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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: JON PARDI

Interview by Holly Gleason

 Jon Pardi’s going to the dump. With all the touring, back-slapping and showing up over the past year or two, real hardcore country’s last great hope has finally said, “Enough.” So with a truckload of old pipes, fence posts and “a stupid trailer I shouldn’t have bought,” he’s finally getting rid of the clutter before embarking on his own Lucky Tonight Tour, with Midland and Runaway June opening for the man who’s finally headlining his own shows. With a nomination for Best New Artist at November’s CMA Awards, Pardi is riding a ton of momentum, all for sticking to his guns when it came to musical decisions—and throwing down the gauntlet for country’s classic roots. The brand of honky-tonk Pardi delivers on California Sunrise (Capitol Nashville) grabs Garth Brooks’ energy, Luke Bryan’s youth and Brooks & Dunn’s engorgement to create a slot of his own on the radio dial—the album has spawned three #1s. And he’s not about to slow down.

What’s the biggest change from this time last year?We’re not doing any more opening slots. Either it’s direct support or headlining, not the first of three [laughs]. We’d done seven years of that!

Headlining is fun, right? And you’re calling the tour Lucky Tonight. Are you nervous about having to sell all your own tickets?
We’re in all of the House of Blues clubs, and they’re all sold out, even the balconies. We’re playing Billy Bob’s and The Row in Milwaukee. We’re 300 shy of 3,000 sold at this baseball field in Savannah, and both Joe’s shows in Chicago are sold out. We were going into Ed Warmer’s [Chicago] clubs when we started, doing 200—and now, well, it’s our crowd.

And it’s also your sound. You’re actually a country artist playing country music. And you’ve booked a tour that leans into that concept with Midland and Goodbye June.There’s definitely a need, and people are ready for that sound again. People hear these songs and they want more. When we were putting together the tour, those definitely fit the bill musically. And they’re friends too, so it’s not just the music, it’s the whole vibe. To be a traditional artist today, you have to rock out; you have to be an entertainer with high energy and bring it.

"To be a traditional artist today, you have to rock out; you have to be an entertainer with high energy and bring it."

How so?
To be a traditional country artist, you still have to be able to throw down and keep up with Florida Georgia Line. I was raised on Garth, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam and Mark Chesnutt. In a world of soft traditional versus Garth traditional, I’m a little more Garth [laughs]. It’s Eric Church, too—country, but it’s rocking.

 You’re funny.
I’m just trying to get to the dump. But you know, you gotta have that “sell beer” factor. 



There’s buzz on you around the Grammys, possibly even Best New Artist. What do you think about that?
I’ve always loved the Grammys, because it’s all genres. As an artist, a producer, a songwriter or a singer, those are from your peers, so for a country guy to be considered—wow. I was just excited when they nominated Don Williams a few years back, that record with his old bus on the cover. But something with Bruno Mars? John Mayer? Rap? Pop? Rock? All that? Well, it’d be amazing, especially because I do try to represent country everywhere I go.

And without switching your sound or your clothes, you’re making an impact.
All the people at my label, even the ones who went to Sony and still check in, told me the same thing: “It’s a marathon, not a race.” Standing here right now, it’s a fairy tale or a dream come true. To have a label stick by me for seven years? Now that’s belief.

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Seriously, can we order something else?
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With a gigantic check. Soon.
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