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It’s a good time to be Eric Church with hit albums, award nods, baby boy

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

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Toby Keith and Eric Church at Red Rock Resort

Toby Keith and Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Toby Keith and Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Eric Church at Red Rock Resort Amphitheater on Aug. 6, 2011.

A lot has changed in the three months since Eric Church last played in Las Vegas. Personally, he and his wife Katherine welcomed a son, Boone McCoy, into their lives. Professionally, he celebrated an album, Chief, that went gold in seven weeks and has produced two Top 20 singles.

Tonight, the EMI recording artist headlines Star of the Desert Arena at Primm Valley Resorts. But first, Church spent a few minutes to catch up with the Las Vegas Sun.

What can fans expect from your headlining show tonight?

It’s very much high energy, it’s very much in your face. Our show is not exactly a come sit there kind of show. (Fans) are going to have to participate even if I have to go out there, grab them by the shirt and pick them up. We empty the tank up there every night, go as hard as we can go and try to share that energy with the crowd.

With Primm being so close to Vegas, any plans for a little side trip?

I’m going to spend a day in Vegas. We just had a newborn son, so I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road, making music and getting off diaper duty for about 24 hours.

I understand you wrote your new album, Chief, secluded in a cabin in North Carolina. What impact did that seclusion have on the final product?

I think one thing is it allowed me to completely disconnect -- no TV, no cell phone -- just holed up on a mountain. Creatively, it allowed me to really tap in internally to that creative compass every artist needs to find. It allowed me to examine where this next record needed to go. While I was up there, I finally determined that we got here on our live show and we got here on the backs of our fans, so I wanted the Chief record to sound like a live show. There’s not one time where we asked ourselves, “Do we care what the label thinks? Do we care what anyone thinks?’’ We just went in and said, “We’re going to make a creative record, and we’re going to let the music lead us. Wherever it goes, we’re going to chase it.”

That’s how we did it, and that’s the record we made. I’m very proud from top to bottom that it sounds the way it does. I’m also proud of the success it’s had. To have a record go gold in seven weeks is pretty incredible in this day and age. The fans have really carried the flag for this record and have gone out telling people, “This is something you should listen to, this is something you should have.” I take a lot of pride in that.

Did the label have a specific idea in mind for the record?

I don’t talk to them about making records; they don’t get involved on that side. It’s my job to make a great record, turn it in, and then they get involved. It’s a great relationship that I’ve been able to cultivate there. I’m not a guy that lets a lot of people get involved in the creative side; it’s just something that I have to figure out.

Where does that sense of creativity come from?

Well, that’s different. This time the cabin came in. I felt like we had made two records that I wasn’t very proud of, and I’m an artist that’s a little bit different in this day and age. I don’t care about singles, and I don’t care about downloads; I care about albums. It’s kind of a dinosaur with what’s going on, but we made our first two records that way, and this time it took holing up in a cabin to figure out, “How are we going to make this thing different? How are we going to put a different spin on this and give people something they haven’t heard?”

I’m constantly searching for it is the main thing. I think if you ever sit back and just make a record, it’s going to sound like you just made a record. I think you really have to chase it and commit to it; I think you really have to try to find that creativity and see where it leads you.

Your first two singles, “Homeboy” and “Drink in My Hand,” have done well on the charts. Tell me about the stories behind those songs.

“Homeboy” is a story between two brothers. I think that everybody at some point in their life has been on the wrong path, myself included. The thing about “Homeboy” is that somebody makes you realize that you’re on the wrong path, and if you don’t change your path, it’s going to get a lot worse. In this case, it’s about one brother appealing to the other brother to come back home before it’s too late. I love the simplicity of the story, but at the same time, it’s complex. I love that song.

With “Drink in My Hand,” we knew it was going to be our second single, and I really believe that it’s going to be our first No. 1. It just feels like it, and it’s really doing well on radio. It’s kind of a Friday at 5 song. You put it on and have a good weekend. It’s certainly not as dramatic as “Homeboy” subject matter-wise, and I think that’s good. We started out with “Homeboy,” and I think everybody expected “Drink in My Hand” to be (the first single) because it’s fun and a party song, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to give them something with a little more meat to it.

There are probably five or six singles on this record, so it’ll be fun to go through this thing and see what happens.

What would you say has changed the most between your last record, Carolina, and Chief?

The thing that has changed is we kind of took the harnesses off. “Smoke a Little Smoke” off the Carolina album became a very unconventional hit for us. The thing I learned from that was the rules suck, so we decided not to apply those rules for this record or listen to anybody telling us what they thought it needed to be. I think that’s what changed between the two.

I think Carolina is a little more polished and a little more thought out than Chief. What’s the same is they’re both albums, they’re both records. You could listen to the first track all the way through, and they’re both complete bodies of work.

What songs are you playing off the new album in your live show?

We’re traditionally playing seven or eight songs off Chief, but we’ll mix in some of Carolina and some of Sinners Like Me, too.

In the last year, you’ve toured with Toby Keith and Jason Aldean, released an album, earned a Country Music Association Award nomination and had your first child. Sounds like a pretty good time to be Eric Church, no?

It’s been a little overwhelming, but career-wise it’s something we’ve always worked toward. I just didn’t think it would be here yet. I’ve always wanted to have a No. 1 album, but I didn’t think it would be now. The new baby is great, it’s a totally different world, and it feels like everything has been flipped upside down.

As for the CMA nomination [chuckles], I’m not sure how damn new I am anymore. This is the second new artist nomination I’ve gotten, so maybe I’ll be a new artist the rest of my career. I laugh at that a lot being on the third album in six years, but I try not to focus on the awards too much. I think it can hurt the music if you focus on it, so I just try to make the best records and let the rest take care of itself.

Church performs at Star of the Desert Arena at Primm Valley Resorts at 8 tonight. Tickets starting at $59.20 after fees are available at Ticketmaster.com.

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