This year marks Tracy Lawrence’s 30th anniversary in the country music business, dating back to his 1991 studio debut, Sticks and Stones, and he plans to celebrate the milestone with the release of not one but three albums. Together, the three-volume collection will be dubbed Hindsight 2020.
“I look back, this was the most life-changing thing that ever happened to me,” the singer recounts to Country Now, speaking about his move into the music business and why it’s important to him to commemorate the occasion. “I came [to Nashville] in a beat-up old car, with a few hundred bucks in my pocket, and to have a hit record was life-changing for me and my family. My brothers and sisters, my mom and dad, everybody that I grew up with — it was life-changing for everybody.”
Appropriately enough, the first taste off the project — an original new single called “Stairway to Heaven Highway to Hell” — finds Lawrence taking stock of who he is as an artist and as a person, looking back at the highlights of his past while still keeping an eye on the road ahead.
“I don’t know where I’ll wind up / When the good Lord says my time’s up / With my checkered record, man, it’s hard to tell,” he sings in the chorus. “I still end up in some ditches / Down the road to good intentions…”
In the trilogy of new albums he’s planning for 2021, Lawrence will include some of the hits from his past, but he’s also making it a point to feature new material, too. The first of the three albums will be entirely new music, with the next two split 50/50 between fan-favorite hits and original new material. Specifically, the singer says he wants to showcase songs that he had a hand in writing himself, as songwriting is a skill he’s been focusing on honing over the last few years.
“I’ve grown a lot in that area over the last several years, and I’m very proud of that. I always lacked confidence in my songwriting early on,” he notes. “I feel like I’ve evolved to a much different place in this stage in my life.”
To that end, he co-wrote “Stairway to Heaven Highway to Hell” with Craig Wiseman, the renowned Nashville songwriter known for penning hits like Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff,” Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” and even Lawrence’s own No. 1 hit from ‘94, “If the Good Die Young.” Co-writing with Wiseman had long been a bucket-list item for Lawrence, but it wasn’t until 2020’s shutdowns happened that the two men finally had the chance to book a write.
“It was the only Zoom write I did last year,” Lawrence reveals. “And it was, like, a six-hour write. It was a long, long write, but I’m proud of the way it turned out. I’m really happy with it. It’s got such great imagery in it. It’s a little bit autobiographical, in some ways. I’m really proud of the way it came out.”
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Even though so much of his upcoming material is new, Lawrence feels pretty confident that it will evoke the ‘90s country style his fans know and love. “I wanted [the new songs] to represent traditional country,” he explains. “I think if you listen to some of the new stuff we recorded — I won’t say it’ll take you back to the ‘90s, but lyrically, some of the stuff [is reminiscent of that era.] Obviously, production values have changed.”
After all, without those influences, the music wouldn’t be an accurate representation of Lawrence’s musical identity, which is so steeped in the era of early ‘90s country.
“I think one of the great things about being in the ‘90s, there was a lot of traditional stuff — that was given a little bit of a progressive edge,” he recalls. “If you remember, when all that stuff started in the early ‘90s, you had Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Mark Chesnutt, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, that all came up about 1989.
“That’s when I knew I was coming to Nashville,” Lawrence continues. “It was like, ‘Things are changing and I need to be there and be a part of it.’…It was a great era of country music to me, one of the greatest I think that ever was.”
With the release of Hindsight 2020, the singer knows that he has an opportunity to introduce that era to a whole new generation of fans, who might not have been listening to country music in the early ‘90s or even been born yet. Even now, Lawrence says, he’s seeing an uptick in younger listeners’ interest in ‘90s country, and thanks to streaming, those listeners have access to artists’ entire discographies at their fingertips.
“They have access to everything, and that’s pretty amazing, that if they find something that appeals to them, they can go digging through your catalogue,” he notes. “I just hope they appreciate my style and where I come from. I’m not a pop singer, and I’m not a pop country singer. My stuff is either rockin’ or hardcore, cryin’-in-your-beer, you know, about somebody who broke your heart. I like the traditional elements of it.”
Volume 1 of Lawrence’s Hindsight 2020 is due out on April 23.