A message from Trace Adkins
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Trace Adkins slouches in a chair inside a sparse, yellow-walled dressing room in the bowels of the Fox Theatre.
Ever the gentleman, he quickly removes his cowboy hat once conversation begins and fixes his piercing, pale blue eyes on his interrogator.
Adkins is in town on this November afternoon to perform during the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute concert being held that night at the historic venue.
But a few hours before show time, he’s content to discuss his Christmas tour, based on his album “The King’s Gift” released last year, which will drop its Celtic roots at Atlanta Symphony Hall on Wednesday.
As he talks in that bottomless, knee-weakening drawl that has coated nearly two decades of songs from “Every Light in the House” to “Just Fishin’,” Adkins absentmindedly twirls his flaxen hair into a knot.
This is the second year he’s brought “The King’s Gift” to the road, and it’s evident that the combination of traditional carols and narration is inspiring to him in a manner different than his country offerings.
Q: This sounds like a show that isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Christmas concerts.
A: It is a one-man play. There’s narration between songs and we do the album “The King’s Gift” in its entirety. I relate some anecdotes that we came across and some of the history behind the songs, which I’ve found fascinating and I think that the audiences have found it to be fascinating as well.
I wanted to do a Christmas album 15 years ago, and the record label people said, we want you to do ‘this’ kind of record; we want you to do “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” with a country band and I said I don’t want to do that. I knew then in 1998 that this was the kind of Christmas album I wanted to make, with a Celtic feel and traditional. And when I say traditional, when you heard these carols done 100 years ago, this would have been the instrumentation that you would have heard on these songs. That’s the record I wanted to make.
Q: Is there a specific reason you’re drawn to the Celtic influences?
A: There was some point in my life in my late teens when I was exposed to Celtic music. It touches me in some kind of primal place. I can’t explain it. It takes me back to my spiritual roots, my core, musical roots. I’m drawn to it, I love it. I’ve never had an opportunity to perform it until I thought, I should do a Christmas record like that. So that afforded me the opportunity to jump into that pool.
Q: It must be a different kind of challenge for you on stage.
A: It makes me a nervous wreck. I’m out front with a scrim between me and the 12-piece ensemble. To stand in front of this incredible group of musicians night after night is just amazing. I’ve enjoyed every night. That’s the reason I really wanted to do it again this year, because I enjoyed it so much.
Q: Have you seen other Christmas shows over the years that you looked to for inspiration?
A: I have done the narration for the Christmas Candlelight Processional at Disney World for the last five or six years. It gives you some history about the songs that the orchestra plays and they have the Disney singers and a 300-member choir and you stand center stage. I love doing that. That’s where I got the idea for this, because of the narration between those songs. I basically just stole it.
Q: Is there a special reason you chose “The King’s Gift” as the title of the album?
A: It came from “The Little Drummer Boy.” He was going to see the newborn king and his friends were taking gifts and he didn’t have anything to take and then he thought he had his talent to offer, that he could play his drum. We close with “Little Drummer Boy” and I say the title of the album and the show is what we want you to take from this – that the best gifts that we give one another don’t have price tags on them. They are the gifts of ourselves, our talent, our time, our love. YOU are the king’s gift. That’s what it’s all about.
Q: Are you working on anything new, non-holiday wise, since your last album came out in May 2013 (“Love Will…”)?
A: I’m in the studio now and we have about half the next album finished and I’ll go back in January and we should finish it in a couple of months. I’m doing a movie in the spring, so will probably go out for a summer tour.
Q: What can you tell me about the movie?
A: It’s called “Roadrunner.” I don’t talk too much about movies because I’ve done some that have been pretty bad, but some have been good ones. It doesn’t even matter. I do them because the stuff I love most about the music business are the days when you’re in the studio and that creative thing is happening and when you’re on stage doing live stuff and the creative thing is happening. When you’re on a movie set, you’re surrounded by incredibly talented, creative people and I find that environment stimulating and invigorating and I dig it. In order to grow in this life you have to get outside your comfort zone and when I’m doing that stuff I have no idea what I’m doing so I’m certainly outside my comfort zone.
Q: Do you get a lot of scripts to be the bad guy, given your height and voice?
A: Yeah, and I’ve done a few of those. I’m getting a lot of offers in general and I turn most of them down. I’m at a place in my life and my career where I can do that; I don’t have to take everything that comes along.
Q: What are you listening to these days? How do you feel about the current state of country music, which a lot of people don’t even consider country?
A: A lot of things I’ve done in my career at certain points were not considered country. When I came out with “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing,” there were people like (George) Jones going boy, what are you doing? So I’m not going to look at these people today and say that’s not country. I have no idea what country is anymore and neither does anybody else, and that’s one of the things I think is so cool about country, that it can’t be confined to this one little box and say that’s what this is… I don’t know why Taylor (Swift) felt like she needed to say she wasn’t country anymore. This album sounds exactly like the last one! It’s funny. She hasn’t burned any bridges with me. She can do whatever she wants to.
Q: Would you go back to TV?
A: I’d do anything on TV except I’m not going to do competition shows anymore. I’m not going to be on “Survivor (sic) Island.”
Q: You’d probably win.
A: Well, I would, because the first day I’d pick up a big stick and say, “Get off my island!” The show would last one day.
Q: Does “The Apprentice” still have a place in your life?
A: “The Apprentice” experience has been nothing but positive for me. I see people in the airport they don’t know me from Adam as far as my music, but they know me from that show. And I thank them for that, and I’m so appreciative. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I would go back on one show as a mentor and say, “You suck, you win,” but not to be part of the competition.
Q: How are you doing personally? I know it’s been a tough year (Adkins entered alcohol treatment in January, his father died in February and Rhonda, his wife of 16 years, filed for divorce in March).
A: (Sighs) Things are still in limbo. I get up every morning and do what I gotta do and keep pressing ahead. What else are you going to do? Tough times don’t last, tough people do, and I just keep pressing ahead. It’s been challenging, it’s been trying, it’s been painful. But my kids are good and I’m holding up.
Q: Do you turn to music when things get challenging?
A: I always have. I’ve written some good songs. Some of the most acclaimed artists ever were tormented souls.
Trace Adkins “The Christmas Show” 8 p.m. Wednesday. $39.50-$99.50. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, http://www.ticketmaster.com.