By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2004
n the eyes of Tracy Lawrence, "Strong," his disc out in late March on DreamWorks, represents not only a debut for a hot label, but also a bid to resurrect his career.
That from a man who started his career blazing with hit single after hit single only to endure domestic and legal problems, a suspension in effect from his long-time label and an album 2 1/2 years ago that despite lots of good music, failed to light a spark either at radio or with consumers.
The Texas native is back with a mix that stays country while going for a bit more of a contemporary sound.
"I think my goal for this record was to try to expand my boundaries and reinvent myself to a degree," says Lawrence via cell phone somewhere en route between Hartford and Boston during a radio promotion tour. "This has been a real important time for me with the format. I'm not a format chaser. I never have been. To be commercially viable again, I had to see what was going with the format. This is a business - to be able to sell product and get airplay on the radio. You know, I had a lot of success in the '90s. That was then. I wanted to make something that was a little more edgier and more contemporary with what was going on in the marketplace."
"I took it more as a challenge to try to do things that I hadn't attempted to do before. What made it easier for me was actually having a producer that I have as 1,000 percent confidence in. I couldn't have done this album if I had done it myself. This was the time for me to give the producer the ball to leave it (with him) to record a contemporary album."
Said producer was James Stroud, not only the main cheese at DreamWorks, but also the fellow who produced Lawrence's first album for Atlantic, "Sticks and Stones," way back in 1991.
When Lawrence started cutting the album in about August 2002, DreamWorks was not in the picture. "This actually was an album that was actually recorded for Warner Brothers," says Lawrence.
(Lawrence's longstanding label, Atlantic, folded its Nashville division, which was taken over by sister company Warner).
But Lawrence does not sound exactly sad that he switched labels given his experience with "Tracy Lawrence" in 2001.
"That was pretty frustrating too because I thought it was a good album," says Lawrence of the self-titled album. "I thought there were some (hits) on that. It was disheartening because I think the label walked on that album. I tried to cut a really traditional record. It was a situation where I had to try to reinvent myself because I wasn't getting any more (attention). They didn't like my music. They didn't like the direction I was going. I was trying to create some excitement in the album."
"It's pretty disheartening when you spend a few months in the studio, and you put your artistic heart and soul in the music, and the label says 'nah, we don't think there's anything there we could use'. It makes you feel like a stepchild. Especially when you're shifted over from a label that just closed. "
"You step back and go, 'okay what am I doing wrong here?'" Lawrence says.
"I really feel I'm in a much better place," he says. "I want to be positive and look toward the future and focus where it is on here going in the next five years of my life. It's much more constructive than focus on what didn't happen at Warner."
Under his agreement with DreamWorks, Stroud was limited to producing one non-label act.
"We sat down and had a lengthy conversation," says Lawrence. "He really has a lot of confidence in me as an artist. When I got cut from Warner, James came in, and we went in and cut a couple of more sides."
As far as Stroud was concerned, he had himself a new artist for his label."It led me to getting a new start on a new label," says Lawrence. "It all kind of fell in line strange as it was."
Lawrence says he did consider other producers before going with Stroud, meeting with Buddy Cannon, Billy Joe Walker Jr. and Byron Gallimore. "I was actively searching for the right producer," says Lawrence. "When James and I sat down, we knew it was time for me to work (together) again...I had one more album (due to Warner). I was looking down the road. I had a really the desire to go to DreamWorks anyway. When I got released (from Warner), it happened sooner than I expected. But it was where I wanted to end up anyway. I really believe if it was not Stroud to produce this record, I probably would not have had a record label."
Lawrence says he did not really consider other labels because of the foundation already laid with Stroud. "There was so much stuff in the works that there didn't seem to be any reason to look anywhere else," he says.
RCA was a possibility, according to Lawrence, "but they already have a lot of hat acts over there. I want my own identity. I'm not overlapping with anybody at the (DreamWorks) label. I kind of have my own slot. It let me come into a situation where I was able to be myself. When they're releasing their albums and what kind of product they have, it's not like anything else they have. I think that's important from my perspective."