It’s been a slow news week in Country Land, but the biggest story has undoubtedly been about Aaron Lewis, the former frontman of 90’s alternative rock band Staind turned country singer.
Today (Sept. 16) Lewis debuts his new country album, Sinner. On Monday, a video of Lewis trashing Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell, Dan + Shay and Luke Bryan on stage at a biker rally in Colorado went viral.
“I’d like to thank Sam Hunt – oh, I know, he’s so pretty to look at,” Lewis told the crowd after taking a long drag off a cigarette. “I’d like to thank Luke Bryan, for most of his stuff – he surprises me every once in a while. I would like to thank Dan + Shay. I’d like to thank Cole Swindell. And every other motherf****r that is just choking all the life out of country music.”
After several articles on Lewis’s comments circulated this week, the singer, or more likely his management team, decided it was time to clear the air. On Thursday, he phoned into The Bobby Bones Show to clarify his remarks.
Bones opened the conversation by asking Lewis why he hated Dan + Shay and Cole Swindell.
“No, that’s not true at all,” said Lewis. “I’ve actually sat and got quite drunk with Dan and Shay. I don’t hate them at all, this was not an attack on their personal character in any way shape or form.”
One would normally consider calling another group of musicians motherf****rs behind their backs an assault on their personal character, but Lewis insisted that wasn’t his intention.
“You have to put it in context,” he said. “This was a motorcycle rally in Colorado where everybody was on their way to Sturgis. This was a bunch of black leather-clad wearing, you know, older folks… I was playing to the crowd.”
That’s called pandering. It’s the same thing Lewis was railing against, just with a different flavor and to a different crowd.
Lewis continued, “You know, again, I’m not calling them out. What I’m calling out is the connection between the music that they’re choosing to put out and the music that defines the genre.”
I am all for strong opinions and open discussion about the state of country music. Really, this format needs some more of that. But, this was definitely not the right way to go about it, and if you’re going with the outlaw bit, at least stick to your guns.
Calling out mainstream artists for not being “authentic country” is nothing new. The relentless argument about what music and artists should define this genre has been going on since the genre began.
Nearly every major mainstream country artist from past and present — many of which we now revere as “authentic country artists” — were once criticized for not playing the real stuff. Bones made that very point later in his interview with Lewis, and all Lewis could muster was “Ok.”
Artists like Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan aren’t “choking the life” out of country music, either. Whether you’re onboard with it or not, mainstream country music has modernized. It did so in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00’s, and it is now. Luke, Sam, Cole, Dan + Shay are doing what pop country artists have done for decades. They find a sound that works with large audiences, and they capitalize on it.
The money that flows into the country music industry doesn’t choke the life out of it. On the contrary, it supports the entire ecosystem for the format, from the songwriters to the smaller labels to the majors on Music Row. If you take the money out of the equation, you choke the life out of the industry. As Billboard noted earlier this week, pop country also provides a counterbalance for the traditional to thrive.
There will always be a debate because country music is rooted in tradition. Lewis fancies himself in the spirit of his outlaw country heroes like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. However, the real outlaws of country music did more to change the style and sound of the genre by letting their music speak for itself. If Lewis wants to truly walk in their footsteps, he should consider that.
Publicly trashing other artists, and then half-heartedly backpedaling those comments won’t do anything but make you sound foolish. Plain and simple, that ain’t country.