John Rich is a lightning rod among songwriters, decried for bucking sonic barriers and writing sometimes outrageous songs, but revered for his work ethic and his inside track to the country charts. Here, he talks about the balance between making something for others and something for himself.
Let’s put politics aside for a minute. As one of the most successful songwriters of our generation, how do you go about balancing artistic and commercial concerns?
I’ve written some songs that were strictly commercial, you know, maybe if I’m trying to write a song that would be great for a tour like “Comin’ to Your City” or something like that. But even there, you can chop that song up and see there’s a lot of colorful things going on in there that are pretty artistic.
A song like “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” for instance, is such a personal message from me, and a real serious sentiment of a song…if I sing it for you on an acoustic guitar it would hit you differently that it hits you when you hear the recording. When I sing it on a guitar, people say it sounds like a Woody Guthrie song. Which is a huge compliment. But when you hear the recording of it, you hear that I produced it with more of a commercial edge on it, because it’s a real serious subject and I didn’t want people feelin’ bummed-out when they heard it. I wanted them to feel like going, “Hell yeah, John! Tell ‘em about it!” So I put a little more energy in that track.
So I’d say I find the balance there. That’s why I like to produce my own records, because I know in my head where I want to take it.
from this interview