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Staind’s Aaron Lewis on His Solo Country Act, and Political Correctness

Coming of age during the post-grunge, nu-metal explosion of the mid-‘90s, Staind, fronted by Aaron Lewis, saw success across seven albums, particularly around its darkly emotive 2001 ballad, “It’s Been Awhile.” But Lewis the solo artist has gone country. It’s been nearly a decade since he kicked things off with the 2010 single “Country Boy,” featuring Charlie Daniels and George Jones. The aggro intensity that serves Lewis well in Staind translates powerfully into twangy, plainspoken country, as he sings in “God and Guns” from his third and latest solo album, “State I’m In.”

What was an early show you saw that really stood out for you and led you on your musical path?
Well, I hate to beat a dead horse, but first time I ever saw Limp Bizkit I was standing dead center stage about five rows back when they started playing “Stuck.” And it was their first song of the evening and it was during that time frame, I remember it clear as day, [guitarist] Wes [Borland] was wearing the “Clockwork Orange” nose and a corset. I just remember at the beginning of that song, my feet came up off the ground — I was at the front of the mosh pit — and when I landed back on the ground again I was completely behind the mosh pit, probably a hundred yards from the stage. And I didn’t do it!

As you’ve shifted to more of a singer/songwriter show, how have those influences changed?
It’s certainly a stripped-down situation and the polar opposite of the things I just mentioned; James Taylor has always been a longtime singer/songwriter hero. In high school I listened to Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel and the singer/songwriter stuff like that. The only thing I really didn’t listen to as a kid growing up musically was country music.

When did you write the songs on the new album?
The songs I wrote on this record, they were some dark times. It’s interesting, this life that some of us are blessed to live. It’s kind of like an old saying where you sell your soul to the devil to get here. I don’t know if that’s really the deal. But I will say that along with living my dreams and having this crazy ride I’ve been on, while that was all going on, without cognitively realizing it, I’ve lost everything that’s meant anything to me in life.

So while I’ve been distracted by “living my dreams,” it’s cost me everything. So I think there’s more truth to that old adage of selling your soul to the devil to do this. It’s cost me friends, family, everything that really means anything at the end of the day. When everything is gone and everyone has gone to bed and now it’s just you and the ceiling you’re staring at, those things that, at that moment, matter the most, is everything that’s gone. I have a sneaking suspicion that would be probably a pretty common thread for those of us lucky enough to have taken this crazy ride. I don’t know why my ticket has been such an extended ride, but while I’ve been on that ride, life has been going by out the window.

When you look at the controversy that came from your calling Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren a liar and calling her “Pocahontas,” would you do anything differently if you could?
I’m from Massachusetts, I’ve seen what that woman has done since she got in office: She’s done nothing but preach a whole bunch of stuff and do everything different from the time she’s been in office in Massachusetts, I stand behind my statements. I probably could have said it without the profanity and softened the edges a little bit, but I’m not speaking out of ignorance.

How do you handle knowing what you say will be on YouTube and all over the Internet?
You just try to not have it affect the show. I really, really try to reinvent the whole show every night. I try so hard not to make the same jokes, not to tell the same stories or tell them the same way. I really put a lot of creative energy into the show. So that leaves me very vulnerable to saying things that I might not have thought hard enough about before they came flying out of my mouth. It doesn’t mean I don’t stand by them, it just means I didn’t have the time in the situation to be able to cognitively think to edit or filter myself.

My life does not consist [entirely] of walking out on stage and playing a 90-minute or two-hour show. I have 22 hours of life left in the day that has all sorts of things flying at me in all different directions and all sorts of people trying to pull me in different directions.  Again, I’m a regular guy just like everybody else that has serious issues. I just have this job. I’m a human being, I’m not a machine. I have a breaking point just like everybody else, but nobody else gets put on blast for it. I believe too strongly, I’m too passionate to soften up the edges. I feel like that takes away from the message a little bit. Sometimes the edges aren’t supposed to be soft. Sometimes people need to grow a skin and have a backbone and thicken their skin up a little bit. Political correctness is destroying this country from the inside out. Nobody can say anything anymore. It can be as true as the day is long. [But] you can’t say it.

 

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