Aaron Lewis kicked off his solo country tour with his band in San Antonio this past weekend and no one was more stunned at the standing ovation he received after wrapping up his first concert in the new genre with an encore performance of "Country Boy."
"We have been very surprised by the overwhelming reception we have received," said Lewis speaking from Texas. "There was always this crossover into the country music market that existed with Staind fans which we were totally unaware of."
"I was very surprised when I found out that we had inadvertently been crossing over with Country fans," added Lewis, who co-founded the rock band Staind in 1995 and spent the past 17 years as lead singer and guitarist for the Massachusetts quartet identified with the alt-metal movement. His musical legacy with the band included seven platinum albums as the group rose to international superstardom.
Why the switch to country?
The transition, improbable to Staind fans, does not seem entirely far fetched if you consider that while the band always incorporated elements of metal into their music, the group's most popular songs over the years featured Lewis's lamenting vocals accompanied only by stripped-down, often acoustic arrangements.
Asking Lewis he responded, "As we journey down the road of life, it has many twists and turns in it. It is about the journey, not the destination - and sometimes that path leads you other places. At this point in my life I have options and this is is where I have chosen to go."
Lewis' went on to explain that Country was a part of his roots, "My Grandpa was kind of my baby sitter from about 1974 to 1980," he recalled listening to legends like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings on the radio his grandpa Cork's Vermont home.
"When he got up in the morning that radio came on and it was on until right before he went to bed," he related. "Country music was important to him and it was the first music I can remember listening to."
"When I was four years old there was one song I would sing to anybody who would listen," Lewis revealed the top cover on the set list for his earliest performances. "It was 'Rhinestone Cowboy' by Glen Campbell."
A very different type of song from his debut solo single, "Country Boy," which featured contributions from country stalwarts George Jones and Charlie Daniels and achieved Gold certification. The song and video also garnered Lewis multiple CMA, ACM and CMT Music Awards nominations.
"It was all pretty surreal." Lewis admitted that the single's success combined with the acceptance and collaboration of a pair of industry legends was a mind boggling experience. "I still can't believe it."
The artist was quick to mention, that all of the songs he performs are originals, "I would say that in our current market that around 90 percent of the performers are singing someone else's music."
"It really is not that different from what I've done my whole career," said Lewis. "I'm writing songs about who I am and where I'm from."
Admitting that he will be singing one song from his forthcoming album "The Road" which he did not write. "It is rare, but when I heard this song over a campfire it was like it was written just for me."
"The song was Granddaddy's Gun, written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Bobby Pinson," credited Lewis. "I might as well have written it."
"It is the first song I have ever recorded in my entire career that I didn't write," added Lewis. "He (Grandpa) did actually buy that shotgun out of the Sears and Roebuck Catalog and I still have it."
Following a short pause of silence adding, "I know that if my grandpa was able to see me now he would be proud."
Other than that one exception, all of the songs on the set list for the tour are originals which Lewis will perform as he embarks on his first full-band tour as a solo artist.
Staind fans expecting to hear rock ballads will have to settle for a Country version of "It's Been Awhile" and "Outside."
Lewis has moved the released date for his debut solo full length album, "The Road", from the originally announced June 26th release date to September 11th.
Co-produced by Lewis and legendary Nashville hit-maker James Stroud (Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Chris Young), "The Road" follows Lewis' debut solo EP, "Town Line," which bowed at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart last year.
The forthcoming album contains ten brand-new songs, including first single "Endless Summer," which CMT has hailed as "the anthem of the Summer of 2012."
"This music and these songs represent who I am and where I come from," says Lewis, who still resides in rural western Massachusetts. "The song "Endless Summer," is actually about driving down from my home in the Berkshires to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island."
In addition the track listing on the new album includes: "75." "Red, White & Blue," "Lessons Learned," "Forever," "State Lines," "Anywhere But Here" and "Party in Hell."
Fans can catch Lewis on tour locally when he performs Friday, July 21 at Jamboree in the Hills.
On stage before Lewis Friday will be Drake White. Following his set will be friends Jamey Johnson and Charlie Daniels. Lynyrd Skynyrd will close the evening following fireworks.