Staind’s Aaron Lewis re-discovers his inner country boy
By Kevin Longrie
The musical history of Aaron Lewis is tied, unexpectedly, to the acoustic guitar. The frontman of rock giants Staind—a group known for its heavy distortion and open tunings—actually started out on acoustic, writing bare-bones songs in his Massachusetts home. And it is to this style that Lewis has returned with his new record Town Line. The seven-song EP, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums, shows another side of Lewis that fans may not be familiar with. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there all along. Lewis says he used to play solo acoustic and that most of Staind’s songs started out that way too
“The acoustic thing is kind of full circle for me,” he says. “It was just me and the music.”
The songs on his new EP are “stripped down to their core.” Staind fans may remember this quieter, more contemplative side of Lewis’ music from the 2002 performance the band gave on MTV Unplugged.
Lewis considers the new EP—his first solo record—a natural extension of where his is now, both musically and personally. “Town Line is just a slice of where I am in my life,” he says. “That’s kind of how all the records have been over the years.”
But what sort of picture can we get of Lewis from his new material?
The answer seems to be in the single “Country Boy,” a song on which both George Jones and Charlie Daniels are featured. In it, Lewis brandishes his homegrown values, his dislike of big government and coveys stories about the temptations that come along with making it big. In one verse, the devil offers to help Lewis achieve success if he changes his style, gets rid of his wife and friends and drops a couple pounds. Lewis answers, “That’s not me.”
The devil, of course, is an amalgamation of record executives and industry insiders, and Lewis self-deprecatingly admits that “Country Boy” wasn’t the first time someone used the concept of selling your soul to the devil to portray the music industry. But “that’s called getting a record deal,” he says.
And though Lewis has been able to evade the more precarious aspects of fame, people are still asking him to change his work; and sometimes, unfortunately, they cannot be ignored. He performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! recently and was asked to change a lyric by “the powers that be that decide what can and can’t be said on network television.” The line as it originally appears in “Country Boy” is sung as follows: “I rarely drink from the bottle, but I’ll smoke a little weed.” The network asked him to change the second half to “but I like the color green.”
The lyric change seems ridiculous and unnecessary.
“I found it incredibly hypocritical,” Lewis explains, “because every news channel on television has been following the Charlie Sheen thing and talking about coke and crack and crystal meth and him telling it like he’s been on an epic tear, but I can’t say ‘weed.’”
But Lewis has other things on his mind. He founded a charity organization in his home town called It Takes a Community. The school district in his town was going to close down the elementary school, forcing students to travel “an hour in each direction by bus.” Lewis and organizers raised money, bought the school and completely refurbished and reopened it in less than two months last summer.
“We created this foundation to help in situations where a smaller town that doesn’t have the tax revenue [can] deal with these kinds of problems.”
Listening to songs like “Country Boy” or “Massachusetts” that praise the values of a small community and loyalty to where you grew up, it’s nice to know that Lewis is willing to put his money—and his hard work—where his mouth is.
ALL FIRED UP
Aaron Lewis wasn’t the only musician to face what amounts to network television censorship. Back in 1967, psychedelic rock group The Doors was set to perform the song “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show when the show’s producer asked the group to change the lyric “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” because of its perceived drug reference. The band agreed to the change—but frontman Jim Morrison nevertheless sang the original lyric during the live performance. Sullivan was pissed . . . but Doors fans rejoiced.