Jason Aldean partnered with Amazon Music on Monday evening (Sept. 9) as part of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, and surprised Amazon line-haul partners and truckers at the Amazon Truck Stop in downtown Nashville. The country superstar performed an energetic six-song set that spanned his catalog and included the live debut of new single “We Back.”
A small stage and entertainment space was erected in a parking lot across from Nissan Stadium; the setup was designed to look like a truck stop, and nearly 200 people in attendance were treated to unlimited food, drinks and games before Aldean’s surprise performance. Ahead of his set, he sat down with Billboard to discuss his involvement in Amazon Music’s latest initiative, as well as his upcoming ninth studio album, 9, and latest single “We Back.”
“I've always had an appreciation for the trucking industry,” says Aldean, dressed in his signature cowboy hat, blue jeans, and cowboy boots, seated in a trailer behind the venue. “My grandfather was a truck driver. Going all the way back, even on my first album there was a song called ‘Asphalt Cowboy’ that talked about that. It's one of those professions that [is] underappreciated. We obviously have a lot of truck drivers on our tour that work hard for us, so I thought it was a cool thing to be able to pair up with Amazon and do something like this.”
Aldean’s appearance came hours after announcing that his ninth studio album, 9, will be released on Nov. 22. He debuted the project’s anthemic lead single, “We Back,” during his set ahead of thanking the truckers for their hard work.
“All the truckers out there, thank you guys for what y’all do. We love you guys and appreciate everything,” he said. “Some of you guys going down the road, hopefully you’re going to hear [‘We Back’] a lot between now and Christmas.”
A throwback to arena-ready anthems like previous hits “Hicktown” and “She’s Country,” the new single features Aldean’s distinct brand of country-rock with soaring guitar riffs and a thumping beat. “A lot of people have rock influences and have tried to bring them into country, but I still feel like the way we do it is different than anybody else,” he says.
Aldean was in the studio recording 9 when Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard reached out and asked if there was anything he was missing for the project. Aldean said he was looking for up-tempo songs that would fit into his live show.
“When Tyler called me that day, I said, ‘I need anthems — things you play in a stadium or an arena, fist-pumping anthems,’” he explains. “‘We Back’ is one of those. Only time will tell where it goes, but I think it is that type of song. Live shows are a big part of what we do and when you can fill a live show with songs like that, it makes for a fun show for not only us, but for people who are watching.”
For his ninth studio album, Aldean worked with producer Michael Knox, who has been at the helm of his previous eight releases. The singer says the pair’s two-decade partnership won’t be ending anytime soon. Knox discovered Aldean playing in a bar in Georgia when he was 21 and brought him to Nashville.
“He’s the reason I'm here. As far as he and I working together, we made a pact: We'll do it as long as people want to hear it, as long as it's working, he and I will work together. It works for us. It's been 20 years of us working together and we have a really good relationship in the studio,” he adds. “Musically, we understand each other. We're on the same page. With the success we've had for years, there’s no reason to start messing with it.”
Aldean’s rock side was apparent throughout his set on Monday evening, on tracks like fan favorites “My Kinda Party” and “She’s Country,” as well as “We Back.” His country and R&B roots were heard too, on the reflective “Rearview Town,” sultry “Girl Like You” and romantic ballad “You Make It Easy.”
While he’s proud of the slower songs heard on the past several albums, Aldean says he was looking to ramp things up on his forthcoming project. The singer got what he was hoping for with “We Back,” penned by Hubbard, the Warren Brothers and Jordan Schmidt.
“Those are the hardest songs to find, the big tempos that are cool. I've been itching a little bit to put out another banger. I feel like that’s a huge part of what I do,” Aldean says. “Tyler called me up when he knew we were in the studio and asked me what we were looking for and I said, ‘Man, tempo. We’re always looking for tempo. Send me whatever you got if you get close.’”
“We Back” is not the first collaboration Aldean has had with Florida Georgia Line’s Hubbard. Aldean has had success with several singles Hubbard penned with his bandmate Brian Kelley, including “Burnin’ It Down,” “Lights Come On” and “You Make It Easy,” all No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
“We’ve had a little bit of a run with those guys over the years. They went in the next day and wrote [‘We Back’] with the Warren Brothers and Jordan Schmidt, and [Hubbard] called me the next day and sent the demo and I was like, ‘Yes, I’m cutting that this next week,’” Aldean says. “It's cool that those guys are willing to go in and tailor-make a [song] for us and try and get on our record. It was a song that we needed, and we’ve got some really cool things to follow it up with that are completely different. I’m excited for it to be out.”