Jon Pardi Hopes His Refusal to Chase Sets ‘Mr. Saturday Night’ Album Apart [Interview]
Astute Jon Pardi fans may notice a trend. The "Last Night Lonely" singer has participated less and less in the songwriting on each of his four studio albums, including Mr. Saturday Night (Sept. 2 on Capitol Nashville). One gets the sense that if all he needed to do was sing and tour the country performing the 14 new songs, he'd be all right with that.
It's not because he's doesn't enjoy songwriting, and it's certainly not because he lacks the talent. "Head Over Boots" and "Heartache Medication" are two No. 1 hits he's helped write. "Tequila Little Time" — a Top 5 single from the Heartache Medication album — features the sort of deft wordplay that marks his fourth studio album.
"Best song wins," Pardi says, repeating a familiar Music Row axiom. "I could have wrote the whole record. Would it have been as good? No."
There’s a lot of artists chasing stuff, and I’m not one of them, as you can tell from this record.
The California native's challenge with this record was to create a new body of work that doesn't repeat what's worked before, all while keeping his established fans happy and perhaps picking up a few new ones. The target narrows as you grow older and become more successful. Kenny Chesney has talked about this before, but stiffened outside expectations crash into stubborn personal preferences in a way that can leave some of the boldest ideas scattered like glass along the side of the road. Artists who became boring and artists who take a wild turn right with a new project often miss that distant bullseye.
The public will decide how Pardi did, but it's really difficult to criticize him for playing it safe or reinventing himself. While produced with a bit more of a contemporary finish, Mr. Saturday Night remains on brand for the traditionalist. He also leans hard on clever lyrics, most of which someone else wrote. The title track is the most stunning example of Music Row word play, but others twist a phrase like a knife or punchline. There's a song called "Reverse Cowgirl" that may surprise you.
“It’s just a funny song, but some people, it flies right over their head," Pardi tells Taste of Country Nights, barely breaking a smile as he discusses a song with no chance at radio airplay. Could you imagine your local DJ hollering, "K102 it's Rooster and the Crow in the morning, and we got a request for Reverse Cowgirl ..."?
Enjoy the full interview here during this week's episode of Taste of County Nights on Demand. Essential conversation experts with questions shortened for clarity can be found below.
Who came up with the idea for "Mr. Saturday Night" and "missed her, Saturday night"?
I wasn't part of writing that song. Benjy Davis most likely. Yeah, that's a hell of a hook. It's just got this fun kind of swing to it, but at the end this guy's just super lonely.
That's just songwriting. That’s Music Row, that’s songwriters in Nashville. That’s why I record outside songs to put them as like, this is good songwriting and it’s still going on in Nashville. It’s not like chasing stuff. There’s a lot of artists chasing stuff, and I’m not one of them, as you can tell from this record.
You have a new song called "The Day I Stopped Dancing" on this album. Who taught you how to dance?
Oh, my grandmother, my father, my mom — it was just like a fun thing. They may not have been musicians in my family, but they loved music.
Are there other men in country music that can dance in the same style as you?
Thomas Rhett likes to dance. Walker Hayes definitely likes to dance. But that's just a different style. No, I tell everybody don't knock it until you try it. Go take lessons with your significant other. It's almost like a learning step in a relationship with a significant other, learning to dance together.
Your wife joined you on stage in Sturgis recently. Is this something you plan out, or does she surprise you?
No, Summer never wants to come out on stage. I have to pull her out. And sometimes I do it to mess with her. She wants to be side stage and that's it.
Your debut radio single, "Missing You Crazy," is now 10 years old. How do you compare success to what you expected 10 years ago?
I never knew what to expect. All I wanted to do was live in the moment and make the best music I can. Even though the first record wasn't like a radio success — I mean, we had a Top 10, which let us get the album out — the album itself sold tickets in honkytonks and clubs to where we were selling more tickets than a person with their first No. 1.
I was on radio tour, so I learned a lot about what radio, what they want, what they lean on a little bit more. Just kind of taking it and learning from it. Like I said, I didn't expect anything. I was there to learn and there to play music. I look back and I wouldn't change a thing.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Saying the same s--t I just told you.