“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 gets into the Halloween spirit for the new installment of his “Pardi Time” online show. He dons his famous white Elvis Presley jumpsuit and gets into character.
Also in the show, his pal JEremiah goes ghost-hunting, there’s an epic costume party and a date-night with his soon-to-be-bride Summer.
Halloween is Saturday, October 31st, and the holiday, which may be a little different this year with a global pandemic, has some of your favorite country stars getting into costumes, while others are recalling memories of Halloweens past.
Adam Hambrick (Halloween) OC: …five-years-old. :10
“My grandmother made me a Ghostbusters jumpsuit, and I had the proton backpack and I went as Peter Venkman, the Ghostbuster, when I was five-years-old.”
AJ (Halloween) OC: …cute, but…[laughs] :17
“Aww, I remember some, when they were infants, they had like these little, they looked like a little pea pod, you know, or something. It’s like a little green pea or something. And I thought man, that’s awful. But Denise liked it, and I guess it was cute, but…(laughs).”
Billy Currington (Halloween) OC: …Halloween. :17
“You know, when I was a kid, I loved the trick and the treat. I loved dressing up. I was always wanting to be Dracula. That was my favorite guy. But, of course, who doesn’t love going door-to-door and getting these buckets of candy? [laughs] So, love, love Halloween.”
Brandon Lay (Halloween) OC: …let Ryder do. :26
“You know, my dad was a preacher, so Halloween for me (ha) was a little different than most kids. We always had something going on at church, so I think I was usually a character from the Bible and walk around the gym and just try to get as much candy as I can. It sounds a little weird, but I kinda was robbed of the trick-or-treating experience – thanks a lot Mom and Dad – but I’m not bitter about it or anything. We’ll see what we let Ryder do.”
Brothers Osborne (zombie costume) OC: (John) …was so fun! :29
TJ: “Literally, you can dress up like a zombie and drag your foot behind you all day and make weird noises, and everyone finds that completely acceptable.” [laughs] JOHN: “One year I dressed up as a ‘90s redneck zombie with a mullet wig and an Alan Jackson denim coat. I never once broke character. That’s part of the thing — you can actually not break character and get away with it. And everywhere I went, even when I ordered a drink, I ordered it like a zombie that was falling apart. [laughs] It was so fun!”
Brothers Osborne (carving pumpkins) OC: …or something. :25
“With our dad every year, we would go looking for pumpkins, and we would all get our own pumpkin to carve, and he would buy the biggest pumpkin that they had. It was huge. I mean, it was way too big for any one person, but he would love carving. He’s kind of an artsy guy. He was a great drawer and stuff, and he would carve the most terrifying, vicious looking, scary pumpkin you’d ever seen in your life, and it would be massive. It would be like on a 50-pound pumpkin or something.”
Brothers Osborne (Halloween candy) OC: (John) …go stale. [laughs] :34
TJ: “I would say, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Kit Kat and Reese’s too.” JOHN: “I always hated those houses that would give you bad candy, though. You’re like, ‘C’mon. Step it up.’ Spend the extra dollar on a bag, you know?” TJ: “A house when we were growing up used to give out whole candy bars. It was the best. You were like, ‘That house – that’s the honey hole of candy.’” JOHN: “I love it, and I love like at the end, like three or four days after Halloween you would see what candy was left, and it was always like those crappy cheap candies, and they would just go stale.” [laughs]
Brothers Osborne (Halloween costume) OC: (TJ) …I love it. :37
TJ: “There was a costume I had when I was a kid that my dad made. I was a caterpillar, no, you were a caterpillar and I was a spider. And so I don’t know if you’re familiar with pipe insulation? It’s like these black tubes, and so I had these little black pipe insulators as my legs.” JOHN: “There were strings attached to him that would hold some of the black pipe insulators under his hands, and he’d put working gloves on the end of them and so when he’d raise his arms, all of the little spider legs would raise up with it. [laughs] I’m telling you, our parents were total hippies. They were just…” TJ: “Artsy-fartsy hippies. I love it.”
Darius (Halloween) OC: …I’m into. :06
“Halloween’s big for me, because the kids love it. It’s my kids’ favorite holiday, so anything they’re into, I’m into.”
