The story isn’t that singer-songwriter/guitarist Aaron Lewis took a long-term hiatus from his post-grunge rock group Staind to pursue a solo career as a country music singer. The story is why.
“I got burnt out singing those Staind songs over and over again every night, having to recall those same emotions over and over again in order to deliver the song in the proper manner … about all of the things that had sucked with me my entire life,” Lewis said. “This gives me the opportunity to tell stories other than how dark I can get.”
Lewis has plenty more stories to tell with the upcoming release of his third country album, “Sinner,” on Dot Records. The album is slated for a mid-September release, he said.
In the meantime, Lewis is performing the songs with a full band for live audiences nearly every weekend, including a May 13 stop at the Silver Legacy’s Grande Exposition Hall.
“Every song on the record has been played live for some time,” he said. “It’s all on YouTube. It’s kind of a cool way of testing songs before I record them.”
Whether it’s country songs or rock songs that he’s writing, Lewis does it the only way he knows how – honestly, with lots of self-revelations.
“Music has always been a way for me to get it all off my chest,” Lewis said. ‘If you just read the lyrics of the songs, from record to record, it’s pretty much a slice of my life at that moment.”
Back to his roots
Staind was one of the more popular post-grunge rock acts from 1996 to 2011. During that time, the band had five chart-topping singles, released seven studio records and sold more than 15 million albums.
But that success had a steep price, and the subject matter began to wear heavily on Lewis. The songs lyrics dripped with darkness, depression and despair. The album titles reveal the material that Lewis was exploring: Staind’s debut album, “Tormented” from 1996; “Dysfunction” from 1999; and “The Illusion of Progress” from 2008.
The 44-year-old husband and father of three girls needed a new vehicle, one that better reflected his current lifestyle. So in 2011, he turned to country music. Rather, he went back to it.
“Country music was the soundtrack of my childhood,” said Lewis, who was born and raised in Vermont, but now lives in Massachusetts. “The whole Lewis side of my family is rurally located. My grandfather was a country music fanatic. It was all of the outlaw country from that time. It was Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. That kind of stuff. So, when it came time to when I really wanted to do something different, that was the only thing I could go to that was embedded in my musical soundtrack, if you will, without having to reinvent myself and completely do something out of the realm of things that I have done. Some people think country music was a major right turn, but all it really was is circling back ’round to my childhood – to the music I was brought up on.”
Lewis’ released his debut EP country album, “Town Line,” in 2011. That contained the hit song, “Country Boy” (featuring George Jones and Charlie Daniels), which earned Lewis two nominations at the Country Music Television Music Awards. His first full-length country release, “The Road,” came out in 2012.
His new album, “Sinner,” features guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Dan Kaminsky and Lewis’ daughter, Zoe, 13.
He recorded it not with his live band but with studio musicians from Nashville, Tenn.
“These are the best-seasoned session guys that Nashville has to offer,” Lewis said. “These are the first-call A-list guys and its been that way on every record that I’ve done. We literally got the album done in two eight-hour days. I think that comes through in the songs I’m writing and recording because it’s not the country music you hear on the radio today. It’s much more organic and traditionally inspired by the songs that are in my subconscious from my childhood.”
Lewis still writes with his heart on his sleeve. Success and maturity have helped make the challenges less dark, but they haven’t gone away. They’ve simply changed form.
“You want honesty?” he asked. “I’ve been crippled in life by the fact that in this business everybody takes care of everything for you. That sounds great at first, but then I go home and I’m not as responsible of an adult as I could be, as I want to be. The super-servicing of the artist in this industry can really warp life a little bit.”
Lewis said his 2016 schedule already is filled with festival dates, honky-tonk shows, theater dates and shows with Willie Nelson with more being added regularly.
His audiences are a mix of his new country music fans as well as some long-time Staind fans. Lewis does play some of Staind’s hits at the show. He knows many fans still clamor for new Staind music, even though the band hasn’t performed together since 2014.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that can’t wait for the next Staind record to come out,” Lewis said. “I can’t really say when that might possibly be, but it certainly isn’t an improbability.”
Lewis said he’s lost a lot of former Staind fans since his switch to country music.
“But I’ve gotten feedback from people that were die-hard rock listeners that never listened to country music that listened to what I did and liked it,” he said. “And they have since brought it into their musical horizon and sought out more country music that sounded like what I was playing. That’s definitely cool.”
There also are the people that simply want to hear the sweet sounds of Lewis’ vocals.
“There are fans that I have that swear to God that I can sing the phone book,” Lewis said. “I don’t particularly think so, but I’ve heard it enough times that they would come to see me play and sing whatever.”
Those fans will be excited to know that Lewis is already itching to return to the studio to record his fourth country music album.
“The new record hasn’t even come out and I’m already ready to do another (album),” he said. “I know I’ve had a lot of success and yet I still find myself chasing that next mountain to climb, to get to the top of it. To prove to myself, I guess, that I can. I think that’s just part of the human condition. There’s always more to prove.”