Interview: Big & Rich’s ‘Did It for the Party’ Is a ‘Time Capsule’ of Their Lives
Big & Rich's sixth studio album, Did It for the Party -- the duo's second on their own Big & Rich Records -- is out Friday (Sept. 15). The 13-track record was more than three years in the making, while Big & Rich made sure both the timing of the project's release, and the songs on it, were perfect for the next step in their creative career.
"['Big] Kenny' [Alphin] and I, when we set out to make a record, we want to have something that we think is a body of work," John Rich tells The Boot. "I buy a lot of records; I buy a lot of music. A lot of times, you’ll get a record, and there’s [only] two or three really good songs on there. It doesn’t mean every song needs to be a single for country radio, but every song has [to have] a point in being on the record. I think we’ve done that since Day One. Horse of a Different Color was like that, and that was almost really a concept record."
Rich and Big Kenny call Did It for the Party "almost like a time capsule, like a lot of our records are," Rich says. "What’s on our mind? What are we spending our time thinking about and doing?"
"That comes out in your songwriting," Rich notes. "Some of the songs on this record have been written in the past two or three years. When you get them together and people are getting ready to hear them, it’s exciting. It’s really exciting."
Rich, by his own admission, has written well over 2,000 songs so far in his career. He says the process of narrowing down which ones made it onto Did It for the Party was an arduous task, and one that he and his duo partner didn't take lightly.
"It’s everything from brand-new songs all the way back to, ‘Hey, here’s something I just re-discovered from my catalog from maybe a long time ago,'" shares Rich. "I think, for every song on the record, we probably recorded three. There’s 30-plus songs that were recorded for this record. And then you take that and listen to all those songs for months; you make your family listen to them, your friends, and give copies to your fans, you play them on the bus, you play them wherever you’re at, your truck. And then, little by little, songs will start poking their head up and going, ‘Me! I’m a candidate. I’m the one that should be on the record.’ When you get the whole group of those, that’s your list."
When we set out to make a record, we want to have something that we think is a body of work.
Both Rich and Big Kenny are equal voices when it comes to determining the final track listings for their albums, Did it for the Party included. Perhaps surprisingly, Rich says the two very rarely disagree.
"Kenny and I don’t have big creative arguments, because we kind of just throw it all on the table," admits Rich. "He criticizes his work, and I criticize my work, way harder than we’ve ever criticized each other’s work. So if he puts up a song that [he] wrote, and I didn’t write on it, I’m going to give it every benefit of the doubt and try to understand where he’s coming from. He does the same for me. But at the end of the day, songs either cancel each other or they stand up real tall."
Focusing on the songs, and their messages, is the foundation Big & Rich have built their career on since their debut single, "Wild West Show," was released in 2003. For the duo, having a strong lyrical message trumps almost every other factor when making records.
"Our goal is for every album to have lyrics on there that say something important," Rich notes. "On Horse of Different Color, there was a song called "Live This Life" that is still a big fan favorite. Every now and then we’ll pull it out in the show, and there’s standing ovations."
Rich says Big Kenny's favorite song on Did It for the Party is one he wrote called "Lie, Cheat or Steal." "[It's] his favorite, favorite lyric," says Rich. "It’s a great lyric." But Rich's own personal favorite on the record is one that Rich hopes will have a special release in time for Father's Day next year, called "My Son."
"["My Son"] is a song I wrote by myself that’s basically a love letter to my two sons, Cash and Colt," reveals Rich. "The thought was in my head that, man, if something happened to me out here, if I didn’t come back home and it was the end of my life out of nowhere, what would I want them to know that I think is important?
"It’s a really simple lyric. I tried to write it in the style of how Johnny Cash might write it, which is very few words and maximum impact," Rich adds. "I’m really excited for my fans to hear it, because I think whether you’re somebody’s kid or [have a child of your own], which is everyone, I think that song cuts both ways, and it’s a really important song."
Big & Rich released "Look at You," "Run Away With You" and "Lovin' Lately," the latter of which features Tim McGraw, as singles from their previous album, Gravity, which was their first record released on their own label, in 2014. Although the guys didn't intend to wait so long between albums, Rich says it was necessary to make Did It for the Party as successful as possible. And, truthfully, they may have waited longer if they didn't believe so strongly in their current single, "California."
"It takes a while to get a song up the chart ... We did three singles, and that took the better part of three years," Rich explains. "We decided, we had written a bunch of songs during that time, and we wanted to get them out and get going, and "California" was one of those songs. I think it was just time to put them out, because there they were. You don’t want to sit on them forever."
We could be around literally forever because the kind of music we make, and our message and what we are as a duo, has not been replicated.
Did It for the Party boasts an eclectic song list, from party songs to serious songs. But one thing remains consistent throughout all 13 tunes: the harmonies and vocal blend Big & Rich are known for and their slight defiance that eschews current country music trends, with a distinct feeling of an evolution of the duo as artists
"I think the kind of songs that Big Kenny and I were writing from, say, 2000 to 2004 -- you had songs like "Hicktown," "Redneck Woman," "Here for the Party," "All Jacked Up," "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," on and on and on -- just legions of songs that came out that I really think put a new sound into country music," Rich reflects. "A lot of people kind of found their routes in and around what was going on, and then it went into stuff like bro-country, and it moved into that realm of country music. But I think that kind of wore out its welcome.
"Sounds wear out their welcome. If you hear the same sound or the same energy long enough, your ears get tired of it. It’s always been that way; it always will be," Rich continues. "But I do think those cycles will play back around."
For Big & Rich, Did It for the Party involved plenty of hard work, but it's just one part of the duo's lengthy journey in country music. In many ways, they feel as though that journey is still in its first chapter.
"We could be around literally forever because the kind of music we make, and our message and what we are as a duo, has not been replicated. I don’t think it ever will be," Rich says. "I look at us as down the road as a Lynyrd Skynyrd or a Charlie Daniels, or a Hank [Williams] Jr. -- we’re kind of one of those acts. So I think, for me, longevity is a big deal."
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