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Kid Rock Looking For Rock 'N' Roll Mountain Top With "Jesus"
As the title track of his new album, “Rock N Roll Jesus,” pounds over the speakers at his Clarkston studio, The Chophouse, Kid Rock pulls a cigar out of a nearby humidor, leans back in his chair and lights it with a satisfied smile.
For the music, not the stogie.
“Rock N Roll Jesus,” which comes out Tuesday, represents the most carefully prepared album of Rock’s 17-year recording career. He’s been working on it for three years, he says, since not long after the release of 2003’s platinum “Kid Rock.” He considered several dozen songs and sought outside consultation — first from reigning Grammy Producer of the Year Rick Rubin, then from Rob Cavallo, who’s worked with Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls and co-produced “Rock N Roll Jesus” during four months of sessions at The Chophouse.
All of this, he says, had a determined purpose.
“This time, I wanted to really deliver and ... make just a great album, where every song is a classic,” explains Rock, 36, who was born Bob Ritchie in Romeo and started out as a DJ and rapper, releasing his first album, “Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast,” in 1990. He hit pay dirt with 1998’s “Devil Without a Cause,” which has sold nine million copies in the United States.
With “Rock N Roll Jesus,” Rock says, “I thought that I could step up and maybe be a major player. I tried to put myself on the level of all these people that I really look up to and love, like the (Lynyrd) Skynyrds and (Bob) Segers of the world and just really tried to write in that mode but still be me.
“It was a little bit of pressure, but I’m good under pressure. I mean, I have money. I have all the other (stuff). So that becomes out of play all of a sudden. I really love music, so I wanted to make something that really sounds good.”
From kid to man
“Rock N Roll Jesus” continues the format-defying “punk rock-hip-hop-Southern rock” blend that Rock sang about in his 2001 hit “Forever,” but with a decidedly different ratio. He still cranks it up on tracks such as the lusty first single, “So Hott,” but there’s a new kind of depth to the songwriting and storytelling throughout the 12 tracks — from the social commentary of “Amen” (which Rock declares “the best song I’ve ever written”) to the vivid imagery of “Blue Jeans and a Rosary” and the Segerstyled sentimentality of “All Summer Long,” which mashes together Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
And this time out, there’s only one rap track, the biting, anything-but-sweet “Sugar.”
“I’ve just really been into melody and lyrics and songwriting,” explains Rock, who nevertheless is hoping to do a full-scale hip-hop collaboration with the Rev. Joseph “Run” Simmons from Run-DMC.
“Writing a rap, to me, is easy. I could write a rap like that,” he says, snapping his fingers. “But writing songs and melodies and (stuff), that’s hopefully gonna stick around for 30, 40 years is ... hard.”
It was his conversations with Rubin that inspired him to take that more difficult path, according to Rock.
“We had these long talks and stuff, discussing music and where I should be and what’s expected of me,” Rock recalls. “He was like, ‘Try and write something relevant,’ which I was a little (angry) about. But he said, ‘We know you’re ... Kid Rock. You said it 80 million times on every other record.’
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess I did.’ So I went for something else and got a little more outside myself, I guess.”
Co-producer Cavallo notes that Rock “wanted to make a little bit more of a mature record that’s a little more ambitious. You’re gonna hear some deeper themes running through this record — that was one of the things that got me so excited about it.
“He’s had a lot of things happen in his life. It was time for him to write something that was both important to him and felt important to music fans — especially coming from that stylistic place that’s so unique, that combination of country and hip-hop and rock.”
Rock ’n’ roll pain train
Those “things” do hang over “Rock N Roll Jesus’ ” release, however — probably to a greater extent than Rock would like. His four-month marriage to Pamela Anderson in 2006 inspired the joyfully sneering country song “Half Your Age” — “It’d be stupid to pretend that it didn’t happen and not say anything, y’know?,” he explains — but also remains at the top of tabloid minds.
“I can’t hide it; it happened,” says Rock, who’s accused Anderson of lying to him about a miscarriage during their time together. “It’s stuff I hold personal, so I don’t talk about it too much. Sure, I reflect and talk with my friends about it. I can kinda have a laugh about it in hindsight.”
But it reared its head again in September when Rock had a scuffle with Anderson’s previous husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, at the MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas. Rock’s explained it as payback for “horrendous ... extremely disrespectful” things Lee had e-mailed to Rock while he and Anderson were divorcing. He’s also labeled it a bit of an MTV setup.
Despite the publicity they generate, Rock wants to put those affairs behind him as “Rock N Roll Jesus” emerges. “You never want something to overshadow what your real talent is,” Rock explains. “When something starts to do that, you’re kind of like, ‘How do I lay low? I’m too busy having fun to lay low. I’m gonna sit in my house and not be seen? That’s not any fun.”
He plans to be plenty visible in spreading the word of “Rock N Roll Jesus.” Rock began a series of small-hall “rock sermon” concerts with his Twisted Brown Trucker band last week at the Emerald Theatre in Mount Clemens that will run through early November.
He’ll perform Monday on CBS’ “The Late Show With David Letterman” and has appearances scheduled for “Ellen” (Oct. 25), ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (Oct. 26), the American Music Awards (Nov. 22) and on Larry the Cable Guy’s VH1 Christmas special in December. There are overtures being made to the NFL to perform at halftime of the Detroit Lions’ annual Thanksgiving Day game, as well.
And Rock plans to be on the road extensively in 2008 to keep spreading the word of “Rock N Roll Jesus.”
“I don’t think I can do anything more powerful than either play live or play the record for people and hopefully create as much hype as the iPhone,” Rock says. “I want to go out and talk as much ... as I can and hype it up as big as I can, ’cause I think I have a good enough product. It can stand up to it.”
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