can bring out the wild in a young man. Possibilities stretch beyond the far horizon where land meets earth and big inspiration lights up the mind. Packing a guitar and band and driving to the next destination leaves plenty room for the mind ramble. Those extended road journeys differ from those short takes between small-town Nova Scotia and even southern Ontario. One thing for certain when it comes to country music fans- they are loyal to those who are loyal to them. The hometown show is the big show when energized with the right mix of optimism, drinking, thinking and loves gone bad.
Aaron Pritchett’s hits read like a travelogue – “Big Wheel” – a stopover, “Hold My Beer” – an invitation to crank it up – “Let’s Get Rowdy” – that fishin’ magician and family man doing what so many others before have done – ride the back roads, play the one-nighters, drink a bit then drive on. I caught up with Aaron recently and I didn’t expect the power of one artist shaping another’s until hearing about that long connection with the smartest and most resilient male country star of all time – Garth Brooks.
Bill King: How’d the shows go with Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood?
Aaron Pritchett: What an incredible experience! From the moment we arrived at the arena for sound check, we were greeted by the sound of Garth on stage doing his sound check. Figuring we wouldn't meet him until well into the evening, if even that, expectations were low. Incredibly, within about a half hour he was visiting our room and introducing himself, telling us how excited HE was to have me there and asked if we were happy and needed anything. Before he left he said, "man, if you're feeling the crowd and they're on your side then feel free to do an hour if you'd like!".... We were scheduled for a twenty minute set. He was gracious, kind, over-accommodating, extremely nice and more importantly, as down-to-earth as they get. Everything I imagined and more.
B.K: What is it you think Brooks and you have in common?
A.P: Not his income, that's for sure!! We actually have quite a bit in common and are similar in many ways. The obvious to me is the amount of energy we give off on stage. I go out and give all I can with every performance. Both of us want to make the audience feel like they're on stage with us, as well as feel like we're in the crowd with them. Other things I noticed is that we surround ourselves with the best of people whether musician or crew. Not just in their abilities for the jobs they do but kind and generous people. Garth's crew were by far the best I've worked with for a major American headliner ever and I make sure that my crew have the same thing said about them. All around I believe Garth and I are like-minded in the way we approach everyone. To make them feel happy, good about themselves and loved. I know I sure got all that feeling from him and I hope I make everyone else feel that way too.
B.K: Have you studied his stage presentation – connection with an audience?
A.P: I definitely did back in 1992 when I saw him for the first time and took a ton of what I saw into account when I started working larger stages. But watching him this time, twenty years later, it was still something to take in and learn from. Garth ran around the stage like he was thirty again and managed to have the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. He entertained like no one else I have seen perform and I watched closely so that I could implement a few more things into my show that could make it even more entertaining. You never stop learning in this industry. Even Garth will admit that for himself.
B.K: You’ve been at the beginning and now centre of the New Country revolution. How has your music changed?
A.P: I've been recording and releasing music to radio for over twenty years now and I've seen the music, in general, change drastically. My music in particular has seen its evolution, as it should, in directions I never expected. I was told by several radio station music directors that I "raised the bar" in 2004 with my single "New Frontier" for Canadian country music. I didn't know they felt that way but listening back I realized that it was a drastic difference from the rest of the music that was out there. Since then guys like Dallas Smith have upped that bar for Canadian artists and if my production doesn't match up to that, then me and my music won't survive. In a nutshell, my music has changed quite sharply over the past twenty years but it's because everyone else's has and you have to keep up or shut up.
B.K: Where does inspiration for songs come from? Are you always notating ideas, a phrase – maybe an episode in your daily life and shaping into songs?
A.P: Inspiration for the songs I write come from everywhere and anywhere. I don't write often about my own experiences but when I do they're usually a serious subject, like "Done You Wrong". I take other people's stories and situations and try to write from my perspective. It's worked out quite well so far!! My favourite two songs I wrote came from out of nowhere. I wrote a song called, "You're Not Gonna Miss Me" that came to me in the shower all from a tempo I had in my head. The other is a song I wrote last year with Patricia Conroy called "All Night Baby" that just simply started with a "hook line" or title and we built a storyline and melody around that.
B.K: What’s the thought behind The Score?
A.P: My thought was to have the best new music I can represent myself with. The listeners are going to love it and play on their iPods and CD players over and over. I hope I've done that!
B.K: Do you work the material in while touring?
A.P: Over the years I've learned that trying new songs that the audience doesn't know is truly not the best thing to do. I added new songs well before they were released (sometimes didn't release them) and you look for the reaction of the crowd but that's actually not the greatest idea all the time. At an acoustic performance I can get away with it, as long as it's one or two songs, but at a large crowd show I don't play new material anymore because I want them to have a blast listening to all the hit songs and singing along. I like the mystique of "what is going to be his next release? I wonder what it's like?!"
B.K: How comfortable are you in the recording studio?
A.P: I used to be incredibly nervous, scared and very intimidated but over the years I've definitely lost that, mostly. I still get nervous going in to the studio but it's only because I want to sound great. The difference now is that I am much more confident with my voice and know what I can do. I'm a pro. When I go in, unless I have something that my body is doing to me that I can't control, I know what I'm capable of and just go in and do it! I love the studio now and working with a producer like Scott Cooke, who is very easy to sing for makes it fun to be there!
B.K: Is there a particular sound in your head that defines who you are – a combination of instruments, vocals, a mood?
A.P: The sound of me in my head is much different from the one I hear on recordings! Ohhh... that kind of sound in my head!! I wouldn't say there's a particular sound in my head. In fact things just pop into my head, like an instrument that I feel is missing or what I hear a song feeling like before we record it then I relay that to Scott, my producer and we go from there. I try to use instinct when it comes to that. There was one time when I told the producer that I heard a didgeridoo on a song, added it and people commented that it sounded great all the time. Just because I heard it in my head.
B.K: What puts a broad smile of your face?
A.P: Recently, opening for Garth Brooks and now talking about that whole experience makes me smile so big - but more than that - when I see my kids. I love them so much and miss them so much when I'm away from them. We're all very close and it's always smiles when we're around each other.
B.K: Have you ever wished you had the courage to walk up to one of your idols and say what’s on your mind?
A.P: I did just recently. I told Garth that he "is my KISS", which probably sounded horrible but it meant that he means to me as an influence in my career what the band KISS meant to him. And how this was a dream come true to meet him but also for me to be able to take his stage to perform on it. He just smiled big himself, looked very happy I said that and said "well you were great out there and I'm so happy I could be an inspiration in your career and life".
B.K: If you could record a duet with one of the greats any time in country music history who would it be and would there be a tune in mind?
A.P: I'd like two, if I'm allowed. One living and one passed. Not to be cliché but I have to say Garth Brooks would be someone I'd love to do a collaboration with on a song of his like "Wolves". The other would be Elvis Presley. He was the first artist I was enamoured with and wish he was still around to do a song like "In The Ghetto." Both artists are incredible and my favourites.