About the Headliner, Jason Michael Carroll
Sometimes it's hard to keep on top of everything that's going on in your life.
Just ask Jason Michael Carroll. Since debuting at No. 1 on the album charts and lofting five Top 20 hits since 2006, he's cut several more acclaimed releases, built a large and loyal following, toured with superstars including Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and
Carrie Underwood, written countless songs, kept up a grueling schedule of shows throughout the United States and for American troops abroad...
He's been busy, in other words. So he can be forgiven for forgetting one little thing in the midst of all this activity.
"I forgot to keep making records!" he admits, with a laugh. "Until one day one of my fans hit me up on Instagram or Twitter and said, 'Jason, we love all these new songs you're playing! When are you going to put them on an album for us?'' And I had a Homer Simpson moment, like, 'Doh!'"
We owe this anonymous supporter thanks for nudging Carroll into the studio and emerging with What Color Is Your Sky, his first full-length release since 2011.
It's been worth the wait. Packed with 15 tracks, each one written or co-written by Carroll, What Color Is Your Sky is a refreshing departure from much of what dominates country radio these days. "I'm definitely not bro country," he says, smiling. "I don't want to sound cocky, but I'd say my songs are real. They're about what everybody goes through in life."
That's what you get with What Color Is Your Sky. Its songs tell stories based on love, whether lost or new, broken or triumphant.
These lyrics are believable because they are real. "As an artist, you have a responsibility not only to release songs your fans are going to like, but also to make sure there's some piece of you in each of those songs," he insists.
Carroll has been there -- in the emptiness of love lost in "All I'm Drinking 'Bout," the dizziness of early romance in "Love Like July," and in the warmth of a bond that has strengthened through time and trials in the beautiful "Here with Me."
Each song rings true also because of how they're performed. Typically, country artists will write or gather songs first, record them and only then take them out on the road to play before audiences. And often they bring in studio players to make sure everything runs smoothly and antiseptically.
Not so with Carroll. In part because of his Homer Simpson moment, he and his band hammered out their arrangements onstage, tailoring them over time to what felt good to them and rocked their venues as well. So it made sense to bring the guys into the studio as well, where they could lay down their road-tested parts with the same intensity they'd achieved in show after show.
"We don't want to create a project in the studio that we can't recreate live," Carroll states. "That's why there's hardly any fiddle on the record at all, except for a little bit on 'Close Enough.' Now, I love the fiddle, but we don't happen to have a fiddle player in our band, so we kept it real to what we do live."
And that leads to the most surprising detail behind the making of What Color Is Your Sky. Yes, the players are all members of Carroll's band. Yes, they channeled their live energy into their tracks. You can feel that energy -- even though the whole group never once stepped into the same room at the same time during these sessions.
"Every other record I've done has been in the A-list rooms in Nashville. But through the miracle of modern technology, we were able to put this record together without setting foot in a studio. I created my own isolation booth with a couple of foam panels, so I did a lot of the vocals here at my house. Now and then, I would go and sing in my keyboard player's studio. I did all the loops at home. My drummer has his own studio, so he did his own tracks there. I stayed with him in the studio from one o'clock in the afternoon until probably three in the morning, getting most of the drum tracks done. That was a long day, just listening to drums over and over," Carroll said, grinning.
Why go to all this trouble? Think of it as an accommodation between Carroll the artist and Carroll the family man. Texas-born, he remains faithful to North Carolina, where he was raised. "I just felt like I needed to be close to my kids," he says. "That's why I've never actually lived in Nashville. I wanted to be able to pick them up from school. I want to take them to the movies. So as much as I love Nashville, I've been able to be a full-time dad because I live here -- about 25 minutes from a Walmart and 30 minutes from an airport."
Carroll's strong family values are the foundation for What Color Is Your Sky, recorded with his family nearby and animated by his commitment to sharing his life with fans through music. "I really do believe this is my best record yet," he declares. "I'd love for it to take off and line up awards on my shelves," he says. "But if that doesn't happen, we're gonna keep going. I'm gonna keep doing what I was made to do. Music is the only thing in my life that I've given 100 percent of myself to. Because, no doubt, this is what I'm supposed to be doing.
And Carroll won't forget that either. "I've made a promise to myself that this is the start of us doing a record every year and a half to two years," he declares.