Catching Up With Rodney Atkins
Chalk Rodney Atkins’ up as one more Nashville overnight success story. That is, if nights are measured by decades.
Although he had never even played a guitar until well into high school, Rodney’s passion for music through his Tennessee Tech college days was clear to anyone who knew him. As he was working towards his psychology degree, he spent nights playing in bars and honky tonks and spent every free minute commuting to Nashville to do the same. Those Nashville appearances caught the eye of Curb Records, who signed the newcomer in 1997 and quickly released his first single, “In a Heartbeat.” It made it all the way up to number 74 on the Billboard charts, and would take five more years until radio heard another single from Atkins.
His next big push came in 2002 when he released his first album, Honesty. The first two singles off of the album flirted with the charts and it wasn’t until the third, “Honesty (Write Me a List)” that Atkins finally made it into the top 10. But a follow-up single from the album failed to perform.
But nearly ten years after being signed by Curb, things finally clicked for Atkins. With the 2006 release of “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” (the first single from his sophomore album) he scored his first #1.
Since then, he’s continued to score big hits with four additional (and consecutive) chart toppers, including “Watching You,” “These Are My People,” “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy),” and “It’s America.”
The ACM award-winner for Top New Male Vocalist released a brand new album earlier this year that has spawned two hit singles, and his most recent release, “Chasin’ Girls,” is about to enter the charts. The 9513 had a chance to catch up with Atkins in person after an intimate California radio show at a local bar and grill for a quick interview.
KEN MORTON, JR.: There is a brand new brick building in Greenville, Tennessee, with your name on it, I hear.
RODNEY ATKINS: That was amazing. I didn’t know my name was going to be on the building. It’s on the children’s home that I was adopted from–the orphanage that my parents got me from. I was born in Knoxville, but that is where I ended up. I went through foster care and went through three sets of adopted parents before I wound up with my Mom and Dad. Our goal a few years back was to raise about a million dollars to update that place. It had been there since the 50s, and the building had gotten run down. We wound up raising over five million dollars and they built two new youth homes and a lot of new places there. When we went to the building dedication, they named one of the buildings The Rodney Atkins Youth Home. It’s truly unbelievable. Charles Hutchins, the gentleman that still works there, was the guy that placed me with my family. The whole thing was bigger than I ever dreamed it could be.
KMJ: How much did your own adoption experience influence your career in country music? Can you identify traits in you that can be attributed back to your own up-bringing?
RA: It probably did, but I was just a kid. It makes me really cherish and love what family is. That is the one thing I can never get enough of and what I truly feel blessed having. Every part of adoption is a blessing. I have to gave thanks to the National Council For Adoption. I thank God for my family. And probably the concept of perseverance–winding up with the family you’re supposed to have.
KMJ: While getting your degree in psychology in college, I know you helped counsel troubled youth with music. What was that experience like?
RA: It was very cool. It was my practicum while I was at Tennessee Tech. They had me go in and work with these troubled juvenile delinquents. It was sort of like Andy Griffith. I would go in with those guys who would want to rip my head off, me just wanting to get out of there. I would bring in my guitar and you could just see them calm down. They would forget what they were mad about. It made me realize how therapeutic music can be.
KMJ: Looking back after you first got signed by Curb Records in 1997, it took nearly seven years to land your first top ten hit with “Honesty (Write Me A List).” Describe that period of your life.
RA: It’s kind of the way I operate. People always ask if I got discouraged during that period of my life. Maybe I did from time to time, but I really feel that you have to be present in the time you’re in. You have to live where you are and be present in what you’re doing. I was just writing songs. I was raising kids and being married and doing the same thing I am doing now. Your life is really what you’re focusing on. You can’t get too caught up in what’s down the road and where you’ve been. It’s where you are. I’m so thankful that I was actually home while my son was born during those first few years. It allowed us the opportunity to create a relationship that is the greatest thing in the world.
KMJ: You almost see it as a blessing looking back.
RA: It really was. I don’t look at it as a struggle going through that time. They were great times just like these are great times.
KMJ: Let’s switch gears and talk about the new album. For someone who hasn’t listened to it yet, how would you describe it?
RA: It’s a celebration of life and hope and friends and family. That’s what the whole album is about. It’s about camaraderie and having a sense of community. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being human.
KMJ: How would you say it differs from If You’re Going Through Hell?
RA: For me, the difference is sonically it’s a better album. I think we learned a lot when we were recording the album–actually we learned a lot on both of them. For me, vocally, I think the songs are rangier and the grooves are a little bit funkier. It covers some similar topics but I think it’s different, too.
KMJ: Any favorite songs on the album?
RA: I loved “It’s America” the first time I heard it. But I love “Simple Things,” that I wrote too. One day I was hanging out with Elijah, my little boy, all caught up in having to return a whole bunch of phone calls and being the “artist” guy. We like to ride four-wheelers down by and through the creek in our holler behind the house. Down there, we don’t have phone reception. I might have well as thrown my phone away. I got caught up in splashing through the creek and catching crawdads. That is what life is all about. That’s what it really comes down to. That song pulls me back to where I really want to be.
KMJ: I hear there’s a new twist on your most recent single, “Chasin’ Girls,” that’s different from the album version.
RA: What happened is that I wrote this song before Elijah started preschool without life changing a lot. I wrote it way back then. I try to write songs straight out of real life. That’s always my goal. My wife and I were joking about how she was having all the cravings all the time while pregnant. I said, “You know I should have written it this.” And I redid it for her at the house with new lyrics and did a version just for her. I gave a copy to the record label guys and they all said, “Man, that’s even more you. We have to release it that way.” So they’ve decided to come with that version. This is the updated life version. It’s a great song about how us as guys start out by chasing girls and we keep chasing them our whole life.
KMJ: What is country music to Rodney Atkins?
RA: It’s a slice out of real life. That’s what country music is supposed to represent. It’s stuff that real people can relate to. For me, it’s songs that you can call real. That’s what it’s supposed to represent- things that people can relate to.
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