No bro country here: In advance of his 17th LP, Cosmic Hallelujah, the Nashville star and perennial touring favorite, 48, caught up with EW to discuss finding inspiration in Pink, paradise, putting down his phone — and why you’ll never hear him singing a song about a truck.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You recently wrapped up a massive summer tour with Miranda Lambert and Sam Hunt. How have you been unwinding?
Kenny Chesney: I’ve watched both seasons of Narcos since I’ve been off the road. [Laughs] I loved it! Leaving tour, there are so many emotions. You look so forward to getting off the bus, but then it’s so great out there that you don’t want to let it go. And there’s all this great energy of thousands of people coming directly at you every night, and then, all of a sudden, it’s silent. That’s always a tough transition.
The record was supposed to come out in July. What happened?
I wanted the Pink song [“Setting the World on Fire”] to be the first single, but her camp wasn’t ready, so we went with “Noise.” Once we changed the schedule, it allowed me to dig a little deeper and give myself another three months of seeing what songs I could write.
“Noise” ended up being quite timely, though. The message served as an antidote to this year’s constant election news.
I don’t think my fans expected a statement like that. People have never come to me for political advice. [Laughs] But you write songs about how you feel. We are bombarded from the moment we get up. I found myself constantly living in my phone, and when we aren’t living in our phones, we turn on the TV and are being told what to think and what to buy and how to act. It becomes white noise.
What’s it like to collaborate with a pop star like Pink?
When we got in the studio, the blend was just magic. It just goes to show you how universal music really is. We sound like family—and that’s a cosmic hallelujah! And I don’t think she has a voice, I think she has a God-given instrument.
What inspired “Bar at the End of the World”?
That song is about escaping everything in your life, whether it’s the election or your job or whatever is weighing you down. I think there is a part of all of us that wakes up one day and says, “I want to find a bar that is as far away as I possibly can, and just sit there.”
What’s your go-to escape?
It usually involves a boat with a lot of friends and a few cold beers and Bob Marley and suntan oil. I usually have a guitar handy and sooner or later become creative. My favorite day is when I can wake up on my boat and jump in the ocean and get back up and turn on some music and just sit there and watch the sun move across the sky.
While you do write your own material, you also work with other songwriters, too. What do you look for in a song?
There are a lot of acts in our genre singing about trucks and hooking up and “What’s up?” and “Hey, girl” — you hear that in every song, and I can’t sing that song. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, and that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be rocking. I really believe that it can be all of those things, but it can also make you laugh and make you fall in love or be happy or be sad.
What does Cosmic Hallelujah mean, anyway?
[My new song] “Trip Around the Sun” gave us that line, “It’s a cosmic hallelujah that we’re sitting here right now,” and when I heard that, it defined everything. The fact that I get to make music and it makes a lot of people smile and makes a lot of people happy and has brought a lot of people together…a lot of stars had to align for that to be right.
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