Don’t judge a book by its cover.
It’s a notion my mother repeatedly strives to instill within me – one my dreadfully judgmental subconscious and I have yet to grasp.
For starters, I refuse to comprehend the cliché literally – or literarily, I suppose. I skim the shelves of Barnes and Noble searching for a cover that says, “if I were a movie, the cast would consist of Reese Witherspoon and an eternally-shirtless Ryan Gosling.”
Surely at this juncture you can venture a guess as to what conclusions I might draw from a man with a stud through his eyebrow, covered in more ink than a dive bar restroom.
First off, Aaron Lewis is a rocker – this I judged. And as lead vocalist and guitarist for multi-platinum rock band, Staind – of the seven albums the group has released, three have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 – this guy rocks at rocking. Then, as if conquering one genre of music wasn’t enough to prove his musical prowess, he returned to his roots last year to release a solo country EP entitled Town Line, which included the autobiographical hit “Country Boy.” Now he’s gearing up to release his first full-length solo country album, The Road, on September 11th.
What wasn’t immediately apparent from this tough exterior was Aaron Lewis, family man and philanthropist. As per usual, I was wrong, momma was right – tsk, tsk, subconscious.
Three years ago, Lewis and his wife Vanessa founded It Takes a Community, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving community involvement and sustainability within the local education system. On August 11th, Lewis hosted the first annual Aaron Lewis Invitational Charity Golf Tournament, held at the Crumpin-Fox Golf Club in Worthington, MA to benefit the local R.H. Cornwell Community Education Center. Several days before the tournament, Aaron shared with CMP how it all began, and what’s ahead for his solo career.
CMP: What first inspired you to found It Takes a Community?
AL: It was the fight that we, the people of my town, were having with the school district about closing down the elementary school – which would’ve caused our kids to have to be on a bus for over an hour each direction going to and from school…and that just wasn’t acceptable to me. So when they closed the school, I leased the building and reopened the school as a privately funded community school and we’re going into our third year.
CMP: It must have really hit home for you, since it was your daughter’s school in question.
AL: Yeah, that’s what really started the whole thing. It’s the experiment to see if we can successfully put a school together – that it can be fully self-sufficient, completely run by donations – that we can put the responsibility of educating our kids back into the community. I know for a fact that it doesn’t say anything about the government controlling the education of our children in the Constitution.
CMP: Now that you’ve accomplished your original goal of re-opening this particular school, what are you focusing on now with ITAC?
AL: We’re at the point where were going to be taking on other projects and doing this in other communities all over. It doesn’t have to be reopening a school, it can be building a playground at a school that doesn’t have one, it can be anything that brings a community together and has to do with the kids.
CMP: How has the organization changed since its conception three years ago?
AL: There’s been an amazing amount of community volunteerism and there’s a learning curve here. It was parents that came together and took back this school. We’re learning as we go so that next time it will go much smoother. It’s been quite the ride.
CMP: Can you tell us a little about your new album, The Road?
AL: Well it’s an album I recorded while I was out on tour with Staind. We’d do three or four shows in a row and then on our day off, instead of taking a day off, I’d jump on a plane to Nashville and work in the studio for the day. At the end of the day, jump back on a plane and head back to wherever I was doing a show with Staind. Obviously a lot of elements of the road came into the lyrical content of the record, so it made sense to call it The Road. It’s very country. It’s a transitional record.
CMP: How different is the songwriting process for you on a country album versus a rock album?
AL: With the country, it’s a solo project so I’m in control and I don’t have to share that control with anyone else. It’s truly my pure vision of the song – so in that sense it differs quite a bit. There’s four members in Staind, that bring distinctly different things to the table. It’s a shared cooperative, if you will.
CMP: How does the energy at a show differ between the two genres?
AL: I think there might still be an element of confusion, because I’ve been doing the solo thing for a long time – about 11 or 12 years – and it’s slowly morphed into a more country direction. Now my solo shows aren’t solo, I have a full band with me. So there’s those that didn’t pay much attention to the advertising, and came to see what I’ve been doing over the last 10 or 12 years – and it’s not that. I’m trying to show all the naysayers that I’m committed to the country genre as a solo artist. I’m really staying away from all the songs that always got a great response when I played them and I’m really putting my ass on the line. In my catalog of songs from over the years – that I’ve written and my band has written – I can play a full 90-minute set of nothing but radio singles. But instead I’ve been playing a full set where the majority of songs people haven’t heard yet because they’re on the new record. And I’m only very slightly hitting my past history catalogue at all. There’s only two other songs I’m playing and those are songs I wrote on an acoustic guitar and brought to the band. So there’s been that little element of confusion, but at same time it’s been amazing and people have been very receptive to this thing that I’m doing.
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