“There’s a big void to fill in country music, to be more country, or traditional.
You can’t be too soft, and you have to have some attitude.
I just like the fiddle and the steel and guitars all working together.
This is not like a throwback, just a different era of traditional.
So, you know, this is what I do; this is me.
I love a good beat, good lyrics and a good melody.
Put a bunch of great country sounds around that, and it’s pretty awesome.”
To hear Jon Pardi talk, it’s pretty simple. Country music is fiddles, steel and Telecaster guitars; but if you’ve listened to country radio, hearing those things in the realm of synth patches, 808s and hip-hop breaks is like steer horns on a Lamborghini. Yet, the emergent California country star, who not only won the 2017 Country Music Association New Artist of the Year but scored a Single of the Year nomination for the thick-treaded “Dirt on My Boots,” only knows one way.
“You know ‘Head Over Boots’ was one of the countriest songs off California Sunrise,” the affable young man points out. “And it was one of our biggest singles, so it led us to feel like we could go in this direction. My label was like, ‘Don’t be afraid to be more traditional. The ball’s in your court, man. We’re perfectly fine with this!’”
And so, Jon Pardi dug in, slung low and came back with Heartache Medication. An unrepentantly Bakersfield juke joint/Texas ice house proposition, it’s a cocktail of vintage Brooks & Dunn, stone cold Haggard, a strong shot of the smoothest and swinginest Strait, a long pour of Alan Jackson and equal measures Buck’n’Dwight. From the unapologetic lope of “Old Hat,” a declaration of the good ole boy code of honor, to the quick banjo-trimmed blessing “Starlight,” honoring loved ones who’ve passed, the 34-year old writer sought to re-establish as many classic idioms as possible.
With the twin-fiddle/Telecaster grounded title track, Pardi expands the sweeping “Fool Hearted Memory” classicism into a bar-stool coping strategy, while the turbo-thumping post-rockabilly “Me & Jack” recalls the humor-steeped hijinks of Cash or Waylon and Willie at their wittiest. There’s the fiddle-soaked “Call Me Country” with its ascending guitar solos, the mariachi horns of “Tequila Little Time,” the torch truth of “Don’t Blame It On The Whiskey,” with Lauren Alaina at her most aching, and the steel-stitched promenade turning high-test swing “Tied One On” offering a breadth of style that’s pure ‘90s octane.
“That kind of country was always stompin’ boots,” Pardi concedes, also recognizing the camouflage it contains. “I think a lot of these songs and the feeling of this whole record is moving on, dealing with something maybe sad, but knowing the music is going to make you feel good. That’s one thing old country had, that attitude of no matter what was going on, people still want to feel good. I don’t want to be sad and lonely, so let’s go out and have a time, party like it’s gonna fix everything.
“You gotta do something to get out of the trap, which is why we called the album Heartache Medication. I wrote that song a few years ago, but, you know, it’s that feeling, we’ve all had and remember. Why do we love ‘Mis’ry & Gin’ so much? Because we’ve all been there, but it’s beautiful and sad, so it makes you feel better.”
While his third Capitol Nashville album explores the various phases of moving on, the emphasis is very much on feeling better. In Alan Jackson’s world where “sometimes the cowboy don’t always get the girl,” Pardi embraces all the colors of lonely, whether the tables turned ache of the slow ramble “Ain’t Always The Cowboy,” the dumb boy reckoning, Dixie Chick-feeling “Nobody Leaves A Girl Like That” or the Pig Robbins’ piano shuffle/John Huey steel puddle of a random (re)encounter “Old Times.”
“I don’t like writing all the time; it burns me out. I don’t want to just be showing up, looking for an idea or a melody,” he says of the process. “I did go through a struggling time, and I do think a lot of the feeling of this record is moving on, dealing with something sad. But songs – even sad songs – make you feel good. So, this was someone saying, ‘I still want to feel good. I don’t want to be sad and lonely. I want to go out and get to feeling better.’ Because, sometimes music is the one thing that can pull you through.”
Music, for some, is both the final refuge and starting point for getting back in the game. No wonder if Eric Church and Miranda Lambert were going to let anyone have “Don’t Blame It On The Whiskey,” written late night on a tour bus, they were going to give it to someone who understood.
“Brian (Wright) is friends with both of them, and he had this work tape – and it was just the best thing. I wanted that song so bad, that Eric Church melody and how real they were being about the fact it’s never the alcohol, it’s everything else. I couldn’t believe they let me have it, but man…
“And Lauren, who’s a friend. I figured out when we co-hosted the ACM Honors that we have so much vocal chemistry. She can sing anything, and people don’t think of her like this, but dang, it’s just simple and straight, you can hear every last drop of the emotions.”
