“It’s a symbol for cowboys, grit, hard work, hustle, and blood, sweat, and tears.” -Aaron Watson on what the red bandana represents
The 20-song Red Bandana album project celebrates Aaron Watson’s 20 years of making music. The lead single, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye,” was written by Watson alone, as are all the others on this album. He co-produced with Jordan Lehning. Over a dozen recorded albums, more than 2,500 shows in the U.S. and Europe, over half a million tickets sold in the last year, the Texas native is determined to stay true to his roots and deliver music directly to his fans.
Music you grew up listening to and singing, how has it shaped your career?
I’m still listening to the music my parents exposed me to. My Dad had an incredible vinyl collection and for as long as I can remember it was everything from Willie and Waylon to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Dad was also into the singer/songwriters which gave me a great appreciation for the story behind the songs. Mom was always encouraging me to sing in church as well. Overall, the music that I was exposed to and grew up on, is still my foundation today.
What stood out in those beginning years that gave you hope that you’d be able to pursue your career on your own terms, like Willie?
In the early years, the lack of interest from major labels, and lack of opportunity made me realize, out of survival, if I was going to chase my dream, I’d be doing it on my own. I have always been thankful that there are guys like Willie and so many of these artists in Texas who have been such positive influences on me and have inspired me to be an independent artist and to do things my way.
You’ve likened your career to having a family business. How involved is your family in your music?
The kids in the last 4–5 years have really inspired me to work harder. They’re old enough to where they are paying attention to my work ethic and they know that their dad is bucking the system and is not a major label artist with the support of the big machine. They know that their dad is the artist, label, and the custodian. They push me to be the best that I can be. They also love music and being able to share the love of music with them, it makes it that much more enjoyable.
What is your life goal?
I don’t really have any life goals. I don’t even know if I’ll be here tomorrow so I strive to live in the moment and be the best that I can be and show people around me love and kindness. I’m always striving to be better than I was the day before.
What was the turning point for your career which Forbes magazine describes as “one of country music’s biggest DIY success stories”?
I guess for 15 years, we were under the radar and I think people assumed that we weren’t successful because we didn’t have national recognition. We have been running a successful business long before that. I think that the beginning of this started with Real Good Time charting #9 and then on to the Underdog which was the first independent album to chart number one. Then my last album, Vaquero, was the most downloaded album when it came out and yielded a top 10 radio single. All of our independent success has stirred the hornets nest a little bit, and I think it’s shown people that there is another way to achieve your dreams than just going down the major label path. I enjoy being that guy and waving that flag for the underdog.
How has Larry Gatlin impacted your career?
Dad loved the Gatlin Brothers, and they all are west Texas Boys. It’s inspiring when you see someone from your neck of the woods having success. Larry took interest early on in my writing and took the time to critique my writing and I really feel his crash course in the early stages of my career kind of catapulted me several years ahead of where I should have been. He’s always encouraged me to write my own songs and I’ve always taken that advice to heart.
Own label — will you be adding new artists?
Absolutely, part of the reason why I’m staying independent is so I can grow the label continuously year after year like I have done w/ the rest of our business. We’re looking for artists that are unique and full of heart and soul. In the last twenty years I have learned a lot of lessons that I feel I can pass down to other artists.
“Trying Like the Devil” how difficult was it to find the words to express these emotions?
“Trying Like the Devil” is a special song to me, it was inspired after I heard the tragic news about a local boy in our town who had committed suicide. He had so many great things going for him and nobody saw it coming and nobody knew he had that pain on the inside. A few days later, his dad posted something on social media and said that his son didn’t feel good enough and that he was comparing himself to things that weren’t realistic. His dad just cried out to the general public, especially celebrities/singers to be more real on social media.
Everybody puts their best foot forward these days and it’s almost a fairy tale life. I wanted to write a song where I really just bared my soul for the fans and just let them know that sometimes I’m down in the dumps, sometimes I’m depressed, sometimes I’m really struggling with some serious things, and that’s okay. I don’t give up, I keep moving forward and sometimes when you get knocked down on the ground, you oughta just stay there and ask God to lift that burden off your heart.
