Sunday, 9 August, 2009 11:01 AM
Pat Green Reaches for the Sky
on 'What I'm For' (CMA)
by Danny Clinch
recording artist Pat Green
2009 CMA Close Up News Service
"I don't need to
be seen as an intellectual," Pat Green admitted, with a laugh.
"I'm not trying to save the planet or the monkeys or whatever.
I just like to make people feel good. I love that part of my job
- and it destroys my soul any time I think I make anyone feel bad.
That's who I am, and I think it says a lot about the music I make."
Having quietly become
an outdoor-shed headliner in Texas, Green broke through on national
radio in 2003 with his double-Grammy-nominated existential hit "Wave
on Wave." Since then, he's balanced uneasily between the Texas
songwriter that he was and the mainstream Country star he seems
destined to be.
With What I'm For, his
second BNA Records album following 2006's Cannonball, the Gold-selling
Green moves from rock producer Don Gehman to Country hit wizard
Dann Huff, who realized the challenge was to honor this artist's
uniqueness while crafting a sonic template that would allow him
to reach a broader audience.
"Pat is a stadium
performer but not a radio guy in that sense," said Huff. "The
challenge is not thinking in terms of being iconic yet finding songs
that would translate to larger venues. If you take Pat away from
that persona, you have that voice, which is really more of a Southern
Bryan Adams kind of thing. He's a Southern musician, but he's got
that rock thing. So the idea was to find some new places to put
that, which was stretching but still in his comfort zone. Take 'Let
Me:' It's really just a love song yet it's very different for him."
Green isn't doing different
for different's sake. True, he did admit, slyly, that his deepest
desire is "without a doubt, world domination - at the very
least, taking this as far as I can. Why else would I be on a record
label like BNA?" Yet he is also very clear about his boundaries.
"Look, once you
sign with a major, you're in," he stated. "It's your chance
to get in the game, to play for the Super Bowl. And I know that
when it came time to look for producers for this record, there was
only one person on this list. It wasn't Dann Huff; it was 'the guy
who made the Keith Urban records.' Because I knew whoever that was,
Keith had defined his sound through him."
Green and Huff got acquainted
and talked about all this over lunch. "And I was sold,"
Green said. "The places where he stretched me, he took me places
I didn't think I could go. He got my vocals to perform better, to
reach out and to open up what I would sing about."
These interactions served
Green's pursuit of a more specific and ambitious goal to not only
raise the bar on his performance but also to make sure listeners
got the clearest possible picture of where he stands, personally
and artistically. "If I listen to Wave on Wave correctly, I'd
say that I was very young writing those songs, but they were good
songs," he said. "Now I feel I've finally come into my
own, and I want to write songs by a man, by a father, by a guy that
kind of has a handle on the situation.
His Country roots affirmed,
his sound expanded from the introspection of "In This World"
to the emphatic catharsis of "Footsteps of Our Fathers,"
and his lyric range broadened by the mileage he's added to his life
experience, Green mixed tracks by Nashville session players with
four cuts laid down with his own band, depending on the needs of
each song. The emphasis is on original material, with the titles
including just two outside songs and a Green composition "Country
Star," which he co-wrote with Brett James but had intended
to pitch to someone else.
"He has a love/hate
relationship with stuff like that," Huff said. "He's funny
as hell, a cynic with a smile, but he really shies away from novelty
"Do I seem like
someone who would say 'I'm gonna drink pink champagne and see my
name in lights'?" Green asked. "I mean, I have done both,
but I'd never say that. I was so worried someone might think that
was serious. What changed my mind was somebody saying to me, 'So
what?' If they think I'm serious and if they like it and want to
be a Country star like that, good for them."
Star," a whimsical song that falls somewhere between Alan Jackson's
"Gone Country" and Brad Paisley's "Celebrity,"
is clear in its intentions - clear enough to merit release as the
album's first single. But for Green, the reality behind What I'm
For isn't a matter of a song or two. To him, the creative shift
signified by this album marks his musical journey as well as the
refinement of his dichotomy as an artist.
"I think that in
some ways I like the struggle more than the win," he reflected.
"The goal, for me, is to play to lots of people in even a medium-sized
room. You have a full room where everyone walks out feeling like
you were looking at them. I'm as good at that as I'm bad at having
someone come up to me after the show and tell me my music changed
Green plays a variety
of venues that range from such noted rock rooms as Asbury Park's
Stone Pony and Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club to the Houston Rodeo,
Fort Worth's Texas Speedway and Louisville's Kentucky State Fairgrounds.
From January into May this year, as he headlined the first Jägermeister
Country Tour, his schedule included a show before 55,000 fans at
the Houston Rodeo and his sixth consecutive sold-out appearance
in New York. He fears no crowd or genre, and when it comes to his
music, he just wants to grow it - and he believes he's on the right
"But why would you
ever pick up a guitar and start singing songs if you didn't want
to be Bruce Springsteen?" he said, with a laugh. "There
is an extreme artist in me who would love to be Lyle Lovett, but
really I'm good at taking that energy from the crowd and turning
it into more energy, building that momentum into something more.
"My first records
were basically acoustic," he continued. "I was able to
play in Texas without a lot of electric guitars. We built an audience
based on pretty simple records and took it where it went - and then
kept going. But it always makes me sick when people come up and
say, 'We love your old records. Why don't you make something like
that?' I was 18 years old when I started making records, and that
was half my life ago. I've done that. I want to keep reaching, both
in terms of what I do and who I'm singing to."
Amplifying on this point,
Huff observed, "Pat is such a Texan and so eclectic. But you
want him to connect with everyone in front of that stage. That's
what we were building toward with What I'm For."
"Radio has a hard
time putting me in that slot: integrity yet accessible," Green
concurred. "That's my challenge, and I'm not afraid of the
work, of what it takes. Dann stretched me, showed me things about
what I can do, and that's a pretty good place to start."
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