For an upbeat guy, there’s no shortage of love for the hard stuff. Just as he’s never one to let a little heartbreak bring him all the way down. Even the is-she-or-isn’t-she-gone of Dean Dillon’s “Love Her Like She’s Leaving” walks the line between utter devastation and the unstoppable will to get her back. The George Strait-evoking hanging on to the last shred of maybe is the songwriting legend at his finest.
“Dean was playing the Nashville Palace, and he played ‘Miami My Amy,’ ‘Tennessee Whiskey,’ then ‘Is It Raining at Your House,’ and I was dying. Then he played ‘Homecoming ’63,’ never mind all those George Strait songs. He understands that place where guys struggle; this guy has put whatever his demon is in the past, and he’s really going to try to be the right guy. Cause he’s not gonna lose this girl.”
Pardi laughs when he says this. Living in honky tonk bars, whether coming of age or finding his way with a little band, he knows the struggles between the sexes, the way love is what everyone’s looking for and how coming up short has been as central to country music as Don Rich’s guitar-playing, Porter Wagoner’s suits or Waylon Jennings’ back beat.
He doesn’t just love it, he exults in what can happen when players meet songs. “I truly love watching great players play. In the studio, they work so hard to get those tones, and the amps. With our road gear, if we brought that in, you’d have a loose bolt, something vibrating, so instead we have the very best players – and some of my road guys – getting the absolute best sounds. If fiddle brings out your inner hillbilly, and steel just melts with the track, it gets a sound that’s just iconic. That’s what we wanted.
“Whether it’s that Tele sound that’s the Rolling Stones, but it’s Buck Owens’ Don Rich, or the Gibson 335, which was on a lot of Motown stuff and gives you a lot of big sounds for rhythm, it all just comes right at you. The Telecaster is that rock & roll country, while the 335 offers a bit of soul.”
Pardi laughs, knowing how he sounds. Almost apologetically, he explains, “I’m always in work mode. I’m not the artist, sitting back and saying, ‘Isn’t this amazing?’ I’m more, ‘Can we get more guitar in there?’ I’m always listening for ‘Can we do this? Should we stop that?’ Because when it’s all done, that’s when the magic happens – and I don’t want to fall short of that.”
Across 14 songs, co-produced with longtime collaborators Bart Butler and Ryan Gore, Pardi delivers an homage to what he was raised on without ever seeming like an archivist. Whether bringing the energy hard or slowing things down to a buckle-polishing simmer, Pardi knows the difference – and figures if he can share the things he loves about old school country with a contemporary shine, he can turn people onto the roots by making the tracks feel current, the emotions feel real and the vocals feel true to the heart.
“There’s a lot of sneaker country, a lot of people just trying to be hip,” Pardi concludes. “For me, ‘Call Me Country,’ that’s my stuff. Boots, straw hats, saying, ‘Ma’am,’ that’s not a thing of the past for me. It’s a fun, old school song, with some phaser on it – and just some of the stuff I loved about Waylon and Merle, and Willie, who’s still here. There’s that line about being ‘a ghost on the radio,’ but maybe with these songs, that kind of country can live again.”
Jon Pardi’s latest single, “Tequila Little Time,” is poised to top the country charts, and the tune, which he co-wrote with Rhett Akins and Luke Laird, has always been special to him.
“’Tequila Little Time’ is a great one to play. It’s always been fun. It’s always been something special. It’s always been a song that I’ve kind of fought for and I think it’s just fun, especially coming out of a pandemic. I said people need fun right now. They need ‘Tequila Little Time.’ They want to feel like they’re sitting by the water with a margarita somewhere,” says Jon. “You know, just for it being where it is right now is awesome and just having a shot at going No. 1 with something I’ve believed in, it makes me feel really good. And it’s just a fun song all-around live, and if you hear it on the radio or you play it in your car or truck, it’s a jam.”
The song is from his celebrated third album, Heartache Medication.
Jon Pardi (Tequila Little Time hit) OC: …it’s a jam. :36
“’Tequila Little Time’ is a great one to play. It’s always been fun. It’s always been something special. It’s always been a song that I’ve kind of fought for and I think it’s just fun, especially coming out of a pandemic. I said people need fun right now. They need ‘Tequila Little Time.’ They want to feel like they’re sitting by the water with a margarita somewhere. You know, just for it being where it is right now is awesome and just having a shot at going No. 1 with something I’ve believed in, it makes me feel really good. And it’s just a fun song all-around live, and if you hear it on the radio or you play it in your car or truck, it’s a jam.”
