Country music fans like Eric Church for more than just his music. While it’s admirable that in a world of processed, overdone soun the 35-year-old singer-songwriter has built a career from the ground up, it’s really his raw, rebellious side that many are drawn to. As we learned earlier this year, Church has no qualms about speaking his mind — even when it gets him in trouble. But that’s far from a bad thing.

When we sat down with Church (and his Jack Daniels on ice) at the WYRK Taste of Country concert in early June, he admitted that sometimes standing up for what he believes in gets him in hot water, but insisted he wouldn’t change a thing about his career path thus far.

The ‘Springsteen’ hitmaker, who welcomed first baby Boone McCoy in October of 2011, lit up when we asked him about his son, whom he revealed is always on the road with him. Naturally, that led to talk about the glue that keeps his family life connected to his career — his wife.

But somewhere along the way, the conversation strayed to Church’s love of hair metal bands and the fact that he’d do just about anything for $200. Really.

Your wife — she’s a music publisher?
Eric Church: That’s right. She was in the music business before I was.

Did she push a song to you? Is that how you guys came together?
Well, no, she was trying to hook me up to write with one of her writers that she represented, that was how we met. It’s great now, because being a publisher and being somebody in the industry, I can bounce songs off of her and she has the knowledge, you know, to be kind of that sounding board of what I should cut and what I shouldn’t cut. So, she’s one of those in the inner circle that I run a lot of stuff by.

Are any of the songs on your album ‘Chief’ about your relationship with your wife?
There was one on the ‘Carolina’ record called ‘You Make It Look So Easy,’ which I wrote for our wedding — by myself. That song was 100% about it. Then, there’s a song on this new record called ‘She Loves Me Like Jesus Does’ that was a favorite of hers that I didn’t write. It’s the only song in my career that I cut that I didn’t write, and it’s because of her. She found the song and played it for me and I loved it too.

Your life … Is it crazy now? Seeing where you are, compared to where you’ve been?
Oh, god! It’s surreal. It’s surreal.

Your fans when you’re out on the road wait in line to see you. When you were young, who would you wait in line all day to catch a glimpse of?
Well, I grew up in the ’80s, so it varies. That was… [laughs] That was the hair metal days, you know. Everybody from AC/DC to Cinderella, Whitesnake — man, whoever. That was hair metal! Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard. Even now, I would still stand out in line for Springsteen all day, I’d stand out in line for Bob Seger all day — even now. Tom Petty. That’s part of it.

I’d STILL stand in line all day to get into an AC/DC show, because that was the one show when I was younger that kind of changed my life. Because it was a little wrong. I think I was 14 or 15, first concert without the parents you know, and they were all worried because we were going to an AC/DC show and it was an amphitheater. And I kind of remember that element of danger being part of what attracted me to an AC/DC show, and I can just remember the energy … the militant energy — I’d do it again right now.

What is the most out-of-left-field cover you’ve ever played?
Coming up in bars and clubs, I would play anything that had a $20 bill attached to it. I did ‘Like a Virgin’ in a bar one time for a hundred bucks. For $200, I would have done the little cone boob thing. That’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in a bar. I was 19, 20-years-old and somebody brought it up. I didn’t even know the song! But for a hundred bucks, I’ll fake it. That’s probably the wildest thing. I’m not proud of it.

So, both Eli Young Band and Dustin Lynch told us that ‘Springsteen’ is their favorite song on country radio right now. What’s yours? And you can’t say ‘Springsteen’!
Okay. I wasn’t going to say ‘Springsteen’ anyway. I would say my favorite song … there are a few things I really like. Well, I can turn it back around. I love beautiful guitar, like the Eli Young Band. I love the ‘whoa whoa,’ the whole deal, you know? So I’m gonna give that back to them and say that’s my favorite song right now.

Okay, last question. Tell us one thing you think you’ve done really well in your career … and maybe one thing you regret.
As far as doing it well, we’ve built our career our own way out on the road. Our measuring stick was always the fans. I never measured our success on how many records we sold or how many hits we had, I measured it on, ‘Are the fans coming to the shows, and are they singing the lyrics to all the songs?’ And, because we made it about the fans, I think that’s why we’re here. I mean, we’re doing great on the road, but we’ve had one No. 1 song. Most people have to have 10 or 12 No. 1 songs to get where we are. I think that that’s the one thing we did — we gave our career to the fans early on.

The thing we’ve probably not done well … Um, I’m not a guy who has a lot of regrets. I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve always been very candid, and I’ve always stood for what I believe in, right? And sometimes, that’s gotten me in trouble. But I wouldn’t change it — I am who I am.

On that note, did you see what Kenny Chesney said about you in Entertainment Weekly? He said, “There’s a difference between having a few songs on the radio and having a career. And the one who stands out the most to me is Eric Church. He’s a real artist — he didn’t come up on some karaoke contest.”
Wow, very cool. Well, Kenny’s a guy who, we both kind of came up the same way. We played clubs, we played bars, we put in the miles. I understand the sentiment there.

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