NASHVILLE — A five-week #1 hit isn't a bad way to kick off a new album, but Lonestar had no intention of releasing "I'm Already There" as the lead single of their new album of the same name. After rising to a new career level with ballads like "Amazed" and "Smile," the band wanted to show they could rock out with the best of them.
"Our intention was to come with a tempo song," frontman Richie McDonald said. "But we sang 'I'm Already There' at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, and we saw the reaction it got. That's a tough crowd right there — industry people — and they were walking out and calling their families on their cell phones. That pretty much made up our minds right there that we should come with the ballad."
Co-written by McDonald and "I Swear" co-writers Gary Baker and Frank Myers, "I'm Already There" became the title cut for the band's fifth studio album, which debuted at #1 on Billboard's country album chart on July 14. The song was inspired by McDonald's son, Rhett, and it expresses for all the band members how they feel when they're away from their families out on the road.
"Anytime I sing a song, I'm putting my heart and soul into it," McDonald said. "But with this one, it's a little more than my heart and soul. It's tough for me to get through that song every night. If I start thinking about them [my family], I lose it. I try to think about, I don't know, dead puppies or something."
McDonald scored one more cut as a co-writer on the album's opener, "Out Go the Lights." The suggestive tune features frisky lyrics ("let a candle burn down 'til our bodies are one, breathless in the afterglow") and spotlights Michael Britt's aggressive guitar work.
This time around, Lonestar didn't have to worry about where they would find songs or how much time they'd have in the studio with producer Dann Huff. I'm Already There was two years in the making, which afforded the band the chance to live with the songs and work them for a live audience before laying them down on CD. Lonestar also had their pick of tunes from some of Nashville's most successful writers, a luxury they didn't enjoy before the triple-platinum success of 1999's Lonely Grill.
"Needless to say, we weren't the hottest thing going [before Lonely Grill]," keyboardist Dean Sams said. "So everybody wasn't real anxious to give us their best stuff. [This time] all the songwriters came out of the woodwork giving us their best stuff."
Guitarist Britt said the band took more than a year to decide which songs they would record.
"On some of them, we knew who the writers were and on some we didn't," Britt said. "We just went for songs we could relate to, no matter who wrote them. I think we're going to be happy with this group of songs for a long time."
Included among the 12 cuts is "Unusually Unusual," a quirky song written by "Mrs. Steven Rudy" singer Mark McGuinn. The tune features a banjo line played by drummer Keech Rainwater. During Lonestar's live set, Rainwater leaves his drum set and joins the others up front to play his part.
"Robbie, our bass player, actually plays drums really well, so we thought we could get him behind the drums for this one song," Rainwater explains. "But then it was, 'Who's gonna play bass?' Our monitor guy is a bass player, so we sorta play musical chairs, and I get to come out and play banjo, which is a stretch for me."
"Unusually Unusual" is the story of a unique girl who has her own offbeat sense of doing things despite what other people think. Sams said he hopes the band's young female fans listen beyond the funny lyrics and get to the message.
"Young girls have this false impression that they have to look and act a certain way to be attractive to guys," he said. "This song is saying this girl wasn't a supermodel, but she's just so unique and has her own deal going. Hopefully that'll get out there to young girls that you don't have to be just like everybody. Do your thing, because when you're uniquely your own self, that's when you're going to stand out."
The slide-guitar tinged rocker "Every Little Thing She Does" also celebrates a regular woman who's comfortable in her own skin. While McDonald sounds perfectly at home belting out uptempo songs like "With Me" and "Must Be Love" (which has very Def Leppard-esque echo harmonies and production), he has mastered the art of the ballad. Following in the tradition of passionate chart toppers "Amazed" and "Smile" is "Not a Day Goes By." McDonald's delivery on the bittersweet tune of loss, written by Steve Diamond and Maribeth Derry, has the potential to make it an even bigger hit than "Amazed."
"Not to take anything away from 'Amazed,' but when I heard 'Not a Day Goes By' it hit me harder than 'Amazed' did," McDonald said. "There's so much honesty in this. Everybody's felt it in some way."
Many of the new tunes have been road-tested. The band integrated them into their opening set for the George Strait Music Festival, which wrapped up June 10. Now Lonestar will hit the summer fair and festival circuit before returning to Europe later this year.
"When we went over there the first time, they taught us that it can't just be a one time thing. You have to invest in it," McDonald said. "They [European fans] don't know who you are, and you have to keep reminding them, especially when there's a new album."