Trace Adkins Talks Amy Winehouse, the New Nashville and Making Movies (Q&A)
You can put any number of modifiers before Trace Adkins’ name: country music star, Celebrity Apprentice finalist, actor, father, recovering addict… It all factors into his music, and perhaps there’s no better example than his new album Proud to Be Here (out today). The 49-year-old Louisiana native spoke to THR on the eve of record’s release and shared candid thoughts on the music industry, how Nashville has evolved, his bout with alcoholism and whether more movie roles will follow his recent acting turn in The Lincoln Lawyer.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your Tennessee home burned down in June. How is everything, and how are you?
Trace Adkins: I'm good, thank you for asking. Everybody's doing fine. It's kind of a delayed recognition because every day I think of something I want to reach for, and then I realize, "Oh, I don't have that anymore." So it keeps adding insult to injury almost every day. I thought, "Oh, this is not gonna bother me at all," but it seems like the further I get away from it, the more it seems to affect me.. We'd been there 12 years.
THR: So there were a lot of memories, physically and emotionally.
Adkins: Oh yeah. I had stuff in there that I can't place a value on, like one of those old red-white-and-blue guitars that Bob Nolan gave me -- things like that just can't be replaced… Being a father of five daughters, I think I have the authority to say this: things like this seem to affect girls more. They take these kinds of things to heart a little more than [boys] do.
But we're doing great. We're blessed. We have means, so we're not homeless or destitute. I had so many people reaching out to me and wanting to express generosity, and I said, "Please, take those emotions and those feelings and give to the Red Cross or somebody like that because we're OK."
THR: I was going to ask you about Amy Winehouse, while not many details have been released…
Adkins: I think we can all pretty much guess what happened. And I doubt seriously that there's anybody that's surprised.
THR: Do you have experience with addiction, and do you feel the music industry is full of enablers?
Adkins: Nine years ago, I had a very caring and responsible manager who forced me into an intervention situation. I went and did my month in rehab, and it worked for me. I've been sober for nine years now. It had gotten to a point in my life where it was probably going to take me down that road, too. If it didn't end up in that situation, it certainly was going to cost me my career -- and my manager saw that, and they cared enough about me to gather my friends and family and co-workers all together, and they put me through one of those gut-wrenching interventions.
If you've ever been through one of those things, it’s the most humiliating experience you'll ever have. To hear people you respect and love sit there and tell you the kind of pain you've been causing them. They tear you down completely then they haul you off to rehab. So I did that, and yeah, I'm an alcoholic. And are there enablers? There are, but I luckily had a group around me that finally put their foot down.
THR: Do you feel part of it is that you're more mature, not having achieved breakthrough success until your mid-30s?
Adkins: When I started out 15 years ago, I came right out of the box with a platinum album and some No. 1 records. I thought, "Man, this is gonna be easy!" Well, then you hit that sophomore slump, and then you get to that third album and things are starting to get a lot more challenging, and I just started getting really depressed and self-medicating. … I'd been an alcoholic for years anyway, and it got worse and worse. Getting sober, these last nine years have been the best, most productive years of my music career. So I've been focused and aware of this incredible opportunity that's been handed me in this life -- to be able to make a living doing something I love to do. All I have to do is try not to screw it up too bad, you know? So far, I've been able to keep going and stay clean, and things are working.
THR: How is the state of Nashville right now? Healthy? How would you compare it to when your career began?
Adkins: As healthy as it can be. It’s still alive, but if I had to compare it to 15 years ago, it's not that healthy. I came in at the very beginning of the Internet and was able to secure my domain name, TraceAdkins.com, and I didn't even think anything about it. It was like, "OK, whatever. I'll have a website if I have to." That seems silly to me now, that I was so trivial about it. I've seen the whole thing go through the changes, and the thing that bothers me the most today is that artists are really just judged by the singles they put out, the songs that go to radio, the tracks that get downloaded. And not as many people have an opportunity to hear what I still call “albums” -- these collections that we record every 12-18 months on. And I get judged as an artist by the things that people hear on the radio, and it's really like just taking one sentence out of a paragraph and not getting the whole story, or one chapter of a book… you don't really have a good sense of where an artist's head is. In this digital-download age where everybody's cherry-picking songs they like and that's all they know about an artist, they don't really get the whole picture anymore as compared to back in the day. Now, I go in and I make an album, and I accidentally record three songs that are commercial, and that's how they know me.
THR: Is crossing over into acting or reality TV necessary to be more successful these days?
Adkins: Actually, acting is something I wanted to do over the years. I just hadn't been presented those opportunities, or sometimes the timing was wrong and I couldn't fit it into my schedule. This is a time when it did fit in, and I thought it would be fun to do. A man's got to know his limitations, and I know mine. I'm not a trained actor, though I take it very seriously when I get a chance to do it. I'm very selective on the things I choose to do. I have to feel like it's something that's kind of in my wheelhouse, something I can pull off. In The Lincoln Lawyer, there's a leader of a biker club, and I can ride a motorcycle -- so I looked at the part and said, "I think I can do this." I really get a kick out of doing this stuff. I love being in movies and on those sets. I like being around those incredibly talented and creative people. I find it stimulating and very challenging. Anytime you put yourself in a situation where you're outside your comfort zone or throwing yourself into a field where it's not your forte — man, that's an adrenaline rush, where you're just standing there praying to God that nobody discovers that you have no idea what the f--- you're doing.
THR: It sounds like you have newfound respect for Hollywood and what Matthew McConaughey and other actors do.
Adkins: Absolutely. I reached out to him. I was like, "Dude, you've got to help me here." I went in his trailer, we went over the scenes, and he was very gracious and very giving, and he assured me: "You got this, man. Don't worry about it. It's cool. It's gonna be great." So he helped me have more confidence going into the days we did that stuff together, and I felt real comfortable with it. You know what? I'm glad I was in this movie because it's a good movie, I think. I'm hard on movies -- I don't just always give them a thumbs up -- but this is a good movie.
THR: So if something like that came along again, you would do it?
Adkins: Sure, of course. I think my ultimate role is a mute gunslinger — that's what I'm looking for. I'd just ride into town and shoot people, and I have a love interest, but I don't have any dialogue.
THR: If you were starting your career today, would you try out for American Idol?
Adkins: It's hard for me to put myself in that place. I did enter a competition in the very beginning -- it was the Wild Turkey Battle of Country Bands. We won the local thing in Lafayette, La., then we went to Dallas and we won the regionals, then we went to Nashville for the finals -- and we choked when we got there. But it wasn't televised or anything like that. It was not anywhere near the scale it's on today… I look at these kids and the record deals they're having to sign, everything they're having to give away just to get a recording contract. I don't know if I'd do that. They have to give away their website and all their merchandise. The contracts they have them sign these days are so exclusive. They own you. So to answer your question, I kind of lean toward no. I'd probably still be working in the oil field. I'd be making a good living, and probably be content.
THR: We might never have known who Trace Adkins was.
Adkins: The world wouldn't have missed me. (Laughs.)