Reid Long for The Boot
The farm is the center of their lives, and it's tough pulling them away from the land unless it's for something important, like today, when they are taping an episode of 'On the Streets,' at the GAC-TV studios in Nashville. The hardworking duo usually begin their day at home at the crack of dawn, waking to one of Joey's new roosters who is just learning how to crow. As on any farm, there are plenty of chores to be done, and on the days they are in town, Rory makes his way down the street to visit the regulars at Marcy Jo's Mealhouse, (the restaurant his sister owns and runs). While there, he'll chat with patrons over coffee before starting the rest of his day. On this particular day, however, the duo head out first thing to promote their new CD, 'Album #2.'
While Joey is herded into the makeup chair before going on-set at GAC, Rory sits in the green room with his manager discussing plans for the album release and the results of Zac Brown Band's Sailing Southern Ground cruise, which they had just returned from the day before. As some copies of the new disc are passed around, Rory points out the dedication in the album credits, which notes the passing of the couple's beloved hound dog Rufus, who died earlier this year.
"She cries every time she comes home from the road to the house and he's not there," says Rory of his wife, still grieving the loss. He describes a special painting of Rufus that now hangs in their living room to commemorate their friend, his voice lowering with sadness.
Turning to a happier subject, Rory recalls the fun they had on the cruise, dancing to some '70s rock one night aboard the ship. "Joey doesn't like the noise and the crowds as much," he says, "but I sort of like to sit back and watch the action and be entertained. We had a great time on the cruise."
They've spent quite a bit of time with the Zac Brown Band in the past few months, touring across the country with them, and even writing their new single, 'This Song's for You,' with Zac, who appears on the tune as well. They particularly enjoyed the band's Eat and Greets, where fans get to sample some of Zac's down-home cooking while mingling with the stars backstage.
"As artists, we worked at each one," recalls Rory. "We would get behind the trays and serve people, and that was really fun because you met everybody and talked as they were coming through. So, we were serving and helping, and the food was great!"
Joey + Rory had their share of laughs on tour, as well. "On one of the last nights in Seattle, we had never been around a tour where they do pranks and stuff, and our bus driver came out and danced half naked," recalls Rory. "And then when Joey and I sang, they were making gas noises while we were singing, and the crowd was laughing all the way through our song, and, of course, we didn't know why!"
After Joey finishes in the makeup chair, it's Rory's turn to get powdered up for the cameras, something he doesn't particularly like. Minutes later he returns, joking, 'They just ran me through makeup hell!"
"Did you hold your breath," Joey asks, laughing at her husband as he teasingly fusses about the makeup.
"I did, it hurt!" he answers, laughing.
"Oh, men secretly love the attention!" says Joey with a smile, as they head onto the set to tape their segment, during which they discuss their new album and their recent CMA nomination for Vocal Duo of the Year, among other things.
Reid Long for The Boot
"Am I in front of my wife, or am I OK?" Rory sweetly asks as they settle in, making sure he's not overshadowing Joey or blocking her from the cameras. The two share a warm playfulness and love that is heartwarming to watch, and the glow is obvious if you're anywhere around them. They are two people avidly devoted to one another and their partnership shines through in their music, especially on songs such as 'That's Important to Me,' and the current single 'This Song's for You.'
They spend the next half hour talking about everything from boots and CMA awards to their upcoming tour with Don Williams, and breeze through the interview quickly and effortlessly. The former 'Can You Duet' contestants have obviously spent their fair share of time in front of the cameras, but you'd sometimes be hard-pressed to identify them as celebrities based on their easygoing, self-deprecating manner. The title track of the new CD is a perfect example of their ability to poke fun at themselves and the often wacky music business, and it's obvious they love to laugh as they answer a few questions about themselves for the network's website.
"One thing you don't know about my wife Joey is she messes up words a lot," says Rory, as Joey looks on grinning. "I call them 'Joey-isms' and I keep an iPhone full of them!"
Rory then comes clean about his fugitive past for the cameras, admitting to actually robbing a train years ago. "I spent time in the pen," he reveals, trying not to laugh at the now-comical memory. "A cousin and I stole some Froot Loops from a train when I was about 16 and we went to jail for one night!"
Wrapping the show with that admission from his sordid past, he and Joey leave the studio and part company for a few hours as he makes his way down the street to a songwriting appointment and she heads south back to the farm. Today's meeting is no ordinary songwriting session for Rory, since he's collaborating with Wynn Varble and Don Poythress, his two co-writers on the CMA-nominated Easton Corbin hit, 'A Little More Country Than That.' This will mark only the third time the three have worked together, and they hope the magic will be back as they spend the next few hours hammering out another tune together in a tiny writer's room on Music Row.
Both Don and Wynn, who have had their share of hit songs, greet Rory with big smiles as he enters the office and the three settle in to begin their session. A natural-born cutup, Wynn quickly launches into the beginnings of a hilarious new tune about a toy boy called, 'Sleeping My Way to the Top.' The three begin working on the verses and crafting the tune into another potential hit.
"I love this," exclaims Rory, as he plucks out the verse on his guitar. "This is fantastic! It's not just humor, it's humor with some truth in it ... you're singing a funny song about yourself. Joey's gonna get a kick out of this!"
