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MEET THE GRAMMY CLASS: BLAKE SHELTON

You’re a pretty grounded old-school country singer, and your duet with Ashley Monroe suggests some of the great duets by Porter and Dolly, Conway and Loretta, even George and Tammy—with obviously modern production. How important is it to maintain the roots?
It’s really important to know where country music has been before you can really be smart about where to take it. When I moved to Nashville, I made it my mission to not only write the best possible songs I could write, but to also learn as much about country music as I possibly could. Learning all the artists that came before me—I’m talking about from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s—and what their music was, what their biggest hits were and why those songs were hits. And I fell in love with country music even more than I was already because of that. I think that’s important for all artists in country music to do, because you can’t be responsible enough with the music.  

Ashley Monroe is an amazing singer, but you more than hold your own with her. People sometimes miss what a great vocalist you are. What’s your key to getting really honest vocal performances?
I’m 39. I don’t think I’m as good a singer as I used to be, to be honest. But I work really hard at it and I keep my voice as strong as I possibly can. I think it has more character now than it did before. My range is not what it used to be, but hopefully I make up for that with some personality and uniqueness in my sound. Now, it’s more important to get an honest vocal performance and be sure the message, the story that I’m singing, is understood and believed. 

You’ve been a guy who is not afraid to push the envelope. “Boys ’Round Here” had a funk to it, rap rhythms spiking the choruses and pulling the verses. Do you start far out and bring it in? Or begin classic and then start pushing the boundaries?
It’s funny, when “Boys ’Round Here” came out—and even now—there are people that refer to it as rap and say I was putting rap into country music. If “Boys ’Round Here” was a rap song, then what did people say about Jerry Reed’s music? There’s a guy who rapped on almost every uptempo hit he had, and I think 99% of people would consider him a classic. He was one of the greats of country music.

Bobby Braddock, your original producer and champion, said he thought you could be Elvis. Do you ever think about that when you look back at everything you’ve done as an artist, a coach on The Voice and all those magazine covers?
That’s very nice of Bobby. No, I really don’t think about that stuff very much. I really just try to stay focused on what’s ahead of me.

Given that your Grammy nomination is with an artist you’ve championed, Ashley Monroe, what role does music play in your life now?
Music plays the same role now as it always has. It’s as important to me as air. I can’t live without it.

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