Universal Republic Records
'Crazy Girl' was actually written by Lee Brice. How did you talk him out of it?
Mike: Lee was in the middle of recording his latest record when we first heard this song. We had actually been writing with Lee quite a bit, and Jon and Chris were slated to write with him right after James and I first heard 'Crazy Girl,' so we played them the song. We all fell in love with the song and felt like we wanted to record it. So, they went down to this ranch to write with Lee and convinced him.
Jon: I said, "Lee, I know you're thinking about putting it on your record, and it's great, but it actually sounds more us than it does you. [laughs] It would be really great if you let us record it." He's a super nice guy, and he writes a ton of great songs of his own to choose from. He was nice enough to let us record this one, and I think all parties thus far are pretty happy!
You've come a long way since your first album was released. How has the process of recording changed for you?
Jon: The studio we recorded at was a little ways out of town, outside of Franklin, Tenn., at Dark Horse Studios. We got to stay there, on-site, right there next to the building where we were recording. It was great to wake up, get a cup of coffee and then record. And if the producers are willing to stay late, then you record through the night. We got to stay in the moment for that whole week. It was cool as far as processes go, and one we'd like to relive.
Chris: The only real process we have when it comes to recording is the learning process. [laughs] We learn how to make a better record each time we go to do it.
Mike: Learning new things about how to record. When we made our very first independent record, we recorded it in a friend's garage. Back then, we were learning how to play songs to a click [track], so the timing is all correct, and learning how to mic up your guitar correctly. As you make more records, you learn more and more ways to do it better.
What music inspired this album? Did you have a certain feel or sound in mind?
Mike: When we first started the record, when we were starting to look at songs, we started talking about a lot of these songs felt a little bit like [Tom] Petty and that era of music. When we went into the studio, we wanted to make it a point to really make this record feel as organic and old-school as possible. I think we really accomplished that, from the songs we wrote and selected down to the jangly feel of some of the guitars. For a band like us, that organic feel has a legit sound.
Jon: Once you record a song, it's really tough to say goodbye to it, and say, "No, this isn't going to make the record." That's not fair. We started with 50 songs -- it was a huge pile of songs we'd written, as well as outside songs, that we all kind of liked. Then we put them in the piles of the next step. We always liked buying a record that had more songs on it. We felt strongly to fight for as many songs as we could put on there. Luckily, we were able to put almost everything we recorded onto this.
Mike: We grew up at a time when 13 or 14 songs was the norm. Nowadays, very few records have more than 10 songs on it. We had already made up our mind that this record was going to be a record that was going to have that many tunes on it. In the future, we may not always do that, but for this record we didn't want to pick and choose. We wanted to put all the songs that we recorded on the record.
There's another song, 'The Room Goes Dark,' that didn't make the album, but you're offering it to fans via your website. How did that come about?
Jon: 'The Room Goes Dark' actually never got a full recording. It made it to a really good demo phase. We usually don't heavily demo songs. We'll do a guitar/vocal, and usually not in a studio setting. But we did for a few songs and that was one of those. It was at a point where it could be released, but it wasn't part of the Dark Horse sessions that we did for this record.
You're all songwriters, so is it hard to whittle down to those 14 songs?
Mike: At the end of the day, we had this bucket of tunes. We sat there in the studio, and prior to the studio, and started playing songs and writing down priorities. It came down to us sitting down and saying, "we feel more strongly about these" and "we can save these for later." It was also feeling as if those songs played well with the rest of them. That's what's really cool about 'Life at Best,' some of these songs were written six, seven, years ago and some of them we wrote or chose right there in the studio. It's cool that this album spans that whole amount of time.
Why did you title the album 'Life at Best'?
James: It encompasses all of the things we've done in the past 10 years, and it's a song about no matter what station in life you're at, you still have struggles and even when you get successful, you've got to maintain. We're somewhere in the middle of all that craziness right now, and it was hopeful. We're suckers for the hopeful and positive songs, so we felt that it encompassed all the ideas we had going into this record.
Which song are you each most excited for fans to hear?
Chris: We were doing rehearsals the other day for our CD release week and we did a song called 'On My Way,' that Jon and James wrote with Scooter Carusoe. It has a different vibe from any song we've ever recorded before. I'm really excited about playing it live. I think it's going to be a standout in the set.
Mike: There's a song called 'War on a Desperate Man' that's one of my favorites on the record. It's one of those songs that as a songwriter, I'm really, really proud of. I'm excited to hear what the fans think of the song.
Jon: A song called 'Recover' that James and Mike wrote with Kyle Jacobs. That was one of those songs that when we were sifting through songs that was somewhere near the bottom of the pile. They'd written it a couple of years ago, really quickly, and we'd listen to it and were like, "Oh, yeah. That's cool." Then we put it away. We were writing a lot of songs during that period. Then we took it back out when we got into the studio, and it was like uncovering a little gem, a little diamond in the rough. It was one of the last songs we recorded, so it didn't actually get mixed down until recently. It's brand-new to us all over again. I'm really glad we found it and ended up recording it. I think it's one of the best tracks on the record.
James: I'll go with the title track, 'Life at Best.' It's a fun song, and it's almost a throwback to '90s Gin Blossoms or something like that. It's one of the more rocking and edgier tunes on the record. It's just a fun song to play.
Congratulations on your single 'Crazy Girl,' which recently went gold. Where are you going to hang your plaques?
Mike: On my neck!
Chris: [laughs] Belt buckle!
James: Well, I just bought a house, so I've got plenty of empty wall space. I haven't been home to decorate it yet, since we've been out promoting the single.
Do you guys pay attention to what's happening for you on the charts?
Mike: We watch the charts. Jon's laughing because every Monday ...
Jon: We actually get daily charts, too, which I've stopped opening every day, because it's not the best way to start your day sometimes.
Mike: You can over-analyze. The charts are incredibly complicated, trying to break down what numbers mean what. You can go crazy trying to analyze all that junk, so we try to watch it, but we try not to watch it, too.
Jon: It's a marathon, not a sprint. The emails I love getting are the ones saying that a station has converted the song, and they're playing it more often. That's what matters more; not how we're doing against other people, but how many people the song is impacting at a certain time. So far, 'Crazy Girl' has been nothing but good news.
What do you hope fans will take away from this album?
Mike: Even when we were talking about album titles, it was really tough, because it's really hard to sum it up in just a few words. Some of the album is introspective and some of the album is advice. It's tough to go one way or the other. When it comes down to honestly, we write songs about what we know. At the end of the day, you're not going to hear us writing and singing songs about stuff we have no clue about.