Justin Moore just can’t help it. Country music keeps evolving, adding thumping beats and snap tracks and auto-tuned vocals, while he keeps putting out tunes with a traditional twang. And somehow, it keeps working.
The Arkansas native has another Number One on his hands this week, notching a milestone chart topper with the gentle country nostalgia of “We Didn’t Have Much.” The tender midtempo marks the 10th Number One of Moore’s career, and comes almost 15 years into his career. But if you ask him how he does it, Moore admits even he can’t tell for sure.
“It’s mind blowing,” the hit maker tells Sounds Like Nashville, speaking by phone after appearing at the Music City Grand Prix in early August. “I signed my record deal in ‘07, and shoot, I just hoped to have a hit or two and be able to play for the rest of my life off of that. The fact that we’re still doing it, and for whatever reason having hits every year since then, I don’t know what to attribute it to. … But I’m damn thankful for it. It’s been a fun ride.”
In fact, four of Moore’s last five singles have reached the Number One peak at country radio — and every one of them felt like a throwback. From rowdy honky-tonkers to the heartfelt ballads, tracks like “Why We Drink” and “The Ones Who Didn’t Make It Back Home” have featured Moore’s dynamic drawl and a timeless sound, with the hits going all the way back to 2009’s “Small Town USA.”
Through that time, many trends have come and gone, but Moore has essentially stayed the same. And that’s just how he likes it.
“I think I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been,” he admits. “We’re not out there trying to chase a trend or the hot new sound or whatever, I’m just making as traditional and good of country music as I can, right now. And you know, for whatever reason it’s still working.”
As hard is it may be to believe, though, there was a time when Moore considered a different route. A few years after he started, the so-called “bro-country” movement was in full swing, and Moore says he was tempted to follow the pack. … But only for a minute or two.
“There were times when it was like ‘Dang, do we need to do some more of that stuff? Cuz it is hot right now.’ But in the end it was never really me,” he explains. “There are guys and gals out there who do that a lot better than me, so fortunately, we didn’t really feel like we needed to chase that down.
“Besides, fans can tell if you’re being real with them or not,” Moore goes on. “If I had gone out there and tried to play that part, they would have known. They would have been able to see through the B.S. At the end of the day, I make music for the fans, but I make it moreso for myself, and I’ve gotta be proud of it and love it. Otherwise I ain’t gonna wanna go out and sing it onstage every night.”
Written by Jermey Stover, Randy Montana and Paul DiGiovanni, Moore is especially proud of “We Didn’t Have Much.” With its loping rhythm and vivid imagery, it speaks to the little things in life that end up becoming massively important, and reminds Moore of how he grew up in the ’80s and ’90s — “back when we dint have a computer in our hand all day,” he says with laugh.
After becoming his 10th Number One, it was bound to have a special place in the singer’s heart, but it actually means even more considering how it came out. “We Didn’t Have Much” was written and recorded before COVID-19, and rolled out just as the initial wave was spreading in early 2020. It’s like a timestamp of a world in transition now, and looking back, Moore says it’s almost eerie how the simple-life theme parallels his actual experience.
“When COVID did hit, it took on a whole different meaning, at least to me,” he says of the track. “I know my family and a lot of others, we were forced to lead a much more simple lifestyle, cooped up in the house and all that good stuff. So it took on a different meaning then, and it will always remind me of what we’ve all dealt with and went through. There will be an asterisk next to it for sure.”
Moore is currently out on the road, headlining shows for fans who seem more excited than ever to be at live concerts. But with COVID rates spiking again and hospitals filling up, he can’t deny there’s some deja vu going around the country music industry. Artists like Garth Brooks and Florida Georgia Line have already cancelled their fall concert tours, and everyone else is waiting nervously to see some improvement in the numbers.
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“It’s something I know that none of us want to even think about,” he says of more concert cancellations. “You know, there’s a lot of things more important than going out and playing concerts. But to us, it’s the way we pay our bills, and the way a lot of people get paid. … It’s something I think we’re all cautiously optimistic about, but certainly it’s out there and we’ll have to handle it as it comes along here, and do what we have to do.”
For now, though, Justin Moore is just grateful to be in the position he is, celebrating another Number One and a return to the stage, as he continues to represent country tradition in a very non-traditional time. That might not have always been the case, but these days, he just can’t help it.
“I know from my perspective … there were moments when human nature takes over and you take things for granted, and I’m sure I fell into that trap,” he admits. “But certainly we won’t do that any longer. I’m over the top thankful every time I walk out onstage, and try to convey that to the audience.”