Country artist Jon Pardi talks about touring with Alan Jackson and his thoughts on music streaming.
Jon Pardi recently played Chicago’s Windy City Smokeout, where he alternated between hits like “Up All Night” and "Missin’ You Crazy," to covering AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” for the throngs of fans. But the Dixon, CA-born country singer is still astonished that he can draw a crowd. “Everywhere we show up these days it's such a surprise. I’m like, ‘I can't believe there's 500 people here that want to see us,’" he says. There’s no doubt he’s on his way: Since dropping his debut album, Write You a Song, in 2014, the singer/songwriter has opened for country superstars like Alan Jackson and Dierks Bentley. In May, he released a six-song EP, The B-Sides, and he's currently working on his sophomore album.
We caught up with Pardi after his show to talk songwriting, his tour with Alan Jackson, and how he feels about streaming music.
You’re from California, and I've never thought of California as very country. How'd you get into country music? JON PARDI: [I’m from] Northern California. Nobody knows that California provides most of the produce for the U.S. Outside Sacramento, it’s like commercial farming. My grandmother's family was farming—we weren't. We worked hard doing other things, like building farms and tract houses with land leveling.
I started singing when I was about 4 years old. I sang “Friends in Low Places,” at my dad's 30th birthday party. I was 7 years old. I had my first band when I was 14, wrote my first song at 12, and I moved to Nashville when I was 22. Going four years back, I started my first college band at 19 or 20 years old. I wrote that whole album. I've been playing country music for a long time.
You just finished a tour with Alan Jackson. What was that like? JP: It was awesome. Alan's amazing, one of the best. He's a legend.
What's your most memorable moment touring with Alan? JP: San Diego. The crowd was so awesome. Alan's crowd is a little bit older, a little quieter. They were so fired up. Even when Alan got on stage, I watched them just yell for Alan. And it was California.
What is your recipe for writing a hit? JP: I don't have a recipe. There's no right or wrong. No equation, no answer to being country singer. There's no, "Oh [if] you put this out, it's going to be huge." I remember talking to Tyler and Brian from Florida Georgia Line—this is before "Cruise" was crazy—but I was like, 'It’s crazy how much that song's just tearin' it up.' And they said, “We just wrote it. We didn't know this was going to happen.” But there's no answer. They didn't know... it could have died easily, but it didn't. It just blew up.
What is your favorite song to play live? JP: "What I Can't Put Down," because it's so ballsy. It shakes the subwoofers. And it's about drinking, it's about life. The last verse of that song is about music, which is something I never could put down since I was 7, so I just keep on going.
You just released your B-Sides EP in May, and you've said it's an appetizer to your next album. Can you tell us how that will differ from the first? JP: You're just going to have to buy it and listen. Not even buy it. Just stream it.
Speaking of streaming, what do you think about artists, such as Taylor Swift, speaking out against streaming? JP: Taylor Swift has the biggest fan base in the world. Go Taylor, but when you're a young, baby artist, you really want to get all your music out there as much as possible. I'm not making any money off of my royalties. It's not like I have a huge hit on the radio. I don't have a No. 1 in pop and country. It just goes for any other band that's trying to make it out there—you want to get people to listen to your music until you blow up like Taylor Swift. I understand [her], and there still should be a percentage paid to the big artists, but for the baby artists, they'll find a way to meet in the middle.
Who is your dream artist to go on tour with? JP: Anybody. I always say Dierks Bentley or Luke Bryan. I love those guys. And Justin Moore. Those guys are just so fun to be around, and every time I see them it's like "Hey! How you been, what you been up to?" It's good to be on tour with people who really care about what you're doing. It makes it all worthwhile.
Have you ever been to Chicago? JP: Hell yeah! This is my sixth time in Chicago.
What do you like to do when you're here? JP: Drink. Party.
Any favorite spots? JP: We always start at Joe's (940 W. Weed St., 312-337-3486) and then we go downtown. We also went to The Standard (1332 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-904-8615).
Kacey Musgraves is up next. Are you going to catch her show? JP: Oh yeah, I love Kacey's new album. I really do. I think it's great.
What's your favorite song off her new album? JP: I like “High Time” and “Biscuits.” Every song I can listen to.