Dierks Bentley (Halloween) OC: … …around home. [laughs] :23
“Oh, when I was a kid, I was all into fireworks. Growing up in Arizona, we couldn’t get ’em, so we’d have ’em shipped in illegally. I still remember the name of the guy we’d call. His name was Joe, and he’d bring in, ship ’em in a package with no writing on ’em. We were all about M-80s in the mailboxes and bottle rocket wars. To me, as a kid, Halloween was fireworks, was blowing up stuff around home. [laughs]”
Eric Church (Halloween) OC: …Franklin Street. 1:18
“My favorite Halloween costume really came, I remember when I got a little older my first year of college, there’s this thing they do every year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Halloween on Franklin Street. We drove down from Boone, North Carolina. I had a bunch of friends that went to University of North Carolina, and we didn’t have costumes and didn’t realize until we were on the way that we had to have costumes. So, we stopped at a costume place in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s Halloween, so there’s a run on everything and couldn’t find anything. And we end up getting sent around, driving around town. We end up finding this hole in the wall place, but they had the full costume, Sesame Street outfits. The real deal. The real ones [with] feathers and fur. We were Elmo, Cookie Monster and I was Big Bird, and the Big Bird was the actual Big Bird. It’s about 7-foot-4, and yiou looked out of the body and then you had these straps that went on since the head was a lot higher. There’s a lot of beer involved in Franklin Street, so we get down there and as the night went on, my straps broke, so the head would pivot. And so, I would be walking one way and the head would be facing the other, and it just became this funny…I didn’t know the head was on backwards. I had no idea. I see out of the body, so I’m just kinda walking around and people were talking to my ass-end. [laughs] The whole time peiople’d come up and start talking and go, ‘Hey, turn around.’ And I’d turn around, and they’d go, ‘No turn around.’ It was a mess. That year, there was no other Big Bird on Franklin Street.”
Jon Langston (Halloween show) OC: …memorable Halloween. :59
“So we played a show a few years ago in Baton Rouge and I go off stage and I come back on stage for the encore. I don’t know this until midway through the song, I’m just into the crowd, like I’m engaged. I’m in the zone, and I just see everyone, like everybody else behind me but me and I’m like what’s going on. I turn around and each of them has a different huge mask on, like one of those stuffed animal masks, like my drummer has a dinosaur head on. My guitar players, one of ‘em has monkey head on, the other has a unicorn head on. And my bass player has like a, I think a dog or cat head or something like that. I couldn’t finish the song I was laughing so hard just seeing them playing with these like oversized huge mask heads on Halloween night. That was funny. It was a good prank, so that was probably the most memorable Halloween.”
Jon Pardi (Halloween) 1 OC: …the Superman. :15
“Man, I went through phases of costumes – the Superman costume, then it was a ninja, then I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle one year. I remember rockin’ the Superman.”
Jon Pardi (Halloween candy) OC: …during Halloween. :06
“Man! The candy corn is pretty good, and that’s seasonal, so it only kinda pops out during Halloween.”
Jordan Davis (Halloween) OC: …jet black. :49
“I can remember being really big into Power Rangers. I always liked the Red Ranger. I remember being Red Ranger one Halloween. I remember me and my br4other being big into the Ninja Turtles. I was Donatello one year, which I think was the purple turtle. I think, though, my favorite Halloween was I was in college and I went as Luigi from Mario and Luigi, and I actually grew a legit mustache and dyed it jet black and ran into an ex-girlfriend at the costume shop and completely forgot I had the mustache on. So, when Is saw her, she was like, ‘So, you’re going with a mustache nowadays, huh?’ [laughs] I remember being like, ‘I swear this is part of my Halloween costume.’ [laughs] When I dyed my mustache, my top lip was black for a week. Like I really did dye it jet black.”
Jordan Davis (Halloween candy) OC: …some Starbursts. :21
“My favorite Halloween candy [is] probably Reese’s or M&M’s, although I love the variety of Starburst. It’s one that I feel like I only eat at Halloween, because I feel like at Halloween one of the popular ones is the two-piece Starburst things. So, probably Reese’s, M&Ms and throw in some Starbursts.”
Jordan Davis (no candy corn) OC: …they’re awful. :05
“You know what I never got? The candy corns. I’ve never been a candy corn guy. I think they’re awful.”
Josh Turner (Halloween costumes) OC: …pretty classic. :27
“My favorite family costume was from a couple of years ago when I had my six-and-a-half-month-old beard going, and me and the whole family dressed up as Star Wars characters. So, I was a young Obi Wan Kenobi, Jennifer was Princess Leia, Colby and Marion were Storm Troopers, Hampton was Darth Vadar and Hawk was, I guess, pretty much still a baby, and he dressed up as Yoda. It was pretty classic.”
Lauren Alaina (Halloween-brother) OC: …mad about that! :19
“I always would dress my brother up too, and I’d say not my best costume, but his best costume when I put makeup all over him and made him, he looked JUST LIKE ME, but I put extensions in his hair and a little hat on his head and I put makeup on him and my cheerleading outfit. It fit him. I was so mad about that!”
Luke Bryan (Halloween) OC: …your teeth. :21
“You can find out a lot about your neighbors by what kind of candy they put out. So, well, like full bars of Snickers bars, that’s what, and Reese’s cups, [but] the old chocolate popcorn ball of stuff, that’s no good either, like Dots – you get Dots one time of year and they pull your teeth.”
Luke Bryan (Halloween) 2 OC: …with all that. :33
“My tradition for Halloween is Caroline picks the outfit. I never know what I’m wearing. So that day, I’ll talk to the neighbors ‘cause I have a tractor back there and I’ll go get my tractor and get a big long trailer, and then I’ll run down to…a couple miles from the farm, we’ve got a big hay farmer that keeps hay and you run in there and pay him for his hay bales. And I’ll load the hay up and get the hayride ready and we’ll take all the kids behind the tractor and have a fun Halloween with all that.”
Luke Bryan (Halloween costumes) OC: …always has. :20
“Me and Caroline did one year where I dressed up as the old lady, and she dressed up as, she called herself a dirty old man. So, she went around acting like an old man saying snide comments to everybody. That was a fun one. The main thing is Caroline is big, she loves Halloween and always has.”
Maddie & Tae (Halloween) OC: …princesses. :24
TAE: “Oooooh, Halloween [is] my favorite holiday. Anyone who knows me knows I love all things scary and gory, so especially on Halloween all the scary movies that come out in theaters, I am there every single time.” MADDIE: “And I never go with her because I hate scary things.” TAE: “You know what’s funny? As little girls, everyone wants to dress up as princesses, and I think I was a witch like six years in a row. I just wanted to be scary.” MADDIE: “Girl, I was like Jasmine and you know [other] princesses.”
Mickey Guyton (Halloween) OC: …the costumes. :50
“Growing up, my parents were very, very conservative Christian, and so they viewed Halloween as a pagan holiday. BUT, I got to go trick-or-treating once in my life, and I dressed as a clown because my mom made me this clown suit and that was the best. We were in Moody, Texas. It was all three of my siblings and myself and we had so much candy that it lasted for months and months. My parents eventually had to throw it away because we had so much candy. And it was one of the most amazing, magical experiences I’ve ever had, because I never got to celebrate freaking Halloween. I tell you what, this son of mine is gonna definitely going to be celebrating trick-or-treating. Like I can’t wait to dress him up in all of the costumes.”
Parker McCollum (favorite Halloween candy) OC: …
“What I can eat like 6,000 of are Tootsie Rolls. If I eat one Tootsie Roll, I’m gonna eat 30. Man, they’re so good.”
Travis Denning (Halloween costume) OC: …Busch Light. :21
“Honestly, I think one of my most proud and embarrassed Halloween costumes is I went as Terry from Reno 9-1-1. I had the roller skates, the short-shorts, the tied-up shirt. Looking back, it wasn’t the manliest thing I ever did, but it got a lot of laughs. And I think that year my favorite candy I ever had was Busch Light.”
In this week’s episode, Jon Pardi plays matchmaker; “Gentleman Jon” gives advice on how to keep your love life spicy, and we get an exclusive house Pardi guitar tour!