Since exploding on to the country music scene in 2004, Big & Rich, Big Kenny and John Rich have done about as much in a decade as most country stars do in a lifetime. Being the founding “Godfathers” of the MuzikMafia, they’ve helped fuel talented acts like Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy among others. They’ve written a slew of hits for other artists like Jason Aldean, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw. They’ve also been involved in multiple TV projects from MuzikMafia TV to Celebrity Apprentice. Their philanthropy includes well over one million dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when Rich won Celebrity Apprentice while Big Kenny has made humanitarian trips to Africa and Haiti.
Their fifth album, Gravity, is showing all the signs of success with their first single racing up the charts.
Big and Rich recently sat down with Nashville.com for an exclusive interview to tell us about the new CD and their new label, Big and Rich Records.
Nash: Tell us how you came up with your first single “Look At You”.
John Rich: “Look At You” was written by Shannon Lawson and myself. Shannon is a MusikMafia guy from way back and really a phenomenal singer. We had this idea. I said “have you ever broken up with a girl, you go down to the bar and you’re single again, and you see her? She’s looking hotter than she’s ever looked before on purpose, she’s doing shots and other guys are looking at her. That happened to me every time I ever broke up with anybody” and I said, “That’s what I want to write about.” Lookin’ At You feels like a love song but it’s this twisty, turny kind of song and it’s doing great right now.
Big Kenny: And I hear it for the first time and I’m like “What a cool feeling love song.” And then I listened to it again and think “whoa, what a crazy story.” Then I’m singing with it and singing with it and I realize it’s right in that place where we can hit that magical sound where our voices come together and make what is, Big & Rich. It just worked
Nash: Lovin’ Lately is going to be your second single and it features Tim McGraw. How did that come about?
JR: The song Lovin’ Lately was Tim McGraw’s idea. We did a show with him this past summer and he came to Kenny and I before he went on stage and said he had a song idea. He said “Who you been lovin’ lately, you think that’s any good?” We said yeah man that’s great and he said “well if you guys want to write it it’s on the house.”
BK: So we came back to Nashville and wrote it. Both of us were loving it. We made a demo and sent it to him. We got an email back that night about 2:30 in the morning saying “I love this! How about this for a video? He had already written a treatment for the video. We said “this is amazing, would you sing on it too?” He said I’d love to, how about next week?
JR: It was that quick. And it seems like the perfect follow up to “Lookin’ At You.” So later this year you’ll be hearing that one.
Nash: Tell us about Big & Rich records. Will you be signing other artists or is this strictly for Big & Rich?
JR: It’s a step at a time. Big & Rich records happened because we turned in this record, Gravity, to our record label Warner Brothers last year. We turned in this record and they didn’t expect a record. They were excited to get it and they loved the music but they had already planned out their entire year of 2014. They have 15, 20 artists over there and they said “here’s the problem guys, we love the music but we can’t put it out for a year” and as Kenny has said, that’s where creativity and commerce part ways. So we had to think long and hard and we thought, well, we’re not going to sit around for a year. So we said “let’s just do it our selves” which is a very scary move to make. It’s a push all of your chips in the middle of the table and say hit me. But we made the commitment and I think we worked harder this year than we’ve worked in a long time. The song “Lookin’ At You” is coming up on 105,000 downloads and is surging at radio. And Kenny and I are just looking at each other going “How about that? Whew!” It still has a long way to go to get to number one but it’s moving in that direction. It’s pretty exciting.
BK: It’s the kind of thing we believed in ten years ago as the Musik Mafia. Just anyway to get the music out there. And now the music business has changed enough to where we can actually do something like that. We’ve been blessed to continue to be surrounded by people who believe as strongly in everything as John and I do. They believe even more and that’s an amazing thing to have around you. It’s scary as hell. It’s hand-to-hand combat too. John and I are the first two executive artists in Nashville that are willing to take on any other record executives in a tag team match.
JR: And yes, we do have big mahogany desks!
Nash: Is the Musik Mafia still alive and well?
BK: Where ever you see a Musik Mafia ring (flashes his ring) you’ll know that the Musik Mafia is still alive and well and there’s two of them right here in this room today.
Nash: Are there any songs on the album you didn’t write?
JR: No, we wrote everything on the record. There’s actually one on there, the title of the album, Gravity, it sounds like something that would have been written back in the sixties. It almost sounds like something the Beatles would have done. It’s a ballad and at our shows, when we finish “Save A Horse,” we encore with that one, with two acoustic guitars and every cigarette lighter and phone is up when we play it. It’s such a cool thing too see that happen.
Nash: What’s your take on the whole “Bro-country thing?”
BK: Bro to me . . . I’m not sure what that definition is. I think there’s a lot of songs about beer, pick-up trucks and girls and I like all three of those, so I got no problem with that.
JR: If you look back through the history of country music, it’s become redundant many, many times and then all of the sudden something new would break out and then it would all start moving that direction. It’s a cycle. I think when Gretchen Wilson came out with “Redneck Woman” she broke the redundancy of what was going on with some of the female music that was coming out at that time.
BK: And John and I as the Godfathers of the Musik Mafia except the responsibility of the redundancy breakers.
JR: Because we went to the school of redundancy!
Nash: How have things changed after all these years together?
JR: Well it’s ten years in and the biggest first shows Kenny and I ever did would have been opening for McGraw. We did 85 shows with Tim McGraw in 2004 as the middle act. Playing in front of 25,000 People, I remember looking over at him [Big Kenny] and there was no pacing yourself at all. It was just pedal to the floor the entire time. When we hit a stage I can tell you it’s 100 minutes of “knock you down.” None of that has changed. The part that has changed is the counter balance to all that. Kenny has two sons, I have two sons so when we come home, there’s actually something to come home to. And I think that has made its way into our songwriting, our performing our business acumen and the way we go about everything. But the horsepower is still there just like it was.
BK: And it’s as fun if not more fun. How do you describe the fun when it gets that high? It’s still there every time we step on stage.
Gravity Track Listing:
1. Look At You
2. Lovin’ Lately (feat. Tim McGraw)
4. Brand New Buzz
5. Rollin’ Along
6. Run Away With You
7. Lose A Little Sleep
8. Don’t Wake Me Up
9. That Kind of Town
10. Thank God For Pain
11. I Came To Git Down