Over the past 20 years, Aaron Watson has been paving a road for himself on the country music highway. Over the course of a dozen albums, Watson has earned himself a loyal following all over the world.
Twenty years after he debuted, Watson has delivered a 20-song gem, collectively known as Red Bandana. The album, which Watson labels as his most personal album to date, takes listeners on a journey which will have something for listeners in all walks of life.
Read along as Watson details penning all 20 songs on Red Bandana, the inspiration behind some of the album’s most heartfelt songs, opening himself up for his fans, and so much more.
Southern Music Scene: You wrote all 20 songs on “Red Bandana” by yourself. Can you talk about your writing process on this album and what you hope people take away from it after listening all the way through?
Aaron Watson: I wanted to put 20 songs on this album for several reasons. I think it signifies the 20 years that I’ve been making music. I wanted to give fans the ultimate project, something more special than anything I’ve ever offered them before. I literally poured my heart and soul into this album. I wanted to give these fans not just quality, but quantity as well, and give them a real experience. It took 20 songs to say what I needed to say on this record.
SMS: The Underdog and Vaquero produced some of your hits and brought your biggest success yet. With the release of Red Bandana, are you feeling any pressure to match the success you found with your previous two albums, especially having written the entire album yourself?
AW: Of course there’s pressure, but to me, Red Bandana is not only the name of the album, it signifies who I am and my career thus far. It’s a symbol for cowboys, grit, hard work, hustle, and blood, sweat, and tears. It’s taken me 20 years to get to this point, and I feel like this album is the one.
SMS: Why did you choose to release “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” as the lead single from Red Bandana?
AW: It’s a light-hearted song. It’s not a heart string tugger, it’s an up-beat boot stomper. It’s one of those songs when you’re in your car, you roll the windows down and turn it all the way up. It’s one of my favorite songs off of the new album, and it is so much fun to play live.
SMS: What has the success of “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” meant to you prior to the release of Red Bandana? Does that provide a certain level of validation about the project as a whole before its release?
AW: I don’t know that it validates anything. I have been doing this for 20 years. The first dozen records, we put them out without the success of any type of single. It makes me happy that the fans are loving this song and are singing along at the live shows. It makes me feel great, and maybe that’s a form of validation.
SMS: How true do the lyrics of “Trying Like the Devil” ring to your life? What do you hope people learn about you from this song?
AW: “Trying Like the Devil” is a special song to me. It was inspired after I heard the tragic news about a local boy in our town who had committed suicide. He had so many great things going for him, and nobody saw it coming, and nobody knew he had that pain on the inside. A few days later, his dad posted something on social media and said that his son didn’t feel good enough and that he was comparing himself to things that weren't realistic. His dad just cried out to the general public, especially celebrities/singers to be more real on social media. Everybody puts their best foot forward these days and it’s almost a fairy tale life. I wanted to write a song where I really just bared my soul for the fans and just let them know that sometimes I’m down in the dumps, sometimes I’m depressed, sometimes I’m really struggling with some serious things, and that’s okay. I don’t give up, I keep moving forward, and sometimes when you get knocked down on the ground, you oughta just stay there and ask God to lift that burden off your heart. “Trying Like the Devil” is about my struggles and I wanted to be completely transparent with my fans. I think a lot people think I’m a Christian and have it all figured out, but the truth is, I’m so messed up that I need Jesus more than most people. I think my fans deserve honesty. I just wanted “Trying Like the Devil” to be a song that can uplift my fans when they’re going through a hard time in life and to let them know that I’m thinking of them and praying for them, and that they can get through the hard times.
SMS: “To Be the Moon” is a very touching song that was released as a grat-track from “Red Bandana.” Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind that song?
AW: There’s a kid that I’m friends with; his name is Hayden and he’s 11 years old. Hayden saw me on one of the award shows and said, “I want to be a star like you one day.” He’s very sarcastic with me, and we are always poking at each other, and I told him “I’m not a star,” and he asked, “Well, what are you then?” And I told him, “I guess I’m more like the moon.” It evolved into this concept of we’re not all stars and that’s okay. I wanted to write a song for that boy, and he’s not like other boys. He lives his whole life in a wheelchair and he can’t go out and play ball like the other boys. He has two brothers that can do all the things that other boys are doing, and he lives around that. I wrote that song for Hayden and myself. We’re not stars, we’re more like the moon, and it isn’t so bad to be the moon. The moon does a lot of really amazing things too.
SMS: You’ve gone to great lengths to make “Red Bandana” perhaps your most personal album to date. How important was it for you to take that step two decades after the release of your first album?
AW: Well, it was important to me that there was something for everyone on this record. I have been doing this for 20 years, and it felt like it took me 20 songs to say exactly what I wanted to say on this album. Whether it be a cowboy poem, or some up beat barn burners that people can dance to. I wanted this album to have songs that people can fall in love to, songs that when people are grieving or hurting, they can have something that uplifts their spirits and songs that are impactful and have meaning.
SMS: Much attention is being drawn to the Texas country music scene after the success of Cody Johnson’s Ain’t Nothin’ to It. For those that may not be familiar with it or are getting acclimated with it for the first time, what is it that makes the Texas country music scene so special?
AW: Long before myself or Cody, there was Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. To me, Texas music is more about independence and plowing your own path, and I think that’s what intrigues people about Texas music. It's guys making their own music and playing by their own rules.