Rodney Interviewed by Southern Pigskin

PUC: Rodney Atkins

By J.T. Bennett Staff Writer Staff Writer J.T. Bennett continues his "Pull Up a Chair" series with country music star Rodney Atkins.

Rodney Atkins is a country music singer from Knoxville, TN. His last record, If You’re Going Through Hell, was certified platinum and gave way to FOUR consecutive number ONE singles – two of which were named Most Played Song of the Year by Billboard (“Watching You” in 2007, and “If You’re Going Through Hell” in 2006). Atkins is also the spokesperson for the National Adoption Council.

What is your favorite food?
It has to be something built around roast beef. Open faced roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy. I am a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

What is your favorite movie?

Field of Dreams or Open Range, both of those are with Kevin Costner. Also, Blazing Saddles.

Who is your favorite musician?
Charlie Daniels.

What was your first job?
My first job at home was cutting firewood and kindling. I mowed the yard and other people’s yards. I mowed cemeteries, which is a pretty good deal cause you get paid per grave and when you get ten dollars per grave it was a pretty good gig. That and hauling hay were first jobs.

What is it like going on tour across the country?
The first time you take off you are just out trying to promote you. You are just going by the seat of your pants. You have never been to any of these places before and it is quite an experience. You are just out there maybe picking up a couple hundred bucks here and there just enough to get you to the next town to play. When we started doing this in 1995 we kept building it up. Now going out and playing is amazing when you’re an opening act. This year we were the headlining act for the first time. Just seeing all the people show up and singing the songs with you. You see the families show up and pumping their fists and coming up to you and telling you how your songs have touched their lives. From soldiers to kids to people that are ill to going through a divorce, whatever it might be. I love playing.

How does it feel to have gone platinum?
Very gratifying. I absolutely love that. It is important to do that and to know that it was the many folks who went out bought your songs. It was something that you worked on for so long. It is very gratifying.

Where does your motivation for your song writing come from?
I started writing songs because I loved songs. As soon I learned some cords on the guitar it seemed like the natural thing to do. So I started writing songs. I tried not to get discouraged because I was on my own and trying to get a record deal for a long time. Once I got a record deal I was kind of stuck. And I didn’t really every get discouraged. I loved that feeling of chipping away and making it better and better. Then ten years later you look up and you have walked a hundred miles and you have moved down the road and you have a bunch of songs people relate to. It is about being inside of that moment. I guess my motivation is my love of writing songs.

You have a home studio that you record your albums in, what is your studio like?
It is a stretch calling it a home studio. It started out because we did the first album and it sold about 50 copies and I didn’t know if they were going to let me make another album. I was trying to figure out ways to save money so I went on ebay and bought a used microphone and that was about 200 bucks. I also got a used thing called an mbox which is a little bitty deal that lets you plug your microphone into a microphone table. Then you plug the usb into your computer. I bought a refurbished laptop. Then I went out to the barn and got my camping pad and pinned it up in the corner of the pantry and started singing. I turned the vocals and some songs in the record label and they asked me where I recorded it. I told them I did it at home so I stuck with it. It wound up being a way to save some money and it made me a better singer in the long run. Other people show up in a studio and sing the song a couple of times and someone else produces it. When I did it this way it made me the producer and engineer. I love the process of being able to go in there and change the vocals a little bit.

What was it like playing for former President Bush?
It was an honor. It was such a thrill to be able to get to go to the White House. He was very cool and he made us feel at home. He and his wife Laura were very accommodating. It was such a formal place and I am not a very formal guy and I didn’t know how to act. We were all standing straight when he came in and he made us feel right at home and comfortable. I thought I was going to get nervous and fall down or something or bite my tongue. Everytime I was around him he was just very hospitable.

You were adopted as child, what does it mean to be the spokesperson for the National Adoption Council?
It is an honor. I think that is the kind of stuff you don’t really plan to be apart of. I think songwriting, singing, playing music, all of that stuff helps bring awareness to those causes. It brings hope to the kids. I think the music is an avenue to help bring hope to all of the kids out there.

What is your favorite city to perform in?
I don’t know if I have a favorite city. Anywhere folks show up and they are ready to have a good time. It is amazing. People show up and they get pumped up. There have been times that I have showed up and thought "...there aren’t going to be any people at this show". It hasn’t been promoted or nobody knows about it or the tickets are too hard to get. I think it shows how good the people are. The folks show up and they are on there feet singing during the whole show.

Are you a southern college football fan?
Yeah. I was born in Knoxville. I had two posters on my wall growing up. One was Farah Fawcet and the other was Johnny Majors.

Who was your favorite team growing up?

Did you play any sports in high school?
I played baseball and basketball.

Who do you think will win the national championship?
I am going to hope and pray and keep my fingers crossed. I grew up bleeding orange and I am still a big Tennessee fan. It is a first year for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. I am going to throw it out there and say Tennessee.

Being a country music star. How big is southern college football to the culture down here?
Oh it is huge. It is pretty funny playing in Alabama cause you can say the word Auburn, and you will hear a bunch of “Hell Yeah's” and “Booh's” at the same time. It is a way of life to these folks. The hospitality is unbeatable when you get down to those areas. It is a love hate thing for everybody down there but It is a big thing. We played down in Florida a while back and Tim Tebow came to the show. He came up and it was cool to meet him and he asked me if I was going to play “Watching You” that night. It was cool because usually it is a young man that asks me if I am going to play “Watching You”. It turned out that Tebow was that young man that came up and asked. He asked where I was from and I said I was born in Knoxville and he said oh. He was talking about Kiffin coming after him. So I told him to take it easy on us this year (laughing). Tim Tebow is a good kid.

Are you in favor of a college football playoff?
The BCS thing, I still don’t understand it completely and I don’t think anybody does. I think a playoff would be cool. The problem is obviously it would take a long time because you can’t recover as quick like you can in basketball. It would be pretty cool though man. To have a last man standing type of thing.

What do you think of Lane Kiffin?
I think he has some potential to have an incredible career. I think he already has had a great career. This is an incredible opportunity to get some great things done. I support him and the staff there at UT and I hope they get it done. I know everybody does.

What would be your favorite Tennessee moment growing up?
Probably the 1986 Sugar Bowl against Miami, just being apart of it. Our backs were out running those guys and it was full on country boys getting it done. They put everything they had on the field.

You have toured with a lot of great artists. What is it like to tour with some of the biggest names in country music?
It is a thrill because these are guys that are big influences on me musically. We just toured with Brooks and Dunn last year. Where I grew up in east Tennessee I didn’t have a chance to go to concerts like most people. When I was going to college at Tennessee Tech I had a chance to go down and see Brooks and Dunn in Alabama with my dad. It was larger than life and really cool. Then to get a chance to tour with those guys is a great honor. To tour with guys like Brad Paisley, Brad is a super nice guy and very hospitable to us. I learned a lot and watched a great show out there. For a new act to break through to that level is really hard. Singles take longer to get up the charts and it is hard to build up familiarity with audiences. He is very creative and it is cool to see how people carry themselves. ZZ Top was also on that tour and to be able to say you toured with ZZ Top that is just cool. I don’t care who you are.