WARNING: Some Language
This is not the first time the misanthrope Staind frontman Aaron Lewis has spewed venom in pop country’s direction. Not even close. Lewis mouthed off on record to the Marion Star in early 2014 saying, “I think there’s enough beer on the beach, partying on the tailgate, driving around in a pickup truck, moonshine songs. I think that everything has been pretty well beaten to death.”
Then just a few days afterwards, Lewis put Tyler Farr and his song “Redneck Crazy” in his crosshairs. “I fucking hate this song,” Aaron Lewis told the crowd at a live show. “I just always thought the message of this song was pretty fucked up. But obviously, a lot of people related to it ’cause it went to #1, go figure.” He then went on to perform a parody version of the song by a songwriter named Zach Woods.
Now Lewis is at it again as he gets ready to release a new record on Friday, September 16th called Sinner. The lead single “That Ain’t Country” is a good ol’ fashioned country protest song. And since everyone likes a good artist on artist donnybrook, a bunch of noise is being made of comments from a recent Aaron Lewis concert at the Thunder Mountain Amphitheatre in Loveland, Colorado on September 4th where he said,
“Sometimes the things I say get me in trouble, and I don’t really give a fuck. That being said, I want to thank a few people for inspiring me to write this next song,” referring to “That Ain’t Country.”
Aaron Lewis went on to say,
“I’d like to thank Sam Hunt – oh, I know, he’s so pretty to look at. I’d like to thank Luke Bryan, for most of his stuff – he surprises me every once in a while. I would like to thank Dan + Shay. I’d like to thank Cole Swindell. And every other motherfucker that is just choking all the life out of country music.”
But this is nothing new either, even though it’s new to WhiskeyRiff and others who are looking to create a viral sensation on Facebook. Aaron Lewis says this type of stuff at every single country show he plays, and has been for half a decade. Every single show. The news would have been if he had NOT trounced pop country from the stage. It’s part of his repertoire. It just happened to be that someone was rolling on it. And actually, that happens all the time as well. There are many examples of this on YouTube. I get sent them all the time. It’s not news. It would be like reporting on each instance Luke Bryan shakes his ass provocatively on stage.
But this is the thing about Aaron Lewis and his anti-country stance: Normally this type of thing would solicit high praise from an outlet like Saving Country Music. And hey, I will give him credit for taking a stand. But Aaron Lewis, a dyed-in-the-wool rock gone country guy, is not the one to be delivering this message, I’m sorry. If he wants to perform and support real country music, or even criticize what today’s country has become, then excellent. But pardon me if I don’t ensconce him on top of a pedestal as some country savior, when every bit of his country criticism has been boring, canned, extremely predictable, and ultimately, aggressively pandering.
Watch him make his recent comments (video below), smugly puffing on a cigarette. He knows what he’s doing. He has the timing down perfect, because he does it all the time. He’s pandering to the crowd no different than when Florida Georgia Line raps about drinking beer on a dirt road—which is only appropriate seeing how Aaron Lewis is now signed to the same label as Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Thomas Rhett, Taylor Swift, and half a dozen other perpetrators of the erosion of authentic country music in Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine barn.
True country music Outlaws don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Somewhere on Music Row as WhiskeyRiff and Rolling Stone dutifully report this story, the Country Music Antichrist Scott Borchetta is cackling. People criticized Big Machine for getting country listeners coming and going when Maddie & Tae released “Girl in a Country Song.” Well Arron Lewis is this instance times 20. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a positive thing he’s taking a stand, and it doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t right. It’s not the message, it’s the messenger.
But that’s another thing: For all the hatred I’ve sent in the direction of Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan over the years, I’ve never gone to the extent of calling them “motherfuckers,” which is what Aaron Lewis did. As I pointed out in a recent riff against Jason Aldean, generally, these folks aren’t bad people, they just make bad music. But why didn’t Aaron Lewis include Jason Aldean in his comments? It’s because he name-dropped Aldean in a song early in his “country” career when he was releasing pseudo-pop country music. Go listen to it; it’s called “Endless Summer,” as if Mr. Staind doesn’t have any skeletons in his country music closet.
Now all of a sudden Aaron Lewis has changed his tune. Well that’s great, but I would rather leave the strong country criticism to folks like Sturgill Simpson who’ve dedicated their entire lives to the genre, not just the last half decade, part-time. Again, that’s not a knock on what Aaron Lewis is doing, but I’m sorry, he’s just not the right messenger here. He doesn’t have the skins on the wall, he’s got baggage.
And as for his protest song “That Ain’t Country,” I can’t emphasize enough how I receive at least two of these songs every single week from people, thinking they’ve stumbled on to some genius idea where they’re writing a country song criticizing country songs. There are thousands and thousands of these songs at this point—probably more than there are Bro-Country songs. It doesn’t mean they aren’t cool, but it’s about the most stereotypical, pandering thing you can possibly do in REAL country in 2016.
Every once in a while, someone does a funny twist on the theme, like the recent parodies from the former Stryper frontman, or comedian Bo Burnham from earlier this year. Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s “Standards” is brilliant. But this? It is a paint-by-the-numbers anti country song. Hey, glad Aaron Lewis is on board and championing the message. But let’s just tap the brakes a little bit in anointing him anything but a rock music frontman that has a country music fancy.
I’m really looking forward to the new Aaron Lewis album and hope that it’s good. But Aaron Lewis needs to prove his country music loyalty with his music, not his between-song banter. There’s people with a lot more cred, and a lot more creativity, and much less baggage that got this.