By Frank Wells.
Here’s the conclusion of our exclusive interview with country superstar Kenny Chesney. Speaking with Pro Sound News Editor-In-Chief Frank Wells, Kenny shares his thoughts on studio and live vocal mics, how he chose the songs for his new album, Hemingway’s Whiskey, and more. (Coming in late? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 on the PSN blog.)
PSN: So you’re kind of producing with the workstation, with Tony and Justin as musicians with their technical tools as their instruments…
KC: Right; I don’t feel like we’re manipulating the art of it at all. I just feel like we’re making the best record we possibly can and with as much integrity as we can. If you’re doing it all on computer, there’s not a lot of integrity in that, but I believe the way we make records, Buddy and I have found our comfort zone where we’re comfortable in our skin and I think that [the recordings] got as much integrity in them, whether we fly a vocal or a fiddle lick or a guitar lick—there’s still as much integrity there as there ever was.
PSN: What are you using for a vocal mic these days? Do you have a go-to?
KC: I still have the same mic; I used to know the exact name of it, but I know when I don’t have it. Isn’t that funny? It’s an old vintage mic and Barry, I think, is the one that turned me onto it. Me and Buddy and Norro have used it forever.
[Tony Castle reveals that the go-to mic is a vintage Neumann tube U47, specifically one owned by Greg Morrow or a U47 at Blackbird that goes by the nickname “Sweet.”]
No matter where I do vocals, whether we do them in town or out of town, Tony’s got that mic with him. It doesn’t matter what they do with the board, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing with my headphones or whatever, it just doesn’t sound the same [without a U47]. It affects you making music, and creatively it affects you. I think if you ask any singer, if they’re not comfortable in there and are used to hearing what they’re hearing, it affects them.
PSN: On the road, where you’re using Audio-Technica wireless mics, is it easy to find your vocal groove?
KC: I do wish sometimes I had that [the A-T wireless] in the studio because when I go out on the road I get so used to it, to hearing myself with my ear monitors in, with the Audio-Technica mic. I’m so used to having the crowd pumped in; it is two different worlds. [With] trial and error, I think I’ve learned to balance both of those worlds, and my ear is kind of trained to know that I want to get certain things in this world and not in this world.
PSN: You had one of the biggest rigs on the road last year—a massive Electro-Voice touring extravaganza.
KC: You may laugh when I tell you this, but I made the comment and I still feel this way, that I wasn’t a big believer in production, that I felt like that the music should be first and should lead the production. I still feel that way. I can see where people would think that I’ve really contradicted myself over and over, especially last year. But, on top of that mentality, I wanted to give people that come to our shows an experience, a night of not just music. I wanted to give them a show, [for] them to want to come back. We’ve kind of grown this grassroots from when I was doing free 4-H fairs. Now we’re at this place where we have the opportunity to make it fun, to make it great, to have the music be first but wrap everything else around it.
PSN: That’s what earns people Entertainer of the Year awards, isn’t it?
KC: We’ve been very blessed in that, to have done that. But to see what happens to us on the road and to see it grow like it did, like it is, still—I still feel like our audience is growing—and to have that, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of is just to get people that come to see us play and they’re passionate about being there. When I go out on stage and I have that connection, that love affair, with fans—[that] is the thing that I’m most proud of that the band and I have built and they [the fans] built with us. It’s an investment on both parts.
PSN: Tell me more about the song selection process for Hemingway’s Whiskey.
KC: I wrote a lot of songs that didn’t make this record. It was frustrating for me as a songwriter, because I was writing these songs and I would listen to them the next day and it would not be what I wanted. Over time, little by little, we found the songs like “You and Tequila” and then we found “Somewhere With You,” and I found “Round and Round” which I felt was so freaking different, for me anyway. Those songs weren’t on that first record. There was just a fine line of a balance that I was looking for that would be true to what we do live but still push my audience and still be me, and that was a hard line to walk. I backed away from [the first version of the record], I could’ve put that other record out and mailed it in. I allowed myself the time.
PSN: I assume you’ll be hitting the road in support of the new album?
KC: Yeah, we’re going to hit the road in the spring. I’m not sure of the date yet.
I loved the process of making Hemingway’s Whiskey. And I love the end result. As many up and downs as it was to make this record, as many frustrating moments as there were to make this record, as many long nights we spent in the studio to make this record, all the indecision about what songs to put on…. Like Bob Seeger says, ‘what to leave in, what to leave out.’ There were so many of those emotions and moments like that on this record and I’m proud of it.