A couple of years ago, Jake Owen figured out the key to success.
The Florida-born country singer released a pair of modestly successful albums -- 2006's "Startin' With Me" and 2009's "Easy Does It," which launched hit singles such as the former's title track, "Don't Think I Can't Love You" and "Eight Second Ride." He also won the Academy of Country Music Award for Top New Male Vocalist. But Owen felt that he was spending more time "appeasing" record company executives than doing what was right for him.
"I made a lot of decisions based off other people's decisions which weren't necessarily in my best interest," he explains.
With 2011's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," however, he changed all that -- to his unreserved benefit. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and had chart-topping hits with its title track and "Alone With You." A third single, "The One That Got Away," is in the Top 10, and after playing stadiums all summer with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Owen is headlining his first national trek on this fall's CMT On Tour package.
What happened? "I decided to stop being something I wasn't and really mold myself to be who I really am," Owen, 31, explains. "I realized I'm from Florida, man. I'm not like everyone else. I didn't grow up riding a tractor, so singing songs about tractors or about growing up in the country -- just because it's country music doesn't mean it's got to be about that. People know it's not about me. They really do.
"So I just started making my music revolve around the fact that I am the guy from Florida. I don't have a (cowboy) hat. I've got longer hair. I don't know anything about farms. I didn't want to just be a singer of songs. I wanted to sing the truth.
"I did, and now people know who I am."
A case in point, Owen says, is the song "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," a good-time anthem he acknowledges "is not life altering or lyrically deep" but is true to the spirit of how he lives his life. So is its video, which depicts Owen wake boarding with friends, doing some "crazy (stunts)" on the open water.
"I wanted people to see that side of me," Owen explains. "A lot of guys will talk about how big their truck tires are and riding down the backroads, but nobody is talking about what I do. For a long time I believed if I did people would say, 'He's not country' or this or that. But not anymore."
Ironically, for an album that's so true to his character, "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" features only one song co-written by Owen ("The One That Got Away") after he penned the bulk of the material on his previous albums. That was another lesson he embraced this time around, he says.
"I had this idea that the only way to be a true artist is to write your won material," Owen explains. "But if you're writing (bad) songs, you're no better than anyone else, right? That's not to say I was writing (bad) songs, but I wanted to have better ones.
"And I knew in a town like Nashville, it's full of people who are the best of the best. It's such a deep well of amazing music that I was an absolute moron not tapping into that."
Owen has given fans a bit more to dig into this fall with "Endless Summer," a four-song EP that debuted at No. 2 after its Sept. 25 release. "I wanted to bypass this antiquated system of waiting around a year to put out another album," explains Owen, who executive produced the project. "I'd like to just start putting out stuff when we have it and give it to the fans who have been supporting me for years. This is just a little bit of instant gratification for people."
A new full-length album will be coming, however. Owen -- whose wife, Lacey, is expecting the couple's first child around Thanksgiving -- says he's "two or three songs that could be game-changers for" his next effort, and while he's already started recording he has no plans to rush it out, either.
"I want an album full of game-changing songs and full of lifestyle hits like we had on 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night,' " he explains. "I think taking my time to do that is way more important than just trying to cram a year's worth of thought into a 10-day period and just kicking it out there. People know what I can give them now, and if I give them something a little different, I feel like they'll be cool with that and into it.
"The main thing is I finally have people's attention, where before I was the guy trying to get their attention. Now I have to hang on to it."
CMT On Tour 2012 with Jake Owen, Love and Theft and Florida Georgia Line, plays Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, if available. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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