Jon Pardi Talks Confidence, Fear and Traditional Country Music

What's your favorite song from Heartache Medication?

Written by Deborah Evans Price
Jon Pardi Talks Confidence, Fear and Traditional Country Music
Jon Pardi; Photo credit: Jim Wright

Striding into a conference room in the Universal Music Group Nashville office, Jon Pardi is wearing his trademark cowboy hat and a big smile. He’s there to talk about his new album, Heartache Medication, which released on September 27, and by his own admission, he’s feeling a mixture of emotions that run the gamut from excitement to confidence to insecurity.

“I felt confident making the record and then I got real nervous after,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I needed the confidence going in to record these songs and make a great record… and then you are like, ‘Are they going to like it? I don’t know.’ Then it’s like you are in your own head and all confidence is lost. All kinds of crazy thoughts come to your mind after you are all done.”

Jon Pardi; Photo Credit: Jim Wright
Jon Pardi; Photo Credit: Jim Wright

Following up the success of his 2016 sophomore album, California Sunrise, would make anyone a little nervous. After all, that record debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and spawned five hit singles, among them such chart toppers as “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt on My Boots.” “It’s the same, but it’s different than California Sunrise. It has the same energy, but it’s a slightly different sound,” he says.

Though it might be a little different, Pardi is still unabashedly waving the flag for traditional country music. When asked why that’s important to him, he rises from his chair, walks around the room, and looks out the window. “I’m looking around for everybody else who is trying to do that,” he grins mischievously.  “I don’t think there’s too many people. I don’t care what you bring into country music as long as it’s good music. For me, if you [asked] me what country music is, that’s my record. That’s how I feel.”

Pardi wrote seven of the 14 tracks and co-produced the album with longtime collaborators Bart Butler and Ryan Gore. “My goal as an artist is to have the best songs, so the best songs win regardless,” the California native says. “It’s not just me picking the songs. It’s a group. We’re in a conference room just like this and we all tell our favorites. It starts which song can we not not have on the record, which songs HAVE to be on the record. That’s what we start with.”

As his career accelerates, time to write songs is more precious. He uses songwriting retreats and time on the bus as ways to make time for his writing. “There’s not a lot of time, but the retreats and bus rides really help,” he says. “I’m in a different spot now. I have my own bus and I have three bunks, so it’s easy to bring songwriters out.  I try to put my focus on 100% on writing at certain times. That’s why I like retreats because you can work with managers and publicists and tell them not to call. I’m going to write all weekend.”

Pardi wrote the title track/first single with Barry Dean and Natalie Hemby, and it’s currently climbing the charts. The single is buoyed by the video, which features his real life girlfriend Summer Duncan. “Summer is an amazing person. She puts up with a lot, and she can put up with being a music video girl,” Pardi says with a laugh, but then confesses her casting was actually accidental. The choreographer had brought in other dancers to audition for the part, but none seemed right.

“I told the choreographer, ‘I just want to swing dance and have a good time,’” Pardi says. “I told Joanna [Carter] who does all the music videos here at Universal, ‘Summer is down. We can use her.’ And she goes, ‘I wouldn’t use many girlfriends, but I love Summer. If you want it to happen, let’s do it!’ It made it a lot easier. We had so much fun doing it and I tell everybody, ‘Go get dance lessons. It’s fun. Don’t be afraid.’”

Pardi says he’s had dancing in some of his previous videos, but refers to it as “drunk cowboy dancing.” He says this time there’s an entirely different feel.  “It was great to have Summer, who I love,” he says. “You can see it all over the music video that we are in love and having a great time. It was a lot of fun. Everybody loved it. I’ve done maybe eight or nine music videos now and this was the first one where we got the first edit back from the director and we were like, ‘It’s good! I love it!’”

One of the songs on the album that is generating a lot of buzz is “Don’t Blame It On Whiskey,” which was written by Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Michael Heeney and Luke Laird. “It’ a great song and everybody wants to talk about it,” he says of the song, which features Lauren Alaina. “Lauren sounds amazing.  She tears it up. She always tears it up and in the studio she blew me away. She’s so talented and was so on it with every harmony. She was the perfect one to sing with me and it came out the way I wanted it. Eric is excited. I haven’t talked to Miranda, but we didn’t let them down. That was my main concern.”

Pardi co-wrote the last song on the album, “Starlight,” with Bart Butler and Jeffrey Steele. “‘Starlight’ was written about my grandmother who got me into country music,” he says. “I feel like everybody has guardian angels. You feel them and they are around… I miss [those] I lost, but I know they are there and they want me to keep going. This song has that spirit to it.”

Pardi fans will get to hear the 34-year-old traditionalist perform live on the road this fall as he kicks off the Heartache Medication Tour with two sold-out shows October 1 and 2 at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium and continues across the country with stops in Minneapolis, MN, Milwaukee, WI  and Oklahoma City, OK and other cities.

“What sets country music apart from most is we talk about our feelings and we sing about them,” he says. “It’s not about how many cars we have or how many [women] I’ve got in my music video. That’s why country music is so big and what sets us apart is because we give a damn about what we sing about.”