Q&A: Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks broke the news of his forthcoming world tour on Good Morning America and spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday talking to Country radio. In typical Garth fashion he was on the air with stations from 4am to 4:30pm each day, but one of his rare non-radio visits was with Country Aircheck. We talked about touring, new music, his digital issues and whether he’ll make it to this year’s CRS.

CA: Really, more than 70 stations a day for three days?

I’ve never liked the idea of people sitting on the floor of a concert paying higher prices than the people upstairs. And, I don’t like the idea of talking to just the “big” stations. So when I say I want to talk to Country radio, I want to talk to them all. I know them all, and they’re very sweet. And now I’m starting to learn the new crop, the kids coming up. And I’m enjoying every second of it.

GB:What kinds of things are you hearing from the ‘youngsters?”

A lot of “I’m a fan and never got to meet you.” And I’m like, “Wait a minute, how can I never have met you if you’re in Country radio?” And they say, “I was a kid – or I wasn’t born – when you were touring.” But what kills me is they all seem to be very sincere and genuine when they talk about the music; they know it too well to be faking.

You’ve been true to your word in not returning to full-time touring until your third daughter, Allie, is out of high school.  Does that mean the tour will start this summer?

Remember, the promise the kids’ Mom Sandy, Miss Yearwood and I made was that we would get all the girls off to college. So, after the youngest graduates high school next spring, she has her “senior year summer,” which is supposed to be the best time of a kids’ life. And we’re going to make sure of that. Then we get her off to college. So, you’re looking at the fall of 2014 before we stick the key in the engine and fire it up to see what we’ve got.

At what point will you announce tour dates and when will tickets go on sale?

What we used to do that really worked for us was give each city its own announcement. We make it very close to the ticket sale (date) so there’s an explosion and buzz within that city itself. And then you just come in and burn and burn and burn and move on to the next city.

The tour is almost a year away. Any plans between now and then?

Well, there is something that could be happening between now and the tour that might be the biggest thing I’ve ever tried to take on. I’m excited. If it comes to fruition, and it looks like it’s going to, it will be the biggest thing I’ve ever tried to attempt. I’m really excited about it. It’ll be done right, it’ll be done quality. I’m in love with the idea and we just have to see if it’s going to happen. We’ll know within the next four weeks or so.

It’s hard to imagine there’s anything you haven’t done. 

 I’ve never done this before, because in my career there was never a point where I could have. And, yeah, it’s about the music and the artist. That’s what I really love.

Last week you delivered to radio “The Call,” a duet with Trisha Yearwood from the new “Blame It All On My Roots” box set.

The performance is on the DVD of the Wynn show and we didn’t have time for it on the live CBS-TV special from the Wynn. But there’s a beautiful little moment that happens in the live show with just me, Miss Yearwood and a guitar. It’s about that point in a relationship when you make the decision whether what you have is worth fighting for, or is it just easier to call it “friends” and live life from there. Everybody goes through this; Miss Yearwood and I were in the middle of it in 2002-03. We tried cutting this song with a full band, but kept going back to the Wynn performance where it’s just like two people talking to each other. The echo-type piece in this is something I haven’t seen since “Mockingbird” with James Taylor and Carly Simon. I love how unique this song sounds and when you bring it down to just two voices and a guitar, the conversation happens.

What are your expectations for this song on Country radio? As I understand it, a promo team hasn’t been hired to work it.

It’s all about this box set. It’s a Christmas gift and a wonderful introduction into the Vegas years for Garth – it’s the last four years of my life put in a box. They only made a million or a million-one and that’s it. Once we get past Christmas, we’ll look at what’s coming with the new tour.

Will there be other tracks released for radio airplay?

I couldn’t figure out what they would be, because the classic country is probably way too country for today’s Country radio. Some of the Classic Rock might fit. The box set is more for the people who like all kinds of music in one place.

