CMT Insider Interview: Alan Jackson

Including two greatest hits collections, Alan Jackson's Freight Train is his 18th album in a career that exploded in 1990 with his first Top 10 single, "Here in the Real World."

During a recent visit to CMT's offices in Nashville, CMT Insider's Allison DeMarcus talked to Jackson about his longevity in the music business and the public's perception of him. Here's a portion of that interview:

You've been in this business for 20 years. Is it easier now to come up with material for a new album, or is it more difficult because you have to one-up yourself every time?

Jackson: Well, I don't know if I can one-up myself every time. I always just approach it the same way I did on the second album -- when you don't have much time to come up with the material. So I just try to collect ideas and write stuff and look for material. I think everybody always thinks it's some special formula, but really it's just trying to find those songs. That's the key to it. I think it's, if anything, with all the years and the success, you don't feel pressured to have to prove myself or anything. I always try to make the music that I like and think my fans will like.

Do you ever really turn it off, or are you always writing and thinking of new ideas for songs?

No. It's really pitiful. ... The music business doesn't take up that much of my time. I probably should put a little more energy into it. ... I'll jot down ideas or melodies or something and throw them in a pile. And then right before it's time to make an album, I'll scramble around and try to piece all of this stuff together and write something. I mean, every now and then, some idea or song will motivate you, and you'll sit down and write something. But, typically, it's just collecting ideas. So I guess the answer is no. I'm not always plugged into it. ... I'm usually just enjoying life.

There are so few artists who are able to have a career that lasts 10 years, much less 20. What do you think has been the key to success for you personally?

Well, I don't know. I wish I knew what it is. I guess I always like to think it's the music, the songs. Typically, an artist will come out and have a big career song. And that makes them who they are or whatever. Some of them might have one or two, but I feel like I've been really lucky. I just kind of keep having one every now and then that's kind of a signature song for me. You'll have some hits that are No. 1 hits, but they might just be a song that's a hit, but it might disappear. And then there'll be songs that will always be ones that are recognizable, like "Don't Rock the Juke Box" or "Chattahoochee" or "Drive" or the "Where Were You" song. I think if you can find songs that stand out ... some that you can remember, it'll make a difference.

Everyone sees you as such a laid-back guy. But in order to have the career you've had, you have to be extremely driven and motivated. Do you feel like sometimes people misinterpret your personality?

Yeah, probably so. I mean, I am driven and laid-back at the same time. I think you'd probably be better asking my wife, Denise. I am a little bit obsessive about some things, but I am still a little shy. ... Even walking onstage, I still feel kind of shy about that, and that's something I don't think I'm ever gonna get over.

You've certainly put yourself to the test.

Denise says I'm a good actor. [She says] "Well, you look comfortable." I say, "Well, thank you."

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