“Trying Like the Devil” is about my struggles and I wanted to be completely transparent with my fans. I think a lot people think I’m a christian and have it all figured out, but the truth is, I’m so messed up that I need Jesus more than most people. I think my fans deserve honesty. I just wanted “Trying Like the Devil” to be a song that can uplift my fans when they’re going through a hard time in life and to let them know that I’m thinking of them and praying for them and that they can get through the hard times.
Favorite Texas venue?
Picking my favorite Texas venue is like asking me which child is my favorite so that is a hard question to answer. To me, it’s not about the venue but the people who come to the shows. Those Texans are the foundation of my career and have always been there for me from the beginning.
Dream tour venue?
Anywhere that someone will listen. That’s what means the most to me.
Pre performance ritual?
I like making some type of warm tea with some honey and lemon to help prepare my voice. I also keep an old guitar in the back of the bus and run through some songs that I feel I have been a little rusty on. I also always go over the set list w/ my drummer and we say a little prayer before the show and ask God to give us courage to get up there and let our light shine.
With whom would you sing your dream duet?
Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to record and sing a song with Willie which is pretty hard to top. But, I really would love to sing a duet with Reba. She is the queen, and who wouldn’t want to sing a duet with the queen.
What are the main differences between shows here and ones overseas?
I have to brag on the shows overseas… They don’t get as much live music as we have over here in the states. It’s one of those things where they are excited and appreciate the music. It’s more about the music and less about the party, and I’m a huge fan of that.
The CLIP video of your life — how did that come about?
We were putting out the record and there were two other major label bands that were also putting records out the same week as us and each one of them had monstrous number one hits. They also had support from Taylor Swift and Good Morning America. I thought, “I can’t compete with this but I can make something that lets be people know that I’m here and that we’ve got a product that they’re going to enjoy.” I always loved those card videos that people do on Facebook and I decided I am going to make one of these. I started writing down what was going on during that era of my life. I didn’t expect the impact but it was such a blessing to us.
If you were to choose one song to represent your sound which would it be and why?
On the new album it would be “Trying Like the Devil”… it has an old school, Johnny Cash feel with a Kris Kristofferson thing going on but at the same time it has something new and trendy to it. I always try to tow the line between tradition and trend and I think you take your influences and develop your own recipe.
When you write a song do you visualize what the video will look like?
Not really, I always am so focused on the imagery and the message I’m trying to convey with the songs I am writing.
Is there anything in particular that you’d like people to take away from listening to your music?
I hope my music can be something they turn to when they’re needing to be uplifted. I try to write songs that are impactful and write positive messages. I have people come up to me nightly and say my songs have helped get them through a rough patch in their life. Greatest compliment to a songwriter. After an Opry show, I had a young man and wife come up to me and he was ex military and he suffers from PTSD and he battles depression and suicidal thoughts and he told me “Trying Like The Devil” has really helped him out and he listens to it everyone morning and listens to it and gets him in right frame of mind.
When you’re not performing, what do you like to do?
I am usually with my family and being dad. My kids are in a bunch of activities so that usually consists of things like taking Jolee to ballet and taking my boys to basketball and baseball. I love being a parent and getting to do those things when I’m home.
If you were driving cross-country and could only bring one CD, what would it be?
The Beatles — The White Album — because it’s technically like three albums.
If you weren’t singing, what would you be doing?
I don’t know… I get asked that question all the time. I have been singing now for twenty years. Maybe I would have some sort of lawn service or the bull pen coach for the Houston Astros. In charge of custodial services. Anything that would help me make ends meet.
A movie of your life is being filmed — who are the leads?
I love Andy Samberg, I’d probably have him play my role.
What are the five things you each can’t live without?
What’s in your musical future?
We have Red Bandana that just came out and we will be in full swing on the road bringing a new show and new songs to the fans with a national tour that spans nationwide. I really couldn’t be more excited for the future!