Jon Pardi is closing in on the top of the country charts with his latest single, “Tequila Little Time.” Among other tunes of his, including “Dirt On My Boots,” he performed the tune on the CBS Special New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash. Stream now on Paramount+.
What are some of your favorite stars doing to welcome in the New Year? A few of them are working to help fans celebrate. Several artists have taken the time off around the holidays and will hit it hard when they return to the road in 2022. Some artists have resolutions, some artists look ahead to 2022 and some are very helpful with their own hangover cures for those who imbibe too much on New Year’s Eve.
For several country stars, they’ll be ringing in the new year with Dierks Bentley in Nashville on New Year’s Eve as CBS presents NEW YEAR’S EVE LIVE: NASHVILLE’S BIG BASH on Friday (December 31st) at 8-11pm ET/PT and 11:30pm-1:30am ET/PT. The special programming will air on CBS and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Originating from downtown Nashville across multiple locations, the star-studded special will be packed with high-energy performances celebrating the excitement and anticipation of a new year. In addition to Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, Sam Hunt, Jon Pardi, BRELAND, Jason Aldean, Jimmie Allen, Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Brooks & Dunn, Dan + Shay, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell and Zac Brown Band, among others will perform.
Music City has built an outstanding reputation for hosting the most musical New Year’s celebration and country’s biggest party. The five-hour celebration will feature nearly 50 performances from locations across the city, including the main stage in Nashville’s Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park anchored by headliners Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band and Dan + Shay. The broadcast will cross multiple time zones, with the traditional countdown at midnight ET, culminating with the renowned Nashville music note drop and fireworks at midnight CT.
Brothers Osborne (New Year) OC: (TJ) …next month. :44
JOHN: “I think it’s kind of funny how we spend literally the last moment and the very first moment of every year being extremely intoxicated, extremely, because you don’t want to wait until like 12:30 to get your buzz on. You’ve got to do it before midnight, and then once midnight happens, you’re like, ‘Omigod! Now it’s time to celebrate even more.’ Debauchery is the literally bookending your entire year.” TJ: “I love how everyone starts the year off with diets and then we end the year with like excessive amounts of food. And then you get to the end of the year, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start a diet on the 1st, so I’m going to eat everything that’s in front of me.’ I love it.” JOHN: “And come February 1st, ‘what diet?’” [laughs] TJ: “What diet? I’ll start it next month.” [laughs]
Brothers Osborne (hangover cure) OC: …of the year. :07
“Usually drinking more. I mean, a little hair of the dog never hurt anybody. Plus, it’s the first of the year.”
Dierks Bentley (New Year’s Eve 2021) OC: …on CBS. 1:07
“I haven’t played a New Year’s Eve show in a really long time. Somewhere along the way, I just decided I wanted to be a regular fan of New Year’s Eve and just be doing the stuff with my kids and watching the ball, the countdown in New York or in Colorado, I think we had a pair of skis that came down instead of a ball. But I just kind of enjoy being off and just doing all that, but when I found out that this big CBS special is happening in my adopted hometown of Nashville where I’ve lived for almost 30 years, I really wanted to be a part of it, because it’s a special moment for the city, it’s a special moment for country music. I love our town and I love country music, and I watch the stuff out of New York and some of the other networks that do New Year’s Eve Countdowns, and there’s no reason why Nashville shouldn’t, why Country Music shouldn’t be the No. 1 thing everyone’s watching on New Year’s Eve. We have all the artists and they’re all great to work with and they’re just gonna put on great performances and I think it’ll be a big moment for the city and a big moment for Country Music. So, I asked the powers that be if I could be a part of it, and they said yes, and I’m really excited to showcase our city on CBS.”
Dierks Bentley (New Year’s Eve Special guests) OC: …one-time event. :31
“There’s so many artists down there, so many people involved. I think they had maybe 50 different artists performing at this event, so definitely would love to have some collaborations. I’ve looked around to see who else is also performing on the stage with me and there’s some great artists there, so if they’re hanging around, we’ll definitely be pulling people up and trying to make it great.’ Cause it’s not just about the people watching on CBS, I think we’ll have over 100-thousand people in the Bicentennial Mall, so really want to make it special for all of the Nashville people and the people who traveled to Nashville for this one-time event.”
Dierks Bentley (2022) OC: …you know. :30
“Just like everyone coming out of 2020 and coming back into this year, it’s been such a great year for us to be back out on the road and readjusting life in Nashville. I can’t say I have any 2022 resolutions other than just enjoying every day and enjoying every show and getting a chance to make a record right now; it kind of feels like starting all over again because of what we’ve been through the last two years. So, no, I’m just looking for another great year and again, it’s a lot of gratitude for what I get to do moreso than ever just because 2020 and…you know.”
