To describe Jason Aldean’s past few years as hectic would be serious understatement.
His past two albums, “My Kinda Party” and “Night Train,” have sold a combined 4 million copies, and he’s been nominated for every major award by the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. He’s on his fifth tour since 2010.
So a little downtime is a rare gift for the Georgia native.
“As much as I love what I do and everything about it, it can be overwhelming sometimes, and my escape from that is to get away from it and get back to the simpler side of everything,” he said. “It helps me to separate the two, and it kind of helps me to turn it on and off a little bit.
“A couple days ago, I was going through Georgia and stopped at my dad’s house — he lives in this little town — and we went fishing for the day.”
Even as Aldean has become part of Nashville’s headlining elite — his “Night Train Tour” stops tonight at the KFC Yum! Center — his ability to stay in touch with his Southern roots has been part of his appeal.
He grew up a child of divorce in Macon, splitting time between it and the extremely small-town Homestead, Fla., where his father then lived. Aldean, 36, happily grew up immersed in disparate cultures, shifting easily from hunting and fishing to body surfing.
“Growing up down there, I almost feel like I got to experience two different things,” he said. “In Georgia I had a real rural country vibe, and then I would go to Florida, and we lived real close to the beach, so I got to experience a little bit of that stuff. I think it helped shape a lot of things for me.”
His culture jumping wasn’t just geographic. While he was a hard-core country fan, he was a young man at a time when hip-hop ruled the airwaves and the most famous singer in the world was Axl Rose. He listened to all of it, and elements of rap and rock inform his music.
People who still equate country music with “Hee Haw” are consistently flabbergasted by Aldean’s occasional use of rapped verses and power chords, but most country fans under 40 are much like Aldean.
“When I was in high school, I listened to Tim McGraw and George Strait, and then I’d turn around and listen to Guns N’ Roses and Matchbox Twenty, or whatever,” Aldean said.
“That’s just kind of the way it’s always sort of been. People hit the buttons on their car radio and if they find a country song, cool, and if it happens to be a Lil Wayne song, that’s fine too.”
Aldean’s music leans far more to the country side. When he became interested in singing as a teenager, his mother carted him around to talent contests and open mics where he sang Top 40 country hits. By age 15, he was part of a bar band and, after high school, he hit the college circuit throughout the South.
At 21, he got his first break when he was noticed at a showcase and signed a publishing deal, but things didn’t go too smoothly after he moved to Nashville.
A couple of recording contracts fell through, the industry was growing disinterested, and Aldean was on the verge of giving up when he got one more chance via Broken Bow Records. He released “Jason Aldean” in 2005, had three Top 10 hits, with “Why” going to No. 1, and was named ACM’s top new male vocalist.
Aldean took advantage of finally having some heat. “Relentless” was released in 2007 and went to No. 1, with two Top 10 singles in “Johnny Cash” and “We Laughed Until We Cried.” In 2009, he released “Wide Open,” which sold another million copies and reached No. 2.
Aldean took it all up another notch with 2010’s “My Kinda Party,” that year’s biggest country album. During the next two years, it would yield five hits that went to No. 1 or No. 2 and has sold nearly 3 million copies. The album spent 12 weeks at No.1, and its biggest single, “Dirt Road Anthem,” celebrated small-town life with an easy-going rap vibe.
Along the way, Aldean has become a target for every songwriter in Nashville. He has a group of guys, including Neil Thrasher, David Lee Murphy and Wendell Mobley, to whom he turns time and again.
“I’ve always been drawn to songs that represent me and my background and are about things that I’ve experienced,” he said. “If you can find those songs, you can sing them with a little more conviction. Certain guys I’ve worked with for years, and when we’re ready to record they’ll start writing songs for my album. A lot of those guys I’ve written with in the past, and they’re really locked in to what it is that I like.”
And country music fans apparently like exactly the same things.