Interview: Big & Rich
April 26, 2007 01:37 PM
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
John Rich of country duo Big & Rich has big plans for his band's forthcoming album, "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace." R&B singer John Legend and rapper Wyclef Jean make guest appearances, and a song called "Lost in This Moment" is quickly claiming airwaves.
"It's the fastest-moving single in the history of our career so far in Big & Rich," said Rich, a former member of Lonestar. "It's potentially one of the biggest songs we've ever had. We're excited about that. ... We think it's probably the best record we've ever done to date."
That says a lot for Big & Rich, who rose out of a weekly jam session with Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy, dubbed Muzik Mafia. During its short career (the duo released its first album in 2004), Big & Rich has accumulated a slew of award nominations.
Rich and his partner, Big Kenny Alphin, have also become some of country music's most sought-after songwriters. Besides penning their own tunes, they have written "Redneck Woman" and "Here For the Party" for Gretchen Wilson, "Like We Never Loved at All" for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and "Mississippi Girl" for Faith Hill.
Rich talked to LiveDaily about "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace," working with Jean and Legend, and the future of Muzik Mafia.
LiveDaily: When does the new album come out, and what can you tell me about it?
John Rich: June 5. There's some pretty cool collaborations. A rapper named Wyclef Jean is on it. A pop singer named John Legend is singing with us on a song. And, of course, members of the Muzik Mafia are on there.
It seems like you've had a strong R&B sound on your albums, and it continues with Wyclef Jean and John Legend. Are you big R&B fans?
Kenny and I are just fans of just everything. We have music in every genre, pretty much. I listen to everything from Frank Sinatra to Kid Rock. It's all good. Wyclef, I went to one of his concerts. He saw me in the audience pulled me up on stage, because he's a country music fan, and we jammed on stage together. That led to him rapping on our album. John Legend, we met him at a charity function in New York and ended up hanging out with him a little bit. We struck up a friendship, and about a year later, [when] we were making an album, I called him and said, "Hey, would you want to sing something on the album?" He said, "Absolutely." Just artist-to-artist [is] the way things are moving nowadays.
Tell me about the song "8th of November." That's such a touching song.
It's a story about a real guy named Niles Harris, who was mine and Kenny's bartender in 2001--I guess it would have been 2002--up in Deadwood, SD. It's a little town up there where we like to go hang out and write and gamble and get crazy. He was our bartender. We got to be friends with him, and he started to tell us a story about this battle he was in [during the Vietnam War] when he was 19 years old, Nov. 8, 1965. The song basically spells out the battle, what happened that day, what he's doing now, how he's still dealing with it. It's really become a flagship song for Vietnam veterans, I think. We have massive amounts of Vietnam vets coming to our shows to hear that song now. It seems to be a real important thing to them. Probably musically, that's the most important thing Kenny and I have ever put out.
What did the bartender think of the song? Was he pretty touched by it?
Well, it's his life story, you know. We spent two years writing it to make sure we had all the facts and figures right. He was hesitant to give us a lot of info about it right off the bat because it was such a personal thing. As we got to be better friends with him, he told us more and more about it, and that's how the song came into being.
You and Big Kenny have scored a string of hits with Big & Rich and other artists since you formed a partnership in Big & Rich. How was your success beforehand?
Kenny had never written a hit song for anybody. I had had a couple that I had written when I was in the band Lonestar, but it had been several years since I had had any hits. I think in '96 I had a No. 1 song. But Kenny and I met in '99--I hadn't had anything going on. We were writing tons of songs, but we were not by any stretch big songwriters at that point.
What do you think it was about your music that caused people to pay attention after the formation of Big & Rich?
Well, Muzik Mafia caught on. That was Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, Gretchen Wilson and a ton of others. I think once "Redneck Woman" and "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" both came out and they sold so many records, I think the business started to pay attention. They started going through our catalogs. I have over 1,000 songs in my song catalog right now. Kenny has close to that. They started going through our catalogs and cutting hundreds of songs. That's what happened. It got hot.
What's the status of the Muzik Mafia right now?
Oh, man, it's on fire right now. Let's see, Big & Rich, we have a new album. Gretchen Wilson has a new album May 15 coming out, her third album. Cowboy Troy has a new album coming out June 5, the same day ours comes out. He's on tour with us again this year. An artist named John Anderson, who everybody knows--if you've listened to country music at all, you know who John Anderson is. His first studio album release in over seven years comes out May 15. He's an honorary member of the Muzik Mafia now. ...There's a new guy named James Otto who has a first single coming out this summer, new album fourth quarter this year. There's, like, five albums coming out from Mafia artists this year. You should tell your readers to visit MuzikMafia.com. It's gone from 2,500 members--we call them soldiers--of the Muzik Mafiato over 100,000 in a year. It's really turning into a pretty cool thing.
I read that you're working with Jewel.
Yeah, I've been recording a country record with her. It's unbelievable, honestly. That's what I'm working on today, actually. It's just incredible. What an absolutely incredible songwriter and singer she is. It's really frightening, her level of talent. She asked me if I would produce a couple of things for her. I said, "Absolutely." We went in and it went so well she said, "Do you want to do some more?" I said, "Sure." Next thing you know, we had a whole album.
When is that set for release?
There's no release date set on it. Like I said, we're still finishing up the recording process. But I would say they'll probably release something on her this summer, and I bet she would have an album in stores by Christmas. She's as good or better than she ever was right now. Her songwriting is just unbelievable.
When you wrote "Save a Horse," did you know you had a hit on your hands?
Uh, yeah, absolutely. We played it at Muzik Mafia on Tuesday Night Jams like a year before it was ever recorded. At the Mafias, people just became unwound when we played that thing. We knew we had snagged one when we wrote that.
On your first album your mission was to introduce yourself. What is your mission for your third?
This third album, the first single is probably another curveball for people. It's called "Lost in This Moment." It's a wedding song. It's going to be an absolute anthem. It already is, as young as it is. When we go out and play it now, it's already a huge response from our audience. I think this album is just a collection of great songs. There's no angles or slants to anything. It's just great songs, coming right at ya. It's just the best of the best of what we've written. There's not an "8th of November" for you or anything like that, especially with this album. It's just great songs, one after the next after the next after the next. I think this record could be the most successful thing we've ever done.