Eric Church (hangover cure) OC: …every time. :17
“The best hangover cure – I’ve got two. One is 5-hour Energy [bottles], because of all the B-vitamins that are in it. You can start pounding those, and it’s either gonna work, or it’s gonna keep you up and prolong your misery. But the other one I have is just take two Advil and a beer in the morning. Hair of the dog, man – that works every time.”
Jon Pardi (2022) OC: …this album. :20
“What I’m looking forward to the most for 2022 is a brand new album. We haven’t had no time to work on it because I’ve (only) been home about two or three days for the past three months, it seems like, and I haven’t been writing. I’ve been doing nothing but touring. So, I’m gonna get some songwriting in and finish this album.”
Jon Pardi (hangover cure) OC: …deal with it. :20
“My hangover cure is Bloody Marys, but be careful – because once you have a couple, don’t go to beer, because if you go to beer, you’re gonna start drinking again and you’ll end up a morning drunk. OR if you want to go the non-alcoholic route, there’s nothing you can do for hangovers. [laughs] You just go deal with it.”
Jordan Davis (reflecting back on 2021) OC: …of 2021. :18
“Reflecting back on 2021, man, we released the EP Buy Dirt, and that’s been really special for us, so seeing that EP really connect with the fans, and the son in general, you know, ‘Buy Dirt’ with me and Luke has been really, really cool to see people gravitate towards that one. So, that’s been one of the coolest things of 2021.”
Jordan Davis (2022) OC: …the fans. :15
“Looking ahead to 2022, just getting back on the road playing shows. We’re going out with Dierks early in the year, and then just gonna stay busy for the rest of the year playing shows. So, really the thing I’m most looking forward to is just getting back on the road and playing for the fans.”
Kacey Musgraves (hangover cure) OC: …water. Yup! :32
“Coconut water is a major help with hangovers and also, a lot of times we go and eat Vietnamese pho. It’s a soup, and it’s got this awesome broth. You can get different things in it or whatever, but for some reason, it’s just like…it’s almost like a chicken noodle soup kind of an idea, you know, but it’s good. That’s good for hangovers too. That, sleep, Tylenol, coconut water and just water, in general. And when you’re drinking, have your alcohol, drink a little bit of water, drink some more alcohol, drink some water. Yup!”
Kip Moore (avoiding hangovers on NYE) OC: …yourself. :03
“Pace yourself on New Year’s – that’s the remedy. Pace yourself.”
Lauren Alaina (reflecting back on 2021) OC: …normalcy. :23
“When I reflect back on 2021, I think the thing that stands out most to me is how much I’ve realized that we’re all in this together. Even though we’re all separated, and it’s been such a rough couple of years, I have felt overwhelming love and support from people, and I hope that everyone is feeling that and that we’re all feeling like we’re getting back to some sort of normalcy.”
Lauren Alaina (2022) OC: …as I can. :19
“My hopes for 2022 are normalcy (laughs). As much as we can get back to our lives, I’m looking forwarding to touring. I’m looking forward to celebrating my new album, Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World, and getting to play that music in front of my fans and just connecting with people as much as I can.”
Luke Bryan (New Years-best) OC: …great night. :17
“My best New Year’s Eve is definitely when my wife and I started back dating. We started back dating right before Christmas, and we went on a trip down to Florida and met some friends. And her birthday is New Year’s Eve. We celebrated it that night. It was just a great night.”
Priscilla Block (2022) OC: …awesome year. :33
“I cannot believe that 2021 is almost over. This has been seriously one of the best years of my life. And I’m just so thankful I’ve been able to put out new music, meet new fans. I am so excited for 2022. I feel like it’s just gonna be bigger and badder. I cannot wait for y’all to hear new music, me get out on the road and meet all of y’all, and I think it’s gonna be a really, really awesome year.”
Travis Denning (favorite New Year’s Eve party) OC: …it was good. :41
“I think my favorite New Year’s Eve party ever was when my sister got married, and my sister’s party got done at 10:30, 10:45 and she got married right behind a little club that I played a lot in Macon, Georgia called the Crazy Bull and love the owner. We’re boys, you know? So, we just literally walked right over and burned the house down. That was one of my favorite New Year’s Eve memories, ‘cause I got to see my sister and brother-in-law get married and that was such a great, great time, and then me and my older cousin and best friend, we ended up at Waffle House that night, so it was good.”
Travis Denning (hangover cure) OC: …me better. :17
“You know, I think my hangover cure is just sitting on my butt, [laughs] not doing anything. Drink some water, a cup of coffee, but usually anything greasy or just some big ole Mexican food that’ll get me at least to a nap, which will get me better.”