Catching Up With Bo Bice
Bo Bice has been busy since TWRY first spoke with him back in May of 2008. The Alabama-born rocker, who was introduced to a national audience when he placed second to Carrie Underwood in Season 4 of “American Idol,” is following up his most recent album, 2007’s “See The Light,” with several new projects. There’s an EP and documentary entitled “I Love The Road” coming soon, new movie soundtrack work on the way, and even a new baby — Bice’s third child is due in January.
At a recent tour stop in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Bice was kind enough to sit down with TWRY before the show for an update on everything he’s got going on. He shared details about the new projects, provided insight into his songwriting process, and spoke thoughtfully about how his time spent performing in Iraq and interacting with our men and women in service has inspired his work and life. And, on a lighter note, the supremely funny and quick-witted Bice explains why golf claps are not a good thing when you’re a musician, and why, when preparing music for alien visitors to listen to in the future, you’ve got to make sure to put it on cd.
Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | August 2009
To start off, I wanted to congratulate you as your family is growing again. Are your boys excited about getting a new brother or sister?
They are. My wife just went to the doctor today. And of course, she’s walking into the doctor with two kids, a 4-year-old, and our youngest son who’s almost one. It’s really cool. For her to call today, and say that everything’s good, the heartbeat’s good, it’s old hat. We don’t take it for granted, obviously, having a healthy child, I don’t mean it that way. What I mean is that you have to realize, in the scheme of things in Bo’s life, five years ago, kids weren’t a part of what I thought about on a day-to-day basis. Then you fast forward to all the dreams that I ever had from the business… it was a lot of years of hard work, but I’m not gonna blow smoke at you, if it wasn’t for “American Idol,” nobody would still know me or want to sit down and talk to me. And that’s cool, that’s why I’m grateful for the show. But to see the twists and turns of the past four years, and the ups and downs… sitting here today talking about the things that I want, and the things that I dig, they’re nothing like they were five years ago. Because now I’m just happy. We’ve got a healthy baby, and a new one on the way.
I know that you built a recording studio at your home in Nashville. Do you find that having your studio in the house makes it a little easier to balance being both a dad and a musician?
It does and it doesn’t. There are pros and cons to everything. I probably don’t focus as hard and I’m not as diligent when I’m at my studio. For the most part, having a state-of-the-art studio is nice, but it’s also a time killer. You can kind of hit “record” and sit around and not really get anything done. The kids come in, and it’s like, “Let’s go play ball,” and “I’ll play drums, Dad.” It’s all groovy, but there’s no separation between work and family. So I’ve really tried to change that for the next project. I want to take it away from home. I have my own little cubby hole, my comfort zone, and I love that. It’s a great place for creation. But I definitely think I want a little bit more separation, so that when I’m home, I’m dad, and when I step into the studio, I can be Bo, and focus on the creative side.
Your fans are excited about the new releases you’ve got coming up. What can you share about “I Love The Road?”
When I did the last cd, “See The Light,” there was a song on there called “American Blood” that I wrote with Chris Tompkins, who wrote “Before He Cheats” for Carrie Underwood. It didn’t make it on the final cut of the album. Ryan Smith, the video director who did “The Real Thing,” had heard the song, and when the cd came out, he asked why it didn’t make it. We had thought out this video — we had this whole template — so he was like, “I’m doing this video, this can’t fall through the cracks.” The song is really my and Chris’ interpretation of an open-ended view past the war, just straight into the men and women who serve and protect us. The weird turn of fate was that we had this opportunity to go over to Iraq. I went over there and did an acoustic tour, and something inside just kind of clicked. It was like, this is what the story is about for the song. And I started just taking video. We didn’t take a video crew, it was just me and a handheld, with some of my buddies taking shots of me. I literally, on the flight back, planned the next trip to go back to Iraq. Then we took my Pro Tools rig out on the road, and were recording all these shows.
So it’s a little documentary, a catch-up, almost like a year and a half of my life. It’s really my story of where I left off after “Idol,” with a couple of music videos and some new studio tracks. I’m so happy to have been able to do it, and produce it, and fund it — oh yeah, that was fun — (laughs) but it’s definitely paid off in spades for me already, just being able to share my appreciation with those men and women, to go over there twice. I’ve made some friends for life over there. There’s one story that changed my life. When I was on “Idol,” this young lady wrote me a letter about her family. It was about how the three kids had lost their dad, who had been serving in Iraq. We started corresponding back and forth, and one day this bear shows up in the mail. It’s made out of this gentleman’s fatigues, and it’s got his name patch on it. I don’t say it to be cheesy, I say it because it means the world to me — I keep that bear in my studio where I see it every day. There’s a Vietnam vet who gave me a silver dollar, and he said that was his lucky charm. It kept him alive throughout the war, and he gave it to me. That stays by my bedside, every morning when I wake up, it’s one of the first things I see. My granddad’s ring, there’s a song about this ring… this ring’s been through several wars. They’re not just hunks of metal, they’re not just prizes. They’re stories, they’re emotions, they’re people that served, that protected us. That’s what this project is about. It’s not that I went off on a tangent trying to make a war movie. It’s just, for me, a nice balance of Bo at NASCAR, Bo hanging out with his family, Bo in Iraq.
I know there’s been talk of an EP as well.
