For more than two decades , Tim McGraw has been one of the Country format’s most consistent hitmakers. Yet with his latest album, Two Lanes of Freedom, the veteran artist feels as though he’s just getting started.
“After the past 20 years of doing this, it’s interesting when you really feel like you are a brand-new artist but you’re not,” said McGraw. “The best part about it is I feel the freshness and the attitude that you have when you cut your first record, but I’ve got a vast well of experience behind me. The place I’m at in my career is a good place. It’s a good dichotomy. It’s all fresh and new and exciting, and the music reflects all of that. But it comes with everything that I’ve done throughout my career.
“I felt like Two Lanes of Freedom was another sort of Everywhere album for me in a lot of ways,” he added, referencing his fourth disc, which has been certified Quadruple Platinum. “Everywhere was an album where I really felt like I could understand what I was doing and had more and more input on the making of the record and the sounds that I wanted to have. I’ve always been that way, but Everywhere was when I got my confidence in making records.
“Two Lanes of Freedom, to me, is another turning point in my life and career,” he added. “It’s an Everywhere moment, making this record. It reflects that. It was like turning a corner.”
Though he’s long enjoyed a happy home life with wife Faith Hill and their three daughters, McGraw’s business relationships have undergone many changes during the past few years, as he has acquired new management, a new publicist and a new label.
“Change is always a good thing,” he reflected. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had good people around me throughout my career. I’ve been able to sort of sit in a great train and drive and find my artistic tracks, so to speak. Now it feels like I’m at a place where I can take that to a bigger and better experience.”
That place includes Big Machine Records, which became his label after a very public departure from Curb Records. McGraw is especially happy about being able to work with Scott Borchetta, President/CEO of the Big Machine Label Group. “There are lots of things that make him successful,” he said. “His energy, for one: He has a tremendous amount of energy. It reflects off of him and energizes everyone around him. When you have that sort of positive energy, it can’t help but elevate the situation you’re in and elevate everybody around you.
“More than that,” McGraw continued, “he recognizes artists and lets them be artists. He appreciates what they do and figures out a way to make it work in a marketing and commercial sense. He understands that the art has to be driven by the art. And then you figure out how to make it work for the business side of things. If you try to do it vice versa, it’s not going to work.”
One relationship that remains constant in his business career is with his longtime producer, Byron Gallimore. “I wouldn’t even think about going into the studio without Byron,” he said. “He allows me to be an artist and allows me to be creative. I have this freedom to not have to think about any borders when I’m recording, because I know he’s not going to let it get crazy or let it go where it gets bad. There’s a fine line between creating really good, fresh, instinctual stuff that you love and just making bad stuff. Sometimes artists don’t know when they’ve crossed it. Byron is my musical consciousness in a lot of ways.”
“Tim and I have always complemented each other,” Gallimore said. “We see songs the same. We like a lot of the same songs and agree on the songs we think are hits. It never feels like there’s a rub or anything where we totally disagree. We have a mutual respect and anything I’ve wanted to try or do in the studio, he’s been wonderful to try it. And that goes both ways.”
Their history as a hit-making team is long and illustrious. McGraw burst on the scene in 1992 with his debut single, “Welcome to the Club” (written by Andre Pessis and Steve Jay Seskin). He has since lofted 68 tunes onto the Billboard Country Singles chart, including 33 No. 1 hits, as charted on Billboard and Mediabase. Two Lanes of Freedom is the 18th album he’s placed on Billboard’s Top Country Albums listings and his 14th to debut at No. 1.
To what does he attribute his longevity? “If I could answer that, I probably wouldn’t tell anybody,” he replied, laughing. “I don’t know! I just try to know who I am as an artist and try to stay true to who I am as an artist. I don’t try to reinvent myself. I just try to go in and make records that make me feel like I’m doing what I want to do. I make the kind of music that I want to make.”
Gallimore attributes his friend’s ongoing success to “his excellent song taste. He’s not one to pass on many hits. Another thing is the emotion in Tim’s voice, the way he’s able to connect with a song, especially on ballads. He has a way of touching people that’s just hard to describe.”
“I’ve changed a lot of things in my life,” McGraw summed up. “I quit drinking five years ago. I have a different perspective on what my future is and what I want to get out of it. I didn’t think that I was anywhere close to done and didn’t just want to ride it out. There’s a lot more of my career ahead of me than behind me. I just want to shift gears. I want to go from third to fourth — and I still have fifth left.”
On the Web: www.TimMcGraw.com
On Twitter: @TheTimMcGraw
By DEBORAH EVANS PRICE
Photographer: Nigel Parry
© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc