Country favorite Clay Walker has never been one to sit around idle — even if he’s forced to by a global pandemic. Like all his peers, the hit maker behind ’90s anthems like “What’s It to You,” “If I Could Make a Living” and more was pushed off the road as the COVID-19 pandemic began. But he’s had no trouble making his down time count.
With a homesteader’s dream of a farm and six kids to keep he and his wife, Jessica, busy, there’s no shortage of things to be done, he tells Sounds Like Nashville. And since musicians like himself usually get precious little time with their families, he’s taking advantage.
“COVID has helped in a way that I never feel rushed anymore – it’s like, ‘Where are you gonna go?'” Walker says with laugh, speaking by phone just before the annual Parents Day (July 26). “I’ve always had that sense of urgency to be somewhere, do something. And I gotta say, outside of watching your finances dwindle, it’s pretty relaxing. Not having to be somewhere or answer somebody at every given minute is nice.”
Walker goes on to say he counts being a dad as his greatest gift, and that slowing down to learn how his young kids see the world has brought them closer than ever. “It’s so innocent and direct, and I really enjoy that a lot,” he says about the youngsters.
They’ve been self-quarantined on the family’s 200-acre estate ever since U.S. infections began rising last spring, spending time gardening and planting, caring for animals, exploring the land and encouraging conversation (or rather, cutting back on screen time, Walker says). But he’s also been happily doing some hard labor — building an impressive playhouse for daughter Mary Elizabeth.
“My daughter has been asking me to build a playhouse since she was 5, and now she’s 10,” Walker explains. “I didn’t realize how fast five years could go by. The bad news is it’s taken me this long to get it done, but the good news is it’s twice as big as it would have been. And to some degree, it could almost be a tiny house, because the way we’re doing the work is really high quality.”
Just like the stone-country hits he pumped out early in his career — many of them penned solo — Walker’s been building the playhouse to last.
“I’ve never been a carpenter, but being able to get my hands in it, take my time and understand how to do it … and just from the foundation up I’ve been able to have my hands in it and build it for her,” he says. “We go back there every construction milestone, and she and I will walk in there together, and I just see her face light up.”
Other quarantine-parenting highlights include his seven-year-old son singing a deep cut off one of Walker’s old albums (“Dad, don’t you know I’m your biggest fan?” he said). But it’s hard for the singer-songwriter not to worry about the future of the job he loves so much.
“I just hope there’s a place for concerts in the future, I really do,” Walker admits. “I think joy is the reward for living good. And if you can’t get out and be with people you love, and do things you wanna do, is that living good? Would you have joy? I would not. I’m a herd animal. I love my family, and I sure want to be out there performing, and feeling those endorphins and all those feelings that come with sharing music that I love with other people. I think at some point we will take that risk.”
With that in mind, Walker’s also been hard at work on new music for those fans. He only just released Long Live the Cowboy in 2019, but his new single, “Easy Goin,” marks a new chapter — a clever twist on a familiar phrase with an instant-classic feel. And there’s more on the way. All this time he’s be recording a brand-new album with a big-name producer, and hopes to share with fans this year.
“It’s going fantastic,” Walker says. “I’ve been working with Michael Knox, who is a great producer who produces Jason Aldean among others, and he really knows how to get it done. I feel like we have songs I’ve already recorded that are more than viable — I think they’re smashes that will get on the radio and people will stream them and love them.”
Walker goes on to explain he’s recording vocals from home, while Knox is leading things in the studio with socially-distanced musicians, and each song is either written by him or based on something he’s lived. The current situation offers no lack of inspiration, he explains, and offers up a new track called “We All Need a Bar” as example.
“I think that one’s gonna hit home pretty hard,” he says with a chuckle.
“I was watching a Merle Haggard interview the other day and the way he answered a question really effected me,” Walker continues. “He was about my age in the interview, and they asked him why he recorded a particular song. His response was ‘I have never recorded a song I haven’t lived first,’ and it hit me in a big way. It was like, looking back through my career, could I say that about every song? I’m still going through the songs trying to figure that out, but for the most part, ‘Yes.’ And moving forward, that will be an even clearer, more resounding ‘Yes.’
“Success now is going to mean writing everything from the heart, and giving everybody a heads up on where I am at this time in my life — and maybe even a little bit about where I’ve been. It’s gonna be fun.”