We had the chance to sit down with one of our all-time favorites, Mark Wills, at the 2014 CMA Music Festival in Nashville, TN. Here’s what he had to say to our questions including new music, thoughts on Bro-Country, a Tim McGraw song he passed up on, a song of his that George Strait passed on, and more!
Q. Do you have any new music or projects in the works?
A. We actually do. We’re getting ready to go into the studio in the next couple of months and start working on a new CD, so we haven’t, we’ve not jumped into it fully yet, we’re still in the process of sorta putting the whole package together, but, we’re already starting the song look, ya know which is where you go out and find the right music, and ya know, one thing I have maintained throughout my entire career is that it’s all about the song, it’s all about telling the story, and that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking for some great songs, ya know…we’re ready to, we’re ready to step back into the country music that tells a story and, there’s nothing wrong with the fun stuff, but when everything becomes “oh it’s all country music’s about,” that’s not what I like. I love songs that have meaning, so we’re in the process of going back and finding some of those great tunes now to work on this new album.
Q. What are your thoughts on the state of today’s country music and “Bro-Country?”
A. Here’s what I think. I think that with the genres of music and with country music being opened up to a lot of different people, I think if people listen to rap, then they start liking country music, I can see that there’s a different avenue for those guys to make a living. That’s not what I want to make a living doing. I grew up in the Keith Whitley, Don Williams, Ronnie Milsap, Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Verne Gosden…I loove the storytelling songs, and so that’s still what I base my country music, that’s what I listen to. So when I’m putting a record together, I’m puttin’ a record together with songs that I feel like I want to touch people, I want people to directly relate to, and I don’t directly relate to “bro-country,” so if I don’t directly relate to “bro-country,” I can’t sell it. I think that’s the great thing about a storyteller, that’s the great thing about a songwriter, you have to be honest, and you have to be pretty sincere with the stories that you’re telling, so that’s why you’ll never hear…ya know, I said that, and somebody called me out one time about “Crowd Goes Wild,” and I said, “Well, ya, “Crowd Goes Wild” was more of a talking song, but at the same time it was still telling a story. There was nothing about “Crowd Goes Wild” that was “we gotta find a line that rhymes with hairspray.” It told a story, it was still a storytelling song, and that’s what I stand behind.
Q. Have you ever had a song on one of your albums that you wish had been released as a single, or fought for with the label at the time?
A. Ohh, absolutely. Ya know, I had “What Hurts the Most.” I recorded “What Hurts the Most” two or three years before Rascal Flatts did. That was a great song, I love that tune. I think yeah, we can look back and you can see like there’s a song that I had on a record called “Suntan” and it was just a fun little song that I think would’ve been a great summertime single, I would’ve loved to have released “Prisoner of the Highway,” which was an old Ronnie Milsap song that he and I recorded together, did a duet of. Ya know, there’s a lot of songs that I would’ve released, and to be perfectly honest with ya, I don’t put songs, I don’t put filler songs on records. I think that each one of the songs I recorded, I think it has it’s own merit and could stand on it’s own, and it just depends on what’s going on at the time, as to why they release it or why they don’t.
Q. Have you ever been offered a song that you turned down recording that went on to be a hit for someone else?
A. Absolutely. Yeah, it was a song called “Just to See You Smile,” McGraw. Mark Nesler and Tony Martin wrote the song and I was doin’, recording one of the records, and they brought it to me, and they’re like, “Hey man, we got this song, we want you to listen to it, and I listened to it, and I was like, ahhhhh I just don’t hear it. And then ya know, I dunno, eight or nine months later I’m drivin’ down the road, and I hear this song on the radio and I’m like, “Man, why do I know this song…” And it got to the chorus, it was like, (he starts singing) “Just to see you smile,” and I was like “Aww I remember this song!!” So yeah, it happens to everybody. You don’t hear songs the first time, a lot of people don’t. I was halfway through “Nineteen Somethin'” when I said, “Start that over again, we need to listen to that again.” It’s just one of those things where, absolutely we’ve all passed on songs that we kinda kick ourself in the butt. George Strait passed on “Places I’ve Never Been,” which is a song I recorded…which was written for George Strait, and he was like, “Man, I love that song.” George and I were talking about that one day when we were on tour together, and I said “By the way, that was written for you,” and he goes “Whaaaat?”
Q. Do you remember the first time you ever heard yourself on the radio?
A. Absolutely. Nashville, Tennessee. I was flyin’ in from Seattle, Washington. I had a, I was supposed to be landing in Atlanta, and there was bad weather in Atlanta and we landed in Nashville, I called a buddy of mine, I was like, “Dude, I don’t have a car here, I will pay you to drive me home. And he goes, “Ok.” We get in the car and we’re pulling out of the airport in Nashville, Tennessee and “Jacob’s Ladder” came on WSIX, and I remember it, it was about 10 o’clock at night, I remember it like it was yesterday!
Q. What’s been the biggest “Wow” moment of your career?
A. Well ya know, the first time you ever have a Gold Record, the first time you have a Platinum Record, the first time you win an award, all those are amazing, amazing feelins, but none of that trumps my kids, none of that trumps a lot of the cool things…we got to tour…I’ve toured in Iraq and Afghanistan entertaining our troops, we’ve done stuff like that, all of those…I hold in such high regard that I don’t know that there’s one certain thing that I can say, “Oh, this was the defining moment,” or whatever, but those are definite fun moments, and those are definite moments that you feel like you’ve come along way.
Q. Outside of music, what is something that you are very passionate about?
A. I love shootin’ guns, I love to be outdoors. I’m in the process of working on a couple of new TV shows, one of them is like an outdoor challenge show. I am in the process of doin’ some hunts with some wounded soldiers, Wounded Warrior guys, so I love doin’ that kind of stuff. I love the shooting sports. I love to shoot pistols, I love to shoot rifles and shotguns. I love long-range shooting, so anytime I get to be outside doing stuff like that, that’s one of my favorite hobbies. I used to play golf a lot, and used to stuff like that…and I still do, but the shooting sports is definitely something that I’ve…have a great appreciation for and very much involved in.
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring artist trying to make it in the music business?
A. My advice for giving to a young act is, know who you are, and don’t be afraid to be who you are. Don’t allow the whole marketing ploy to turn you into something that you’re not because at the end of the day, you’ve gotta be that person, and it’s a whole lot easier to get up and look at yourself in the mirror when you’re honest with yourself everyday, then when you put on your “costume” and go to work, and I don’t say that like, with any disrespect, I say that because I’ve been that guy that they tried to turn into something else, and that’s a very uncomfortable position. Get up every day, put your pants on, wear your ball cap if you want to…It’s ok to image up a little bit, but don’t change who you are to become an entertainer or an artist because at the end of the day, you’ve gotta wear that suit every day for the rest of your life, and that can be an uncomfortable position if it’s not who you really are.