Back in November, the country world was surprised and even shocked by the release of Eric Church’s album Mr. Misunderstood. The news came during the CMA Awards. Eric didn’t do any of the traditional interviews to promote the album. He just send copies of the album to members of his fan club. This week, Eric shared the amazing story about his album with Country Countdown USA’s Lon Helton.
Eric explains: “The biggest surprise from Mr. Misunderstood was me. I didn’t want an album, I didn’t need an album. The last thing I wanted was new stuff. It just happened. In all my years as a writer, I’ve never been that prolific in that short of a span. We had two choices. One was to not put the album out and sit on it, til about now. But to me, if you’re that creative, it’s a crime against that creativity to put it on a shelf. So the only way to do it was drop it, and let the music be the music. I’ve always said the music will win, and with this album, we decided to see if it was true.”
Why didn’t you want an album then? “I wanted the down time. I’ve always enjoyed the down time. I’m an album artist. I look at each album as where we’re heading. I think this time I didn’t get the time, it just fell on top of me. I was questioning if I’d lost my edge. After a few days, I had the first five songs on the album, and I was questioning my taste. I started playing them for people. I started realizing something was happening. It all happened in 30 days. I went into the studio with my producer to record one song. I said, if it goes well, I’ll come back tomorrow. If not, I’m not going to force it. I’ll go back to the house, and I’ll see you in three months. Ten days later we were done.”
What caused the prolific period? What was inspiring you? “I was pretty settled. This was the first one where I was comfortable where I was. I wasn’t 20 any more, and wasn’t in a bar any more. My life wasn’t that. It was the first time I was more comfortable personally. When it was over, I had nothing. I couldn’t write a song. Whatever that period was, I wish I could figure it out. But it was a crime to ignore it. Business wise, we should do that. But that wasn’t where I was.”
What else should we talk about? “We should probably talk about McKinley James. The 14 year old that ended up being on the cover of the album. With the song Mr. Misunderstood, this was a guy who was found…this was happening so fast. Kept it from the label the entire time. Even bought a record pressing plant in Germany to do it secretly. I wanted it to go to the fans first. That’s not how the industry works. The only way to do it was send out vinyl first. We wanted the fans to be the mouthpiece for the album. No way to do that in this town. We kept it to 7 people. We bought a pressing plant in Germany because vinyl takes a long time. We couldn’t get the quantity here. Then we sent it to the fans, gave away 80,000 on the day it came out, and they were the ones who told people about it.
How long did it take for the label to call you? “There were people who found out the day of. I called the President the week of, because we were talking to retailers. But the label President said, ‘You’ve earned the right to do this. It’s not how I’d release an Eric Church record, but if that’s what you want to do, we’ll do it.’ So everybody else found out the day of.”
Listen to Lon’s conversation with Eric here:
You were talking about McKinley James: McKinley was a person, when I wrote this album, my manager just met McKinley. He’s the son of a musician in town. He’s a 14 year old kid, lives in upstate New York likes to work on cars, likes vinyl, plays guitar, old blues, and he said, ‘I just met this kid, and I think this is the guy who you’re talking about in Mr. Misunderstood. The interesting thing is the song came first. I wrote the song first, then I met the kid who was an embodiment of the song. That’s what’s so weird about it. So we decided to put him on the cover of the album, put him in the video, and had him do the press conference announcing the album. We put him to work. He’s the most popular kid in school now. Which plays out in the song. It’s a little spooky, and that’s where you have to back up, and let it happen.”
We were backstage at the 2015 CMA Awards when the news broke about Eric’s album. We saw McKinley James address the press room. Read our story from November HERE