These days, a lot of country music mixes traditional country elements — some twang or pedal steel — with modern rock 'n' roll.
Country superstar Jason Aldean is leading that charge. While he's singing about his “Big Green Tractor” on Saturday at CenturyLink Center Omaha, Aldean's backing band will be slinging guitar solos and pounding power chords into his songs. Artists such as Luke Bryan and Eric Church are following his lead.
Aldean, who last performed here in 2011, is back with his “Night Train” tour, purported to be his biggest yet. (The tour includes 19 buses and trucks and more than 100 band and crew members.)
Before he headed to Omaha, we called Aldean during a stop in Charleston, W.Va.
Q. You won a couple Academy of Country Music awards, including male vocalist of the year. What was that like?
A. It was great, man. Any time you're up for that stuff, it's cool. When you can walk out of there with one, it's great. More than one, it's a pretty awesome night.
Q. How has the tour been going?
A. It's been great, man. This year, we're kinda easing into it versus how we've done it in the past. We're easing into it a little bit, but we've geared up over the next month or so. So far, it's been great. All the stuff has been going really well.
Q. What are you playing on the tour?
A. Obviously, when you get a new album out, you want to come out and play songs from that new record, but we're in a position now where we've had quite a few hits over the years. We have enough hits to fill up a show. It's always fun to go back and play some of the old songs. We have enough material to go out and play for an hour and a half or two hours and it be all hits.
Q. You have enough No. 1 hits to fill up the whole show. Have you left any out?
A. You know what, we have. We kind of started to take some of those songs out of the show. There were things that were making the show lag here and there. But at some point, that's the double-edged sword. Those songs that you love and are hits, you don't have room for all of them. You have to pick and choose. It's a new problem for us, but you know, it's a good problem to have.
Q. You've played some stadiums recently to tens of thousands of people. Does it make you nervous at all with so many more people and all their eyes are on you?
A. It's fun. Honestly, it's exciting. I feed off of that stuff. When you look out there and you see 60,000-plus, if that doesn't get your adrenaline going, I don't know what does. That's like setting a match to gasoline. That's what I feed off of. That's the energy for the show. It's pretty amazing.
Q. You inject a lot of rock elements into your music, especially when you play live. Where does that come from?
A. I was always a fan of country music, obviously, and grew up on a lot of '80s rock. I grew up listening to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard and Guns N' Roses and a lot of the Americana rock stuff — Mellencamp, Bob Seger.
I love country music and lyrics and melodies, but I love the edginess of a lot of the rock-sounding guitars and drums. For me, when I started playing live, to give it a little bit of that edge, it just made it sound the way I wanted it to sound. It wasn't something that I consciously went after, but that was the way it was supposed to sound.
It's people that are my age. We were kids of the '80s. We grew up listening to the same music. Our influence is starting to shine through a little bit, and it's gonna have that rock element. With guys like Luke (Bryan) and Eric (Church) and Miranda (Lambert) and people like that, you're starting to see that influence of the music that we grew up on a little bit.
Q. Did you listen to Garth Brooks or that kind of stuff? That was about your era, too.
A. Yeah, but even before that for me. Alabama and George Strait and Ronnie Milsap and Earl Thomas Conley. And in the '90s, it was guys like Tracy Lawrence and then Garth Brooks was a big influence for everybody. And (Tim) McGraw, too. I came up listening to all of those guys.
Q. So, you sang “1994” on your latest album, which includes a lot of nostalgia. It's also about listening to Joe Diffie. Are you a big fan of his?
A. Yeah, I mean, in the '90s, Joe was a big star, man. He's still, in my opinion, one of the best vocalists in country music. I came up in the clubs playing a lot of his music. A lot of people don't know who he is, but he was a big star back then. He's one of the best singers there's been.
Q. Will you ever throw one of his covers in the set?
A. (Laughs) No, I haven't. But I know them well enough to.
Q. How do you go about picking songs for your albums?
A. You end up having a bunch of songs that you like, obviously. For me, I put them on a CD and throw them in my truck. The songs that I keep wanting to listen to are the ones that I want to put on the record. If I keep skipping over them, they're songs that I'm losing interest in. Those are the ones that get kicked to the side.
Q. You guys always have a big production, but this one is even bigger. Can you tell me about it?
A. Yeah, man. Production-wise, this is the biggest thing we've had out on the road. We spent a lot of time designing the stage. It's big, it's impressive, and it's fun. It's my favorite stage that we've ever had out. It's the best-looking set that we've ever had.
I'm excited to get it out there on the road this year. For people that have seen our show before, it's nothing like anything they've seen from us.
Q. You're coming back to Nebraska to play Lincoln in the fall. Are you excited to come here twice?
A. Yeah. That's just the way it works out. You look at places and routing you haven't been to in awhile. For us, it happened to work out that we get to come through twice. It's gonna be great.
Q. What do you do when you're not on the road?
A. I got a big farm right outside of Nashville where I spend a lot of time hunting and hanging out. I like to relax a little bit. My kids are playing softball, both of my girls, so I'm involved in that with them. Just things like that when I'm home.
Contact the writer: