3 Rounds with Kenny Chesney
We asked the country singer to chat about TV talent shows, playing poker with Willie Nelson, and his new album — while downing a few cold ones. Kenny Chesney's reply? No problem!
KENNY CHESNEY will not be tempted — at least not by the squid. Though the country megastar is a couple of days away from performing a concert in Las Vegas — one of 48 planned dates on his massive No Shoes Nation tour — Chesney won’t let a bowl of delicious-looking deep-fried calamari at Malibu’s Paradise Cove Beach Cafe derail his fitness plan.
”I grew up in east Tennessee, where you eat how you eat,” the singer, 45, explains. ”But I eat really clean just to get ready to go do what I do.”
What he does is make records — and break them: Nearly two decades into his career, Chesney remains one of music’s top ticket sellers, thanks to concerts that offer fans the stadium-show equivalent of sipping blended margaritas while dipping their toes in the waters off St. Croix. Oh, and speaking of libations? Chesney will succumb to the temptation of drinking three rounds with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY while talking cocktails, TV talent shows, and his recently released 14th studio album, Life on a Rock.
KENNY CHESNEY orders a Corona Light.
Do you watch your diet all the time?
It feels like I’ve been on one my whole life. My trainer used to monitor everything I put in my mouth, and I hated him. Now I’m trained to not eat that [he gestures toward the calamari]. But I’m not kidding myself. The first hour after my tour is over I eat whatever I want and do whatever I want.
You certainly maintain your boyish looks.
Oh, I do? Really?
You look freakin’ young.
I guess I get that from my grandmother. My dad’s got pretty good skin too. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never done drugs. I’ve always been pretty athletic, I sweat a lot, I drink a lot of water. I will say I’ve probably had a few more beers than I should every now and then, but that’s all right.
When was the last time you were here in Malibu?
I rented a house for about six months at the end of 2007. I was so mentally exhausted. It was the first time in years that I had slept without Lunesta. I would open up the sliding glass doors in this house that I rented right on the cliff and I could hear the ocean. I haven’t slept that good since.
I spend so much time moving. I’m that way in almost every facet of my life. I feel like a shark sometimes. A shark can sleep, but it’s still got to move.
Do you have problems shutting down your brain at night?
Yes. Sometimes the right side of my brain will turn one way, and the left side will turn the other way. The only thing that’s helped me to get my mind off of business stuff is watching Homeland.
I am addicted to it. It’s unbelievable. I’ve got a buddy of mine that used to be in the Secret Service, and he looks just like Brody.
Do you think Life on a Rock tops your last album, Welcome to the Fishbowl?
I don’t know whether it tops it. I think the more you do this, the more comfortable in your skin you get. I do feel comfortable with this record in so many ways. And vocally I feel like it’s as good as Fishbowl. Some of these songs were very personal, very emotional.
I understand you wrote the songs over several years.
Six years, actually. The first song I wrote was “Lindy.” It was about an old island character that just walked through the world a little bit different than a lot of us. I just wrote a really simple song about seeing him one night playing piano in an island church. There he was, this beach bum.
What was behind your decision to record ”Coconut Tree” with Willie Nelson?
It’s such a simple song. As busy as I am, a lot of times I crave that simplicity. I spent some time this past December with Willie in Hawaii, and we spent a lot of time around the poker table, and swapping the guitar back and forth. We found our own way to climb our own coconut tree. So it was only natural that he sing the song with me.
Chesney orders another Corona Light as the waiter brings a gigantic bowl of seafood on ice, courtesy of the restaurant’s owner.
Are you f—ing kidding me? Now, I could eat that!
You now have your own brand of liquor called Blue Chair Bay Rum.
I had the idea almost eight years ago. I was down in the Virgin Islands with a lot of friends, and I watched the sun set right below the waterline, and the sky lit up a million colors. It was just a perfect day. And I thought to myself, ”If I could bottle this emotion, that’d be awesome.”
I understand there are three flavors. Which is your favorite?
The coconut spiced one. It’s in a charcoal gray bottle. I think that’s the one that will put a little bit of pirate in everybody.
Do you still drink rum and Red Bull before every concert?
Not as much as I used to.
Is that an age thing?
I like to think it’s a smart thing. When we first started headlining around 2001, we had a lot of fun. I would do a two-and-a-half-hour show, drink a bunch after, wake up, go to the gym, do a couple interviews, play basketball, and then start the cycle all over again. I remember telling my buddies, ”I could do this forever.”
Cut to later in forever…
Yeah. I remember waking up on the bus one day after I’d turned 40, and telling those guys, “Maybe not forever. Maybe every now and then.” It’s more important for me to get on stage and give fans everything I can than for me to abuse my body.
Are you still flying your crew to the Virgin Islands at the end of every tour?
Yeah. We’ve been doing that for 11 years.
Are you still doing it on a Hooters plane?
No, that was just for the first two years. We had chicken wings and cold beer at eight in the morning with Hooters girls in uniform.
What’s this I hear about a merchandise lottery for the crew?
We did it last year. Sammy Hagar gave me this huge sombrero down in Mexico. Once a month, whoever’s name gets pulled out of the sombrero gets all the merchandise money for that night. I mean, all of it.
How many people are on your payroll?
120. I try not to think about that either. All these people, building houses and doing stuff based on me not getting sick.
Is it true you traveled to Newtown, Connecticut, recently?
I spent some time with the parents of one of the kids who perished at Sandy Hook. This kid and her mama would sing ”No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” every day before she got on the school bus.
Her mom probably loved sharing that with you.
Yeah, and the fact that they literally wrote ”No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” in black Sharpie on her casket. You never know whose life you’re touching with music. You get so caught up in recording. Like I said earlier, you’re always on to something else, right? You forget these songs matter and they live with people. They are a close part of their lives.
Chesney enjoys one more Corona Light while lounging in one of the restaurant’s private cabanas.
So many of your peers are doing films. Why have you not crossed over?
Because I’ve eaten enough broccoli and carrots in a trailer to last me a lifetime. If I’m gonna take eight months off, I want to take eight months off. I’m not gonna take eight months off to sit in a trailer.
What about serving as a judge on a TV talent show?
I would never do it. I’m not gonna say that being a part of those shows is a bad thing. Whatever makes them happy. For me, I just don’t think it’s part of anything that makes me who I am.
What kind of effect do you think these shows have on the music industry?
The only thing that bothers me is how people think that’s how you become a star now. You know what Bruce Springsteen told me one time? “Me and the guys in the early days, we took a train from Jersey to New Orleans to play one show and took a train back.” Where are those people? They’re not on TV in a talent contest. They’re paying their dues, and they’re writing. That’s what I think gets lost. You can’t be lazy and do what I do, and you can’t miss the road. You got to have a lot of energy, and you got to really love it, ’cause if you don’t, it’s not gonna work.
Does the idea of slowing down or retiring scare you?
I haven’t thought about it. It’s hard to say, because I think once you got a song in your heart, you’re gonna find a way to get it out. I love what I do too much.