Aaron Lewis Interview: "The Music Business Is the Most Horrible Business on the Face of the Earth," Staind Frontman Declares
Image attributed to Jim Wright
Aaron Lewis, whose success has brought him to the top of the Rock and Country music charts, along with producer and co-host Rock Bordelon are nominated in four categories for the 2013 Sportsman Choice Awards set to take place on January 15, 2014, in Las Vegas. Lewis and Bordelon co-host the weekly ever-popular outdoor lifestyle show, On the Road, which airs on the Sportsman Channel.
Lewis released his first solo album in 2011, Town Line, which debuted #1 on Billboard’s Country Album Chart. The first single from that release, “Country Boy,” featured the late George Jones and Charlie Daniels and has been certified Gold. The Vermont native just completed a run of dates as the headlining act on the Jagermeister Country Tour, performing a majority of the songs from The Road, an album released in late 2012.
“From the very beginning. From the time you sign that contract, it is designed to suck the life out of you. When they’re done with you, they can just throw you away, and there’s a thousand people behind you just freaking foaming at the mouth to get put in the same messed up situation because they haven’t had 20 years in the business to realize and figure out all this stuff, to see it first hand. They’re new, and they still have that fantasy in their heads of what this business is that to be a big rock star or country star or pop star, it is created with videos, this country being so obsessed with celebrities. It’s just all created to suck the life out of us.”
As the frontman for the multi-platinum selling band Staind, Lewis is the songwriter and voice behind the most played rock song of the past decade, “It’s Been Awhile,” in addition to 3 other #1 hits and 8 Top Ten singles.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Aaron, congratulations on the Sportsman Choice nominations!
Aaron Lewis: Well, thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is that similar to winning a Grammy? (laughs)
Aaron Lewis: (laughs) It’s great to be recognized for what I’m doing in one of the facets of my life. It’s pretty cool. That’s for sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What goes into making a successful outdoor lifestyle show?
Aaron Lewis: I think we’ve tried to add a bit more realism to the show. You don’t go out and kill an animal every single time you go hunting, yet that seems to be what a lot of the hunting shows portray and that every show is successful. Well, you know what? I’ve been hunting all season, and I haven’t killed a deer yet. It’s not like I haven’t been putting in the effort. It’s not like I haven’t been doing everything I’m supposed to do. It’s not like I haven’t followed every rule that I was supposed to follow. It just doesn’t always work out that way.
There’s been a variable that’s been off for every opportunity that I’ve had. That’s what happens, so that’s what will be portrayed. It’s not about making sure that we “fake” the fact that we’re successful every single time we go out. The show is the show. But what makes a good hunting show? I don’t know. Most people would think a hunting show is not a good show anyways (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m always laughing at certain fishing shows when it appears the fishermen are catching bass every few seconds or so. Must be some great editing.
Aaron Lewis: Right. They took a week’s worth of fishing and stuffed it into a 15-minute segment (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve read you enjoy bow hunting.
Aaron Lewis: I do. If I can go after an animal with a bow, I will go after it with a bow and leave my gun at home. I enjoy guns. I enjoy owning guns. I feel very strongly in my beliefs on that. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. A gun is an inanimate object that can sit on a table cocked and loaded for a hundred years and never shoot anybody until a human being picks it up and puts it in their hand. I love my guns.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You feel there should be no ban on the sale of automatic weapons?
Aaron Lewis: I have never done anything nor have most people ever done anything to not be able to own whatever firearm they want. You don’t hold the law abiding, rule following citizens accountable for the criminals’ actions. That’s the most insane, backwards thinking I’ve ever experienced. You don’t make it so only the criminals can have guns because criminals don’t buy guns legally.
Criminals don’t follow the rules that are in place or else they wouldn’t be criminals. So why are you going to punish the law abiding citizen and take away from the law abiding citizen for something that the criminal is doing? Why would you make it so that the criminal is the only person that can use the gun? Why can’t the victim have the gun to protect themselves? How often is a cop actually there when the situation is occurring? I don’t even know where to begin to try to understand what happened, how our thought process as a country could have changed. The rules and laws that don’t make any sense are not the answer.
