Despite all the good things that have been happening for him, Eric Church confesses that he tends to be one who notices the dark clouds more than the silver lining.
"Y'know, I'm very pleased to see where we've come, but I'm always a guy who's trying to keep some level of conflict going," the North Carolina-born country singer says with a laugh. "I've just never been a guy that's relaxed very much. That's a real fault of mine. I'm always focused on 'How do we go to the next thing? How do we make this better?'
"And I'll be honest -- I don't know if there's a level of how good it could be that I'd sit back and tell you I'm satisfied."
But Church, 35, has some laurels to rest on these days. His third album, "Chief," which came out in 2011, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and has been certified platinum, as well as being nominated for a Grammy Award. It's launched a pair of No. 1 country hits -- "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen" -- while Church has been nominated for a field-leading five Country Music Association Awards, which will be presented in November.
He's currently headlining his first arena tour, and he's rumored to be Kenny Chesney's partner for a series of 2013 stadium dates.
"The great thing for me is seeing where we've come from and the way we've come there," explains Church, who co-wrote 11 of "Chief's" 12 tracks. "I'm proud we didn't change who we were to get there.
"There were some times it could've been easier and a lot faster. Maybe we could've changed the music or tried different paths. But because we stuck to our guns, it's very gratifying now."
Church -- who has a marketing degree from Appalachian State University -- has certainly been on the country radar since he arrived in Nashville during the mid-OOs. He plied his trade as a songwriter first, co-writing Terri Clark's "The World Needs a Drink" in 2005 and Dean Miller's "Whiskey Wings" the following year before signing his own recording contract.
Church's debut single as an artist, "How 'Bout You," was the first of 10 Top 20 country hits, while his previous albums, 2006's "Sinners Like Me" and 2009's "Carolina," both went Top 10 and were certified gold. Despite that support, he notes, "we didn't have real radio success until 'Drink in My Hand,' " but he acknowledges that his sound, which tends to be on the harder-rocking side of the country world, had something to do with that.
"We just had a hard time cracking that radio nut for awhile," Church explains. "We had supporters here and there, but we just couldn't really get it across in a big way. But instead of waiting on it like a lot of artists do, we continued pounding it and playing clubs and bars, which was cool.
"People somewhat ignored us, but we were honing our craft. So when the spotlight was on us, we were sharp. We had a chance to go to the minor leagues, so to speak, and get it right. And we built up a fan base, so when radio became that last domino to fall, it happened very fast and in a big way."
Among that fan base is the "Springsteen" single's namesake. Though the song isn't about Bruce Springsteen, Church is a big fan and used his music as a dramatic reference point for the couple in the song. But he didn't know what the New Jersey rock icon thought about the song until Aug. 19, when Springsteen's personal assistant attended Church's show in Gilford, N.H., bearing a gift.
"(Springsteen) took a set list and wrote me a great note, filled up the whole back of the set list talking about how he was a fan of the song, how his family was a fan of the song," Church says. "He signed it and said 'I hope we cross paths somewhere'...
"It's a pretty incredible note. It's the first time I've officially heard from him. I had heard he was a fan of the song, but it's the first time I officially heard. It means the world to me -- and the set list is three hour and 37 minutes. That impressed me, too." Needless to say, Springsteen's note is currently "locked up in a safe place," according to Church.
Church has released a fourth single, "Creepin'," from "Chief" and hopes to release a fifth. But his thoughts are also shifting to what he's going to do next -- and he's not planning to hurry. In fact, Church says that other than some Canadian concert dates in the early part of the year and the possible summer shows with Chesney, he's planning a light work load for 2013. "I'm going to be out of the spotlight next year, really," he explains. The goal, he adds, is to facilitate the creative process and build on "Chief's" success.
"I'm writing a little bit now, but nothing seriously. I'm waiting on the creative process to tell me what's next," says Church, who estimates he wrote more than 50 songs for "Chief." "I'm never in a hurry to make records -- never will be. I"m not going to be an artist that starts making records just to do it or just to support a tour. That's the worst reason in the world to make music.
"So I'll take my time to see if I can write some songs and see where we can go, musically. I'm looking forward to that. I really want to see where this thing goes, but I'm not gonna rush it, either."
Eric Church, Justin Moore and Kip Moore perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $37.50-$47.50. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com
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