The EP is wrapped into all of this. It’s a 6-song EP. When we recorded “I Love The Road” we went back in the studio with some new stuff. I’ve got a song called “Long Road Back” that I wrote when we were coming back from Iraq. It started out to be a song about that, not so much a military song, just… it’s a long road back. Everybody can identify with that. I’ve seen how things have started to change here in America — family members affected by the economy, people losing jobs. Everybody has somebody they know who’s out of work. So there’s almost a larger meaning for me with that song. We just released it on bobice.com exclusively for people to download, and we’ve worked it into the set, to start letting people check out some of the new tunes.
You’re also following up your theme song from “Blades of Glory” with music for a new movie, is that right?
I actually just finished a project. I got to do this really cool song called “Old Spanish Trail” for an upcoming soundtrack. It’s a great, rocking song. I think it’s more of a country-based soundtrack, so I felt right at home being a part of it and getting to work with some great people. Tracy Byrd’s on there, and I think Miss Lee Ann Womack’s in the movie.
How does your songwriting process usually work? Do you generally come up with the lyrics or the music first, or does it vary depending on the song?
It varies a lot. There’s a song I wrote on the last cd called “Take The Country Outta Me.” I was on the back of the bus, and this melody just kept running through my head. It was very upbeat and country, and I remember that I couldn’t get this thought process out of my head, so I spit it all out on paper. When we got into the studio, it totally changed vibes, and ended up being a southern rock song. Then there’s a song like “Papillon” that I started on when I was 12 or 13. It took probably a decade to write the song to its entirety. I think all people are different. One of the things I love about bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd is that Ronnie Van Zandt was a great southern poet. He was able to identify with so many different folks, because he grew up in poverty, and he was able to turn that into song. I admire all the people who came before me, and that’s what’s helped me as a songwriter. If it hadn’t been for “Tuesday’s Gone,” I might not have written a certain song, if it hadn’t been for “Free Bird,” I might not have written a certain song. I feel that way about other bands too, like The Allman Brothers. You just have to be a good mimic. The old saying is “amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” You just gotta steal from the best. (laughs)
You’ve had the chance to play with so many of the artists who’ve influenced you. Is there anyone left who stands out to you as someone who you’d really like to work with but haven’t yet?
I think the window’s opening more and more as I start to feel more comfortable in my writing. If you’d asked me three years ago, I’d probably have said no, because I was trying to make my own statement of what I was trying to do. Now I look at the way the industry’s changing and how people’s view of music has changed. I mean people like Kid Rock. I love Kid Rock. He’s really a great artist… Getting to play with so many of my heroes, like Willie Nelson and Skynyrd, never becomes old hat. I haven’t gotten to play with Gregg Allman yet. (directly into the recorder, laughing) Call me Gregg, call me!
Your current album, “See The Light,” reflects your many different influences, from Southern rock to funk to country. In thinking about your ties to the country music community, I’m curious if you would you ever see yourself doing a purely country album at some point?
When you say that, the first thing I think is… without a doubt. Because all I would do is walk over to my vault full of James Taylor/Jim Croce singer-songwriter stuff that I’ve always loved. That’s where I would automatically go to, not just be like “This is Bo’s country album that I’m writing to make a country album.” If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it with the best writers, the best musicians, the best producers. I’m gonna do it with the best of the best there is, to facilitate a great album. So if the mindset ever went there, without a doubt, I’d jump at it. But I’m not cutting my hair for it! (laughs)
Thinking about your live shows, what makes a particular performance stand out to you as having been a really special night? Is it the crowd, the way you played, or something else entirely?
Probably the catering… sometimes those fish sandwiches. (laughs) It’s always the crowd. If you’ve got a great crowd that’s on their feet, it’s always rocking. But if you do make mistakes, sometimes that can kill the momentum. Having a mindset as a musician and a perfectionist, sometimes you can have a great show, but the mistakes that you heard or the ones you made yourself… I kick myself behind the scenes for screwing something up, because I should know better. So there are shows you walk away from and think, “Man, I wish I could have done better.” As long as those are few and far between, that’s cool. But the crowds are always what make or break the shows. When you walk out, and you’re back in the dressing room, you don’t say, “Man, we killed tonight.” You tend to say, “Man, that crowd killed tonight.” Because if you were doing good, the crowd’s gonna be up on their feet. If you weren’t, that’s probably why they were giving you golf claps. (laughs, does golf clap) Because the Queen was nowhere in the room, so if people are sitting there doing this, (does golf clap) you’re screwed. (laughs)
Ok, last question, and this one stumps a lot of artists I talk to. If you had to pick a personal theme song, not one of your own tunes, what would it be and why?
If there was a song that I could stick in a time capsule, and somebody dug it up in 50 years, and all it said on the cd, because it has to be cd now, it can’t be vinyl, because I’m sure that aliens or whoever wouldn’t have vinyl (laughs)… was “Bo Bice’s Thoughts,” it would be the song “All I Can Do Is Write About It,” from Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zandt. Lynyrd Skynyrd obviously did the song. That wraps up my way of thinking. The lyrics are very much the way that I feel in life. Lord, we can’t make any changes —and we can’t — but we can write it in a song, and we can pass it along. That would be the song I’d pass on to the next generation.
For more info on Bo Bice and everything he’s got going on please visit his official website: www.bobice.com