Empowering the criminal is not the answer. Look at Chicago. Look at how much crime there is in Chicago. Do you not think that the criminals don’t know that most people in the city, unless they’re breaking the law, don’t have a gun? You don’t think they don’t know that? Look at the states that have very lenient open gun laws like one of the midwestern ones, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota. If you have a driver’s license for that state, you can buy an automatic weapon over the counter. You then look at the statistics of that state and see how much crime that state actually has or see how many crazy people or crazy things happen (like Columbine) in a state where with a driver’s license, you can buy an automatic weapon. Look at the crime rates in those states. The proof is in the pudding.
Everywhere that the law-abiding citizen can’t have a gun is where the crime is through the roof! But people want to ignore fact. They just want to run with emotion, and they don’t want to actually use logical thought and rational thinking to make decisions. They want to use their knee jerk reactions and emotionally driven decision making process, and that is what has gotten us into this horrible mess that we’re in as a country.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lots of food for thought there.
Aaron Lewis: That was a mouthful! I don’t know if you were expecting all that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) That’s a great segue into the song, “Granddaddy’s Gun,” and the line in the song, “The good lord only knows all the stories it could tell.” Did your relationship with your father and grandfather result in your love of hunting?
Aaron Lewis: My grandfather was my country music outlet. That’s how I was exposed to country music as a kid. I spent countless hours with my grandfather hunting and fishing, checking his traps and helping skin and tan the animals that he’d trapped and all that stuff that’s pretty normal in a country lifestyle. My father continued that tradition in me. That’s like the big connection between me and my dad … the outdoors.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, it was a happy childhood?
Aaron Lewis: Uh … childhood wasn’t the best in the world for me. We make it through when we get to the other side, and we learn a lot of things along the way. I try to just remember the good things of childhood.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Anything you’ve written about in a song?
Aaron Lewis: Very much so. Most of the things are in songs over the years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Staind just taking a break?
Aaron Lewis: Yeah, that’s all. It was time. We had successfully survived our record contract, which put us in the place of freedom to do what we wanted to do, and I needed to find some way to reinvent myself. I can only pick my psychological scabs so many times before there’s just nothing left. It was just time for something different. The country thing just made the most sense. I’ve often felt like, in the grand scheme of things … I hate to sound like Donny Osmond … but I’m more country than rock and roll. I always have been just by lifestyle.
I can’t stand Los Angeles. I can’t stand all of the stereotypes that come with the rock business and everything else. That couldn’t be more the opposite of me. Through a major backlash of rock fans of mine over the years, I’ve made the statement in interviews that I’ve always thought I was more country than rock and roll. I grew up in the sticks. I grew up hunting and fishing. I’m not what rock and roll has always been. I never have been that unless what qualifies me is the fact that I’m covered in tattoos and have a shaved head. Other than that …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And you’re happy now doing the solo country thing, not really thinking about getting back together with Staind?
Aaron Lewis: Not right now, to be quite honest with you. It’s not over. There will come a time, but right now I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you make the change going from a rock superstar to a country superstar?
Aaron Lewis: I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I figure it out (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Somehow, I knew you’d say that (laughs).
Aaron Lewis: Just friggin’ hold on for dear life and see when the ride stops.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you living in Nashville now?
Aaron Lewis: No ma’am. I’ve thought about getting a place in Nashville because I tend to be there a lot, but no, I still live in a little tiny town in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. That’s where my family is. That’s where my wife’s family is. We’ve very family oriented. There were at least 40 people at our house for Thanksgiving and a 35 pound bird.
There’s a family gathering every Sunday, so I really couldn’t take my wife out of her element and remove her from the closeness of her family to then leave and be on tour all the time. I think you can tell by my political views that I don’t necessarily fit in very well in the state of Massachusetts, but that’s where my wife is from. That’s where her family is and because of that tight family connection, I just couldn’t do it. So we’re still in Massachusetts.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think Tennessee is a Republican state and there is a stronghold of conservatives in Nashville, but there is also a liberal faction.
