Church’s instincts paid off on ‘Chief’

Special photo
Eric Church will bring Blood, Sweat & Beers to the Tallahassee-Leon Civic Center on March 24 at 8 p.m.

Special photo Eric Church will bring Blood, Sweat & Beers to the Tallahassee-Leon Civic Center on March 24 at 8 p.m.

Carlton Fletcher


The process of recording a musical album is typically formulaic. And the formula that is used by artists under contract to the major record labels is usually determined by some executive at the label who has decided that he or she has the blueprint — based, of course, on what might be hot at that time in the industry — to sell the most units.

Eric Church had done the record-label dance while recording his first two albums (“Sinners Like Me” and “Carolina”). But after his instincts led to a hit record (2010’s “Smoke a Little Smoke”) and a little more juice with EMI Records Nashville, he decided to take a different route while recording “Chief,” his third LP.

“When we started work on ‘Chief,’ I basically said screw it, we’re going to make this record the old-fashioned way,” Church said in an exclusive interview with The Herald. “Everyone had told us we’d be crazy to release ‘Smoke,’ but when that became a hit, I knew I needed to follow my instincts more.

“I came into the studio and gave the guys in the band a little speech. I told them we were going to make and write the record we wanted to make. I told them not to worry about the label, what was on the radio or even what the fans might expect from us. I told them we were going to make the most creative album we’d ever made, and if that led us off the cliff, then so be it.”

Suffice it to say the only precipice “Chief” carried Church over was the one into superstardom. The album helped earn the Granite Falls, N.C. native a Best Country Album Grammy nomination, Album and Video of the Year Academy of Country Music nominations and critical acclaim across the spectrum. Influential Rolling Stone magazine named “Chief” one of the top albums of 2011, a list that included works from all genres.

“We didn’t overanalyze this one,” Church said of making “Chief.” “In fact, we didn’t analyze at all. We just went in and did the music the way we like to do it. There’s a wildness to the record; it’s untamed. I think the fans get that. That’s why the album and our (‘Blood, Sweat & Beers’) tour is doing so well.”

Indeed, Church is setting attendance records at stops all along the way, and music insiders agree that his ability to tap into the energy of his live shows while recording “Chief” is what made it one of those once-in-a-lifetime collections that will forever be a basis of comparison for great country music.

“Chief is my nickname on the road,” Church said. “When it’s time for the show, I put on the sunglasses and the hat; that’s when everyone knows it’s game time. This album was made from that place, a live place. We recorded it with the live show in mind. That’s where the title came from.”

It’s a fitting title. Because in the world of high-gloss country music and even higher-gloss stars, there’s no question who’s in charge of the tribe right now.