Jake Owen’s newest single, “Homemade,” hit No. 1 on the charts during the week of March 22 — a time when, he admitted, it felt a little strange to be happy about anything.
“It’s a pretty weird time to be celebrating something,” the singer reflects to Country Now.
There was no doubt that it had been a difficult few weeks for country music, and for the world at large. In early March, a tornado tore a path through middle Tennessee and Nashville, leveling businesses and beloved venues in Music City. Just days later, the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19 )spiked dramatically in the U.S,. hitting the brakes on virtually every tour, festival and major event in mainstream country (including Owen’s Down to the Tiki Tonk Tour.)
In the back half of March, more tragedies ensued: Kenny Rogers died on March 20 at age 81, following a lengthy series of health setbacks. The Grand Ole Opry’s oldest living member, 91-year-old Jan Howard, died on March 28. Then, on March 29, the country community was rocked by the death of Joe Diffie, the first mainstream country casualty of the coronavirus. The same day that Diffie’s death was announced, fans learned that John Prine had also been hospitalized with symptoms of the virus, and that he was in critical condition.
So yes — it was an uncertain time to be celebrating a No. 1 hit song. Still, Owen had a lot of reasons to be proud of the long, slow climb that led “Homemade” to the top after an over-40-weeks-long run on the chart. More than anything, he was proud of the community that got the song there.
Co-written by Bobby Pinson, Drew Parker, Jared Mullins and Ben Goldsmith, “Homemade” originally ended up in Owen’s lap because one of its writers was going through a difficult time.
“My friend Jared Mullins is a great songwriter, and he’s a friend. He came out to the house and was telling me about some struggles he was going through,” Owen remembers. “I asked him to play me some of his best songs, that he really wished somebody would hear. He played me ‘Homemade’ right there”
The singer instantly knew that he wanted to record the track for his album, Greetings From…Jake, but he didn’t immediately decide to release it to country radio. That decision happened when Owen and his team called an audible after the preceding single, “Down to the Honky Tonk,” finished its run on the charts.
“We had another song that we were gonna put out as a single, but we ended up changing our minds and going with ‘Homemade,’ based off of the fact that we all believed in it. Thankfully, we were right,” he recounts.
Another of the song’s writers, Parker, had never had a No. 1 hit before. “That makes it that much better,” Owen says of the experience of sharing a chart-topping song with somebody who was hitting the milestone for the first time.
“It’s hard work to even get a song, and for radio to play it, but to take it all the way to the top — it’s a really big deal,” the singer continues. “And Drew and his wife, literally the same week it went No. 1, they just had a baby. So to think that that’s their little homemade baby, and they have a homemade No. 1 song — it’s pretty amazing.”
A strong community nurtured Owen’s creative process from start to finish on Greetings From…Jake, his sixth studio album and first on Big Loud Records, after being signed to Sony for 12 years.
“Making that move was a big decision for me, but it has proven to be the right decision, because of the people that I now have on my team who really believe in me,” he relates, admitting that the ups and downs of his past in the industry left him with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. “There’s just a lot of politics in the music business, and nobody ever really talks about that, but it’s the truth.”
Owen doesn’t think his artistry changed that much from his previous records, but feeling solidarity with a team around him made all the difference while he was making Greetings From…Jake.
“You can compare it to your team winning the Super Bowl, you know what I mean? When your team practices and plays every week together, and you pump each other up and you take the bad news as well as the good news — when you all win together, it’s a really great feeling,” he says. “That’s really, for me, what I’ve enjoyed at this point in my life. That confidence. I’m still that guy I was five years ago, but I’m chugging along with a great team.”
For the foreseeable future, that “chugging along” is primarily virtual: Like many of his fans, Owen is self-quarantined at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, adhering to CDC social distancing guidelines and waiting until it’s safe to resume touring. Artists love performing for their fans, and Owen is no different, so he can’t wait to get back out on stage again — but for the time being, he’s enjoying his “Homemade” family and life.
“I have a farm out west of Nashville, and I haven’t left for two weeks. I have my little girl who’s almost a year old, and [my girlfriend] Erica and I. We love being together,” he reports.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time out on my farm that I usually don’t have. I will say, I think there’s a beauty in this for people, outside of the fact that they’re freaking out because they’re stuck at home,” he continues. “There’s a lot of things we all wish [we could do] when we go to work, no matter if you’re a singer or a guy who sells insurance somewhere. We all have things we wish we could have more time at home to do. And now we have that time.”
For Owen, that time at home involves planting his garden, weeding and working on home improvement projects around his house. He also keeps in touch with fans over social media, delivering live-streamed performances from his home “Tiki Tonk.” Lots of artists are taking to live-streaming platforms in response to the pandemic, but Owen points out that his “Tiki Tonk” shows are actually not an entirely new phenomenon; they’ve always been a way for him to keep his relationship with his fans at his fingertips.
He’s also using this quiet period to figure out his next musical move. After the success of “Homemade,” Owen is deciding on his next single — and he’s pretty sure what that single will be.
“We’ve talked about ‘Made for You.’ That’s a song that’s been really, really big for me throughout this album process, without it even being a single,” he reveals. “And it’s a ballad, which, I’ve put out mostly uptempo [songs] until now, so it’ll be a good time for it. It’s not set in stone, but I’m pretty sure we’re learning towards that.”