Vince Gill: The Cover Story

Vince Gill’s new album Okie was a lifetime in the making. In literal terms, the recording of Gill’s new album wasn’t a long protracted process, but in terms of emotional depth and poignancy, Gill admits this isn’t an album he could have delivered earlier in his career.

“Jody Williams, who runs BMI, is one of my oldest friends. I sent him the record after we got done,” Gill tells Sounds Like Nashville. “He said, ‘You couldn’t have made this record 20 years ago. This is a record of your life experience,’ and it’s true. It takes a while to figure things out and not be judgmental, and be vulnerable to tell the truth.”

Releasing Aug. 23rd, Gill’s new album is a powerful collection of songs about life, love, regret and faith that touches on topics as unsettling as abuse and as celebratory as his love for his mother and his appreciation for Merle Haggard. “All these songs have my life in them, and a lot of truth in them too,” he shares. “In talking about this album, I didn’t realize how emotional it would be, but it really is. It’s excruciating sometimes. It’s hard to be vulnerable, so it’s been interesting seeing me try to talk about it because it is a lifetime and not just a three-minute snippet of a cute song that’s trying to get you to tune in on the radio.”

Credit: John Shearer

The Oklahoma native has reached a point in his career where he has nothing to prove. Known for such beloved hits as “Go Rest High on that Mountain,” “When I Call Your Name” and “I Still Believe in You,” Gill has enjoyed a level of success few artists ever attain. He’s won 21 Grammy Awards and 18 CMA Awards, eight ACM Awards and numerous other accolades, including a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and he’s touring with the Eagles, lending his distinctive voice and legendary guitar skills to the iconic rock band. (They are scheduled to play their landmark Hotel California album in its entirety at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sept. 27, Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. The shows will also include an additional set of their greatest hits.)

“My hope is to continue to get better at playing, singing and writing and I think I have,” he says. “If you listen to my first record in 1974 and watch the years past and the records unfold, the songs get better. I sing better and I play better, and that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, thinking you are going to be Michael Jackson and sell the most records in the whole wide world. It’s about just putting one song in front of the next. I love making music.”

Co-produced with Justin Niebank, Gill recorded this new MCA album barefoot in his home studio, and from the start, he knew how he wanted it to sound. “I like Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ album a lot,” he says. “I don’t think this record sounds anything like it. It’s not a concept record or anything like that, but what was so great about Willie’s record is the space, the simpleness of that record, and that’s what I was trying to do. I had this neat collection of songs and I didn’t want the music to get in the way. I didn’t want a bunch of big harmonies or solos to get in the way or electric guitar, so I didn’t even play electric guitar on this record. It’s a record of songs and I wanted to be willing to bare my soul. It’s just where I am today.”

One of the most personal songs is the tender “When My Amy Prays,” inspired by his wife Amy Grant’s faith. “That’s a song that tells the truth,” he says. “Everybody assumes that I’m married to Amy and I’m a church boy and I grew up that way. I’m not and I didn’t. I’m trying to be honest and vulnerable enough to say that she’s that and I’m not.”

Another poignant song Gill serves up on the new project is “A Letter to My Mama.” His friend Dawn Sears, acclaimed singer and member of the Time Jumpers who passed away from cancer in 2014, encouraged him to record it. “I wrote that with Dean Dillon about 18 or 19 years ago and I had never recorded it,” Gill says. “I always loved the song and Dawn heard me sing that song somewhere, soundcheck or at a gig and she said, ‘Why haven’t you recorded that song for your mom?’ And I go, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t found the right record.’ And she goes, ‘Well promise me you’ll record that song for your mom.’ I made her that promise, so I got to fulfill that promise to my old friend Dawn. My mom is 93. I’m glad my mom got to hear it before she’s gone. That means a lot to me now.”

Gill admits there’s a lot of songs he think people will easily relate to and some he thinks might make people uncomfortable. “I think probably the toughest song is ‘Forever Changed,’” he admits. “You are talking about abuse and that’s pretty rough.”

So which song on the new project is the most autobiographical? “‘The Price of Regret’ is me,” Gill says. “Everybody—if they told the truth— would tell you they live with some regret. I wouldn’t do anything over, but I still have regrets about things in my life. I learned some things from them, but it also would have been nice to not have made some mistakes. I don’t have any judgment on race. I don’t have any judgment on rich or poor, Democrat or Republican. If you haven’t made a mistake or two, you haven’t learned anything. Everyone knows the price of regret. I love the line in the last verse ‘Everyone’s broken. Everyone’s scarred. All the stuff we thought we needed winds up in the yard.’”

Vince Gill; Artwork courtesy of Universal Music Group Nashville

Gill admits writing songs helps him process emotions and says they can be great conversation starters. “It’s best to have the conversation about race, about abuse, about everything, even about something positive like how much you love somebody,” he shares. “You’ve got to let them know. Communication, I’m not great at it in my real life, but I can talk things out and find my way through songs to kind of grieve and talk and tell stories. I just like telling stories. What I like about most of these songs is they have a little bit of hope in them.”

Gill is planning to share new music when he tours this fall, and he’s hoping people will hear the new album and like it. When asked if it’s being promoted to country radio, he laughs and says, “You are asking the wrong guy. I’ve been thrown out the door by country radio years ago. I’m going to keep trying and [am] hopeful something will show up that they like, but no expectations. . . The label is doing these lyric videos with three or four of the songs so far. I’m not all that up on how things really work these days with the technology and the way people find stuff. I’m a little lost, just trying to find a home.”

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Amazing picture of Vince by @jefffasanophoto 👏

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Known as one of the nicest guys in Nashville (or any other city) Gill prefers communicating directly with people and readily admits technology isn’t his thing. “I’ve never sent a text. I’ve never posted a Facebook point of view or any of that stuff,” he says. “As a performer, it’s the most disheartening thing when you look out there and are singing your guts out and playing your heart out, and people paid to come see you and all they do is text on their phone and look at their phone. They are disengaged. It just kind of breaks your heart when you are out there trying to do something for folks.”

Though he always hopes his songs resonate with listeners, Gill’s reason for creating music is more personal. “I love making music, even if it’s just for me,” he says. “I’ve never done this for anyone other than for me first. That sounds selfish, but it’s the truth. I couldn’t imagine not being creative and the results have never made me waver in any way, shape or form, whether it’s been a struggle and nobody heard the records or everybody bought the records and they were the biggest hits in the world. That never moved the needle either way for me. I just kept trying.”

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