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After controversies, Kid Rock is happy to taste some "Sweet Southern Sugar"
Kid Rock is happy to have music to talk about again.
After a summer of highly polarized focus on his political views, including a faux flirtation with running for Michigan’s U.S. Senate next year, the Romeo native has just released his 11th album, “Sweet Southern Sugar,” a 10-song, characteristically mixed-bag of styles from rock to country to rap. Recorded primarily in Nashville, where Rock also resides as well as Clarkston, Detroit and Alabama, it’s the start of a new era for his 27-year recording career, one that finds him working even more on his own terms than he ever has before.
“I’m kind of stepping away from the business a little bit,” Rock (nee Bob Ritchie), 46, says by phone from Nashville, where he went trick-or-treating there with his son and granddaughter. “I don’t get a real positive feeling from it. It doesn’t make me a happy person to deal with it. At this point it’s kind of fun just to not make sense and just make music and write music and record music and play music, and hopefully people show up for the shows.
“I think when you’re young you’re a little green and you think you can please everybody. Now I’ve just stopped caring. I’m just having a good time. There’s been periods of time throughout my career where I’m like, ‘F---, this s---’s getting me down!’ It was like getting high — the highs would be really high, the lows would be really low. Now I’m like, ‘F--- that.’ Life’s too short, man. ...”
Rock is keenly aware of the rash of musician deaths and other maladies during the past couple of years, and that’s given him pause.
“Everywhere around me, people are dropping like flies,” he notes. “There’s no question that this business takes a toll on you. It cuts years off your life, especially if you go as hard as I do, like most of us do — I’m not even talking about the party stuff, just on stage.
“I saw the Eagles play the other night (at Little Caesars Arena). It’s probably the greatest show I’ve ever seen. I’m jealous; I wish I could just stand there and people sat and listened. I could do that every night, no problem, but that’s not what I do. I beat the ... s--- out of myself, and I’m just not gonna do that forever and drive myself into a hole. I enjoy life too much.”
THE RUN OF HIS LIFE
Rock did enjoy, to a degree, the summer’s will-he or won’t-he furor about the senate run, which he fueled with social media teasers and campaign merchandise, and via a lengthy “campaign” speech he made at his concerts — including six shows to open Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena in September.
“It might be one of the dumber things I’ve ever done, but God, it was a riot,” says Rock, who decided to “roll with it” after a Michigan state legislator suggested he run for the seat in 2018.
“Remember — I didn’t start it,” he says with a laugh. “But then the press started having their little laugh with it, like they always do with me, so I said, ‘I’m gonna f--- with them a little bit. ...’
“I mean, I just don’t understand who looks at Kid Rock and goes, ‘Yeah, I see a senator there ...’ It started to become kind of real, which got a little scary, but it was still a lot of fun in a lot of ways.”
A conservative, Rock says he does feel sorry about those who took the senate run seriously and voiced support for him, including politicians “from the White House to our local leaders and neighbors” who approached him. And he’s angry that he was labeled a racist and criticized again, including protests outside the first Little Caesars show, for using a Confederate flag on stage years ago.
“I knew politics are polarized and dirty and I knew what I was opening myself up to it, but I didn’t expect to come out at the end labeled as the Klan Wizard, to be honest with you,” says Rock, who was also taken to task for a visit to the White House with Ted Nugent, including a photo op with President Donald Trump. “That was kind of as shocker to me. This Confederate flag s--- had already been addressed, and I got a ... NAACP Award and haven’t talked about it since.
“People just need to calm down. I guess I didn’t help by stirring the pot, but I really didn’t think people were going to take me that seriously.”
Rock is hoping “Sweet Southern Sugar” will provide a bit of salve. Co-produced with Justin Niebank and recorded with a corps of Nashville session aces — “These cats are another level,” Rock notes — the album is devoid of politics and instead features mostly positive messages about love (he’s engaged to longtime girlfriend Audrey Berry), resilience and the good life.
Rockers such as “Greatest Show On Earth” and “Stand The Pain” share space with melodic Americana tunes like “Tennessee Mountain Top,” “Raining Whiskey” and “American Rock ’n’ Roll,” alongside a dark cover of the Four Tops’ “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” the trailer park hootenanny “Po’ Dunk,” soulful tracks such as “I Wonder” and the suicide-referencing “Back To The Other Side” and the get-off-my-lawn rap rant “Grandpa’s Jam.”
“I had no record label (he has since signed to the Broken Bow Music Group), no budget, just absolutely nothing tied to this at all except, ‘Let’s go have some fun,’” he says. Rock recorded early versions of the other songs at his Allen Roadhouse Studio in Clarkston. More than 20 tracks were considered for the follow-up to 2015’s “First Kiss,” with about 18 actually recorded before whittling down to the final track list.
“I got to sit back and help produce and listen to the band. It was just a lot of fun to be in there with these players” — including some members of his Twisted Brown Trucker band and of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band — “in there playing outside their element sometime,” says Rock, who recently fired his Nashville publicity firm after its founder was accused of sexually harassing another client. “When we’re doing ‘Greatest Show On Earth” or some of this other stuff, you can understand they don’t get to do that in Nashville too much and they’re all really capable of it, so it was kind of neat just to watch it all meld and intertwine.”
Rock — who kicks off a tour to support the album on Jan. 19 in Nashville — acknowledges he’s “not sure what the repercussions” of this year’s events will be for “Sweet Southern Sugar.” But he’s not wringing his hands over it.
“I’ve never thought everybody loves Kid Rock, at all,” he says. “One thing I live by, something the Reverend Run told me years ago that I’ve lived by ever since, was ‘go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated.’ That’s what sticks with me with pretty much everything I do.”
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