Aaron Lewis: They’re infiltrating everywhere. They’re all moving out of California. Now that they’ve ruined the state of California, they’re all moving to Texas to attempt to do the same thing to Texas.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you working on new music?
Aaron Lewis: I’ve got a full record’s worth of material that I’m going to be heading down to Nashville sometime during January or February to record and start getting the ball rolling and the gears turning for releasing another record sometime in the summer or fall of the upcoming year.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Aaron, do you see yourself playing country music until you retire?
Aaron Lewis: Well, the beautiful thing about country music is it seems to allow the artist the ability to grow old while still doing it. Rock music has always been, for the most part, a younger thing. Pop music has always been a younger thing where it’s a little bit more materialistic, a little bit more shallow, a little bit more of how pretty you are, what clothes you’re wearing and how well you can shake your ass. It’s not really about the music. In country music, if you’re successful at getting them to accept you, once you’re in, it’s kind of like being made like in the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you feel about the music industry?
Aaron Lewis: The music business is the most horrible business on the face of the earth. It is set up completely and totally to suck the life out of the artist while making everyone else a lot of money. There is no facet of the music industry that’s any better or worse from genre to genre. It is completely designed to chew up and spit out the creative mind that is the lifeblood of the entire industry.
The industry has nothing without what we provide. We provide the grease and the gasoline that turns the wheels and keeps everything lubricated. They’re the marketing tool, and we create the product. One is nothing without the other. A product can’t get out there without the marketing tool, and the marketing tool has nothing to do without our product, yet it is completely set up to just drive us into the ground, work us to death and reap all the rewards for it.
They really just throw us pennies, just enough to keep us happy and to keep us going. You can apply that to even the biggest of careers, even Taylor Swift who has made so much money personally over the last few years. That gigantic sum of money is just a little bit of pennies thrown at her just to make her feel good about what’s going on, just to keep her going. She probably made 30 or 40 or 50 million dollars last year. That 30, 40 or 50 million was pennies, thrown at her just to make her feel like she is accomplishing something in the grand scheme of things.
As to how much money was actually amassed by what she accomplished last year or over the last few years, it is nothing compared to the amount of money that everyone else has made on her. I can assure you. Because that’s how it’s designed. It’s not a friendly business.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): From the very beginning?
Aaron Lewis: From the very beginning. From the time you sign that contract, it is designed to suck the life out of you. When they’re done with you, they can just throw you away, and there’s a thousand people behind you just freaking foaming at the mouth to get put in the same messed up situation because they haven’t had 20 years in the business to realize and figure out all this stuff, to see it first hand. They’re new, and they still have that fantasy in their heads of what this business is that to be a big rock star or country star or pop star, it is created with videos, this country being so obsessed with celebrities. It’s just all created to suck the life out of us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What helps you de-stress from the entire scene?
Aaron Lewis: I hunt, fish and play golf. I honestly think there is nothing better for me than a tree stand at 6:00 in the morning before its even daylight. It’s pitch black all the way around you, and the woods are completely silent. The woods wake up all around you without realizing that you’re even there. There’s a huge difference between taking a walk in the woods and climbing up into a tree before daylight and letting the woods waking up around you.
I don’t think that there’s anything for me that is more serene and more peaceful and more of an escape from everything than that right there. First thing in the morning when the fog is rolling off the lake, and the whole lake has 3 feet of fog on top of it, and the ducks are flying over the top of you. There’s just something about first light in the morning. It’s like a fresh start. It’s a fresh new start, and there’s nothing better for me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are your Christmas plans?
Aaron Lewis: I’ll be home. We’ll have a huge gathering. The kids usually get one present on Christmas Eve and then Christmas morning, they have to wait for mommy and daddy to get up before then can do anything. But by the time we get up, they’ve already pulled all of their presents from under the tree and separated them all, and they’re just foaming at the mouth waiting on us (laughs).
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