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Sunday, 9 August, 2009 11:01 AM

Pat Green Reaches for the Sky on 'What I'm For' (CMA)

Photo by Danny Clinch

BNA recording artist Pat Green

By Holly Gleason
© 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 songs."

"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."

Certainly "Country 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 their life."

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 track.

"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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Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer.