“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 performed his latest hit, “Last Night Lonely,” on NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday night (August 9th).
“Last Night Lonely” is from Jon’s forthcoming album, Mr. Saturday Night, which is available September 2nd.
Jordan Davis will perform his latest song “What My World Spins Around” on NBC’s The TODAY Show on Tuesday (August 9th).
Jon Pardi will perform his latest smash “Last Night Lonely” on NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday (August 9th).
Jon Pardi will perform his chart-rising single “Last Night Lonely” on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Tuesday (8/9), airing at 11:35pm ET/10:35pm CT.
Catapulting into country radio’s Top 5 as one of Pardi’s fastest-rising singles to date, “Last Night Lonely” is the fiddle and steel-drenched lead track from his upcoming fourth studio album, Mr. Saturday Night, out September 2nd. Pardi recently shared the project’s title track, with Billboard praising his “signature neo-traditional country” and “clever play on words,” while CMT claims it’s a “quintessential honky-tonk standard.”
Mr. Saturday Night is produced by Bart Butler, Ryan Gore and Pardi, the same team behind the boards of his ACM and CMA Album of The Year-nominated Heartache Medication. With 14 songs steeped in losing, a little loving and what’s in between, Pardi digs beneath the surface on Mr. Saturday Night, returning the genre to an era of buckle-polishing dancefloor encounters, yowling bar-room revelers and the occasional strong, silent type ballad.
Pardi’s headlining AIN’T ALWAYS THE COWBOY TOUR hits the West Coast this week, with stops in Inglewood, CA (8/4) and Santa Barbara, CA (8/5), before capping off the weekend in Las Vegas, NV (8/6). For a full list of dates, and to purchase tickets to the Ain’t Always The Cowboy Tour, visit jonpardi.com/tour.
Jon Pardi’s AIN’T ALWAYS THE COWBOY TOUR Dates:
8/4 | Inglewood, CA/YouTube Theater
8/5 | Santa Barbara, CA/Santa Barbara Bowl
8/6 | Las Vegas, NV/Red Rock Casino
8/19 | Lampe, MO/Black Oak Amphitheater
8/20 | Terre Haute, IN/ The Mill
8/25 | Raleigh, NC/Red Hat Amphitheater
8/27 | Sharpsburg, KY/Barnyard Amphitheater
9/8 | Rochester, MN/Mayo Civic Center Park
9/9 | Milwaukee, WI/BMO Harris Pavilion
9/10 | Sterling Heights, MI/Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre
9/15 | Bridgeport, CT/Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater
9/16 | Big Flats, NY/Summer Stage @ Tags
9/17 | Huber Heights, OH/Rose Music Center
9/22 | New York, NY/Pier 17- the rooftop
9/23 | Gilford, NH/Bank of NH Pavilion
9/24 | Boston, MA/Leader Bank Pavilion
9/29 | Southaven, MS/Landers Center*
9/30 | Huntsville, AL/Von Braun Center*
10/1 | Nashville, TN/Ascend Amphitheater*
*Priscilla Block appearing in place of Hailey Whitters