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NASHVILLE BREAKOUT:
JON PARDI

Jon Pardi harkens back to another time in country—an era when honky-tonks were turbo, steel guitars ruled and deep-grooved shuffles provided the rhythm of Friday nights. Hitting the road with Dierks Bentley in 2010 and 2014, as well as being part of Alan Jackson’s 2014 Keepin’ It Country Tour, the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist’s updated hard country has been making inroads with fans. Between his debut Write You a Song and subsequent EP The B-Sides, 2011-2014, the Dixon, Calif., native had been building an audience on the road and believers at Country radio. With California Sunrise topping the charts in its first week, the chiseled songwriter has landed the platinum “Head Over Boots” and gold “Dirt on My Boots” at #1 on the country singles charts—proving that, as modernized as the genre has become, there’s always room for a classicist.


You’re really country.
"Head Over Boots” is probably the most traditional thing on Country radio. I definitely try to bring traditional to modern country. It had kind of a gangster beat to it, even though it was a shuffle. And fiddle, and steel. I’ve gotta have fiddle and steel.

You’re kinda like George Strait, who came out at a pop time but remained staunchly traditional.
George made Western swing come back—and all those shuffles. I found a bunch of [Strait] vinyl on Amazon, and bought ’em. They were expensive too. I’ve been studying up on ’em. My fiddle player has had me learning new chords and different chording: G, D Minor, C. He taught me “Right or Wrong” the other day; those chords move fast, and you have to keep up.

Who else knows any of that stuff?
Well, we jammed to Alabama the other night, “Right or Wrong” and “Roly Poly” with the Brothers Osborne. They’re both super-talented. We were on tour together two years ago with Dierks, so we’re all friends. But that was a real rock & roll moment: hanging out backstage, drinking some vodka and soda, jamming on old Western-swing songs in Houston.

I thought all you boys were competitive.
Nah, we’re pretty friendly. I texted Luke Bryan a picture of my corn patch this morning. It’s just two rows, but it’s coming up. I got deer, though; I can see deer poop. But you know, I can text Luke a picture like that.

How deep do you go with him?
I played the Alabama Theatre and the Lyric Theatre with him back when he was in my position now. He’s a Georgia boy, a whole lot of fun. And I’m going out on the Farm Tour with him this fall, out in the middle of the country.

So you’ve always been country.
All the way back. It’s why I like fiddle, steel guitar, country-sounding melodies. In high school, I was in a band with a mandolin player who was really into bluegrass. He taught me how to flatpick—and we were super country.

That’s obviously important to you.
I take everything, and make it country. I love Dwight Yoakam. Songs like “Honky Tonk Man” or “Long Black Cadillac,” those rock. And I’m always thinking, “What can we do on the next record that can be more country?” Because I like that edge. You know, Jerry [Hufford] at the Crystal Palace texted me that [“What I Can’t Put Down”] sounded like Buck [Owens], and Gerry House told me it reminded him of the first time he heard Strait.

You have that intensity.
I hate slow songs. I’ve got no slow songs. I have two slots for slow songs, but I wanna go out and play with people. I wanna rock harder than anyone.

You also bring that California rock thing into it a bit. “California Sunrise” has a lot of Eagles to it.
I have this whole new mentality of songwriting: How can I make this cool and get it played on the radio? We were definitely channeling the Eagles and Jackson Browne. On “One of These Nights,” they were pushing the limits of rock & roll, because they were so country with what they were doing. But it rocked—and I loved that.

What else are you listening to?
I put on [SiriusXM] Prime Country a lot. I’m listening to The Very Best of Hall & Oates. I like the new Dan Auerbach; got Joe Cocker and Leon Bridges, Off the Wall from Michael Jackson and the latest John Mayer. And I’ve got Brooks & Dunn’s first Greatest Hits, the black one with the steer head on the cover.

I can hear that. So you really are the authentic deal.
I grew up working construction in the heat; running tractors for 10 hours a day, six days a week. I’ve done ranch work, which is a long day. My dad’s still pouring concrete out there in the 100-degree heat. I’m here, living the dream and making music, doing an interview in the air conditioning. But I come from where this music comes from.

Is that why you didn’t get frustrated building this so slowly? I mean, 2010 was a long time ago.
Thanks to Capitol Nashville, Mike Dungan and Cindy Mabe for being patient and letting us build it. The fans and the record label kept me going, and by the end of the first album we were selling out clubs. We built a foundation and relationships. Even though we didn’t have a ton of success at radio, we’d do radio shows and people would see us, then we’d go back. By staying consistent, we turned people on to the music. They kept coming out. People would hear the songs like “Missin’ You Crazy” and say, “It has a Waylon [Jennings] influence. “Up All Night” was different, with its bouncy hip-hop melody with fiddle and steel, but people found they really liked it. “Write You a Song” was very hardcore.

When you’re so traditional, does social media play a role in it?
Building socials builds the music. Look at Kane Brown—he had a gold record with very little radio because of his social network. Those fans are important.

Can social media foster your creativity?
It’s a great way to find new music, to see stories on the Internet. You can find anything on social media—and creativity comes from all kinds of places. It’s from the mind, the soul, the chords and the strings, but you could see a pretty girl, and that’s inspiring too.

So I guess it has its own creativity. You could create cool new things, ideas, just moving around out there. I know I have a lot of young fans, I think because we’re so energetic—and that stuff lives out there.

Do you write all the time?
It’s not something I can turn off. I jot down titles and bits all the time. I have some cool ideas for my Instagram story and my YouTube too. And I’m just really excited to start writing for my third album.

Have you had any wow moments?
Getting back-to-back #1s is definitely my wow moment. And having “Heartache” flying up the chart is pretty wow too. The idea that radio is looking and ready to play my stuff, that it’s working, finally—that, to me, is wow.

You never seem to stop working.
The hardest part of writing right now is having the time—I’m always gone or booked. My management likes booking me, because there’s always all these shows to play—and for so long, that’s how we’ve done it.

What’s coming up?
The fall tour is going to be Midland and Runaway June, which will be awesome. I’m really looking forward to that. And then onto Luke’s Farm Tour. That’s just six dates, but it’s gonna be fun.

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