"One natural possibility is you name other people in it," says Wynn. "I was thinking you could do a whole verse like that. Maybe, 'some people just tear up the guitar, me I just sit mine next to the bed' or something like, '[Keith] Urban and [Brad] Paisley they got their guitars ... they've got their talents and I've got mine ... they all sing great, and hey, that's fine!'
"That's hysterical! I'm gonna play this at our album release party," says Rory, laughing. "It'll be hysterical!"
Reid Long for The Boot
Two hours later, the three are satisfied they have something to work with and call it a day. Before heading out, they decide to give a huge bell in the corner -- meant to be rung only when you get a song cut -- a ring in celebration of their CMA nomination. Then they make plans to meet up on the big day.
"So we'll get together on the 21st," says Rory, "and we'll see you at the ASCAP awards, and the CMA Awards. We should try to do something fun that day ... maybe we can do something before or celebrate afterwards? Do we have a chance of winning? It's a strong, strong category -- probably [Miranda Lambert's] 'The House That Built Me' will win."
With that, Rory invites us back to the farm for a delicious home-cooked meal that Joey has already been preparing with vegetables from her garden. Pulling up to the property you can feel the stress melting away as you enter the Feeks' sanctuary. It's their own personal country paradise, and it is easy to see why they rarely want to leave.
The backyard view looks like something out of a painting, with miles of green pasture and cattle grazing freely. Rory begins explaining the history of the old house as we walk the property. Everywhere there are reminders of a kinder, simpler way of life: an outhouse Rory bought for Joey's 30th birthday sits under a gorgeous old tree, a working windmill from the 1930s that was a gift for Rory's birthday one year blows gently, hinting at the storm about to roll in, and a fire burns in a firepit beside the back porch.
"We bought the house in 1999," explains Rory, walking us through the yard. "I had had my first hit with Collin Raye's 'Someone You Used to Know' and I was making good royalties, and everyone said you better invest in something or you'll blow it. Being from Kansas, I'd always wanted to find our own farmhouse, and I was actually driving looking for a different house I'd seen in one of those magazines. I drove by this house and there was a homemade sign out front and a farmer owned it and had lived here for 65 years."
The 1870s farmhouse was receiving a bit of a makeover on this particular day, thanks to Rory's success with 'A Little More Country Than That,' with workers pulling the leaky 1937 tin roof off to replace it with a new roof, a present for Joey's upcoming birthday a few days away. The duo's barn is as impressive as their home -- a huge, expansive building with a workshop on one side where Rory has been crafting a tiny scale model birdhouse of their home, and his collection of antique cars on the other, including a '52 Olds and the '56 Chevy in which he and his daughters moved to town from Kansas many years ago. The couple's tour bus occupies a spot in the barn as well, along with a vintage boat that came with the property. An old Coke machine stocked with small glass bottles of Coke and water sits in a corner, ready to refresh Rory after a long day's work in the field, and just outside, another birthday present stands in the yard -- Shooter, a massive cow that was bottle fed from birth and is now a gigantic pet.
Around the opposite side of the house, 30 chickens are strutting around in their cute and homey coop, proudly displaying their feathers which Joey had just trimmed the day before. A fast-moving rainstorm rolls in suddenly, putting a crimp in the plans to grill dinner out on the firepit, but the change doesn't seem to faze Joey, who has been hard at work in the kitchen. Inside, the 4,000-square-foot house is filled with tons of antiques and quaint thrift-store finds. Upstairs, a special Western-themed bedroom full of Joey's favorite things is decorated with posters from rodeos the two have played throughout their career. Joey points out a special piece of furniture that seems to illustrate just how perfect the two are for each other.
"This sewing cabinet, Rory had it and he finished it up when we got married," she says. "I had this old Singer sewing machine, and he had the stand, and when we married, I took my machine and popped open the stand and it fit that stand exactly ... the wooden pegs fit exactly! I actually made the curtains for Marcy Jo's on that machine. So he had the cabinet, and I had the machine. It was like it was another sign we were supposed to be together."
Heating up the oven, as she pours oil on some homegrown brussel sprouts, Joey points out the other goodies from her garden as well. "I love the fall. These are my pumpkins and gourds and potatoes, and I was hoping to plant these peach seeds today but the rain came in."
The smell of homemade peach pie wafts through the cozy kitchen as Rory finishes grilling the steaks, and Joey's freshly made and aptly named "angel biscuits" come hot out of the oven to the table. As we sit and eat the delicious meal the duo have prepared, they explain why their growing career success is bittersweet, even though they love singing and playing for their fans.
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"We just like our life a lot," explains Rory. "There's a weird thing where we're trying to figure out what's super important and what's not ... a lot of people think everything's super important, but a lot of the reason I try to learn to be good on video editing, and Photoshop and web development, is so we can do as much from here as we can without ever leaving. Everyone in the music business is so worried that it might go away, and when you're worried it might go away, I think that's part of making it go away. But for us, if it goes away, we get to stay here more -- OK, we're good with that. Honestly, just having hit songs or being a success is not the end all to us. We want to play music as a married couple and just live our lives and not worry about that. The heart of us is our kids and our marriage and our life ... so you have to come out here to really know us. We're just a married couple who like to do music and sing."