So, if you will, the “official” Garth Brooks singles going to Country radio will come from a forthcoming album released in 2014?

It’s from a forthcoming era, if it happens. Right now there are a lot of hurdles to climb, one of which is digital. We don’t have a digital partner right now. I’ll never have a digital partner in iTunes as long as they keep the same rules they have now. I respect them; they’re friends of mine. They show me respect. They make me believe they’re friends of mine. But if they’re not going to change their ways, I’m not going to change mine. We have to figure out how we get new music to the people.

You said “if” there’s new music. 

Yeah. It would be a shame to go in and create and then not be able to get it out to anybody. We’d love to do new music. But if the songwriters aren’t being taken care of, why are we creating? Everybody says, “It’s for the art.” Don’t get me wrong, the music is everything. But if we don’t nurture and protect our songwriters the music is going to suffer, and will eventually disappear. 

You figured out a way to sell a lot of the “Roots” box sets without a digital partner. Wouldn’t that model work for new music? 

Thank God we still have Walmart as a partner for physical. But even Walmart is very doubtful about the future of physical. I’m just not going to commit to anything right now. I have to figure out how to open the communication line from the artist to the listener to make it a good business model for the people who create the music so they can make a living.

So, new music is not guaranteed at this point?

I would love to take new music with us. But if we can’t get this fixed, we’ll just go out and tour on the old stuff. And if people are cool with that, it’ll be great. They’re not making more time, you know, and the last time I toured it took us two-and-a-half hours just to get the songs we’ve already released. So, we have the material to go back out. 

A bit off the subject, but it had to be 100 degrees under the lights for your CBS-TV special, and you were wearing a hoodie.

The whole [wardrobe] thing started when I got my time zones screwed up the first time I was going up to Vegas to sound check the room at the Wynn. I’m on my tractor when Steve Wynn calls and says, “Where the hell are you? The plane is waiting for you to come here and play.” I look like crap, I’m wearing work boots and smell like diesel but I grab my guitars and head for the plane. I show up at the theatre and play the soundcheck show. And Wynn says, “I want you to dress just like that.” He thought it was meant  to be and that it looked like I just came from the living room. He  was comfortable with the way I was dressed and said there was no other show in Vegas like it. I thought he was crazy. But I have to hand it to him. Everyone who walked out of there said it felt like a living room and a lot of it was just how casually we approached it.

You’ve had 12 years to think about your return to touring. What are your thoughts now that it is so close to reality?

I’ve been thinking the whole 12 years that if this window was still open, which I can’t believe that it possibly could be, who would I not tour without? I had my list of guys; everybody I called said yes. That was the first tumbler to go ‘click,’ and I thought ‘holy crap, this might happen.’ After that I thought, “how do we make this stage the best one ever, how do we make this lighting rig the best one ever, how do we represent where we’re at, how do we make this show bigger than anything we’ve ever done?” Not in size, but how do we make everything else look small? I got my answer in Calgary (Brooks played the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede in July 2012) when I saw the age of the audience, how much they were into the show and how much they brought to the show that elevated it so much higher than anything we’ve ever tried.

What’s the biggest challenge of mounting a new tour compared to the last time you went out?

Let’s start with the ticket prices, which are much different than they were just 10 years ago. I’ve always been proud of our low ticket prices. But today a family of four can’t go to a show without taking out a second mortgage.  Maybe its through sponsorships, but our job is to figure out how to get prices down. Because there’s parking, dinner and you want a T-shirt – Jiminy Christmas, you’re in over your head already.  And I don’t think a fun evening that makes. 

Will we see you at CRS in 2014? 

I don’t know how much has changed, but if CRS is still hanging around, and doing liners, and meeting people and hugging everybody on the face of the planet, yes. I love that time. But I have my baby going through her senior year, so maybe the year after next. Some of the greatest memories of my life are getting to hang out with the people who are the window between you and the fan – and that is radio.    –Lon Helton