Phil Vassar isn’t new to writing foot-tapping, heart-pumping songs that inspire and get you thinking. He’s penned No. 1 hits like, “Just Another Day in Paradise” and “In a Real Love,” and his current single, “Everywhere I Go,” is climbing the charts. His latest release, “Traveling Circus,” not only expands his role as a motivator, romancer and jokester, but highlights him as a leader. “I’m in a great place,” Vassar told Country Music Pride. “I realize where I am, and I get it.”
“Traveling Circus,” which Vassar self-produced and released earlier this month, debuted on Billboard’s Top Country Album chart at 29 last week, and features its first single, “Bobbi with an I.” CMP chats with Vassar about the new album, writing for his first musical and what he likes to sing in the shower.
CMP: What makes this album different from the rest?
PV: This is the first record I did by myself, and my band and I had complete control from the cover artwork to the songs and everything else. It’s been a pretty freeing experience, and it’s neat to have a tally on this stuff. That is actually really rare — normally you have someone breathing down your neck. I’ve produced every record myself or with someone, which is a lot of fun, but it’s a different experience on your own. It’s time to do things differently.
CMP: What was your inspiration for the album?
PV: It was definitely time. I’ve been writing like crazy and had 20 songs to choose from, and ended up with 11 on the record. Up to the last day, I cut [the first song on the album] “Life.” I also have a song I wrote with Kenny Chesney about when one of us went through a breakup; Lord knows how many times that’s happened.
CMP: Why do you consider this to be your best album yet? Is it because you had complete control over it?
PV: Absolutely. Having the opportunity to be this creative is such a great experience. Universal let me do it. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t care or worry, but whatever the reason, they thought I could handle it. It’s great to work with folks that you love.
CMP: What’s your favorite song on the new album?
PV: Every day I think it changes it. Right now it’s “She’s On Her Way,” which is about my two daughters. I also like “A Year from Now,” and “Where Have All the Pianos Gone.”
CMP: How close to home is the song “Bobbi with an I”?
PV: It’s a true story. I’m not that good, I could never think of something that funny. It’s not me, I just got a buddy and he’s really outrageous. It’s really funny. Of course I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to do it if I wasn’t doing this record myself. It’s funny and it’s true. I think the world is getting too politically correct.
CMP: Why did you choose that as your first single?
PV: I just sent it out to friends of mine at country radio. Everyone was scared of it. They were thinking, “We can’t play that, we’re gonna get hate mail.” Everyone went crazy about it, so we do it in concert now and it’s one of the big songs. We need to live in an age where people aren’t afraid to do their job.
CMP: You’re quoted saying “You write where you are in life.” Where would you say you are now?
PV: I think personally I’m in a great place. I realize where I am, and I get it. It’s truly a good place to be. I don’t sweat the small crap; I just don’t let it bother me like I used to. I dwell on things that are more important. You learn to do it and you don’t care. You grow up and you care too much. It’s not that I don’t care anymore, it’s that I realized what’s important.
CMP: Did you consider putting any outside input on the album?
PV: For this particular record, I’ve written so many songs in the last year I had so many to choose from. I didn’t even look at or listen to any outside stuff. I don’t know if I’ve cut my last outside song — I dunno if I have or not — but of course if something came around I would consider it.
CMP: Why did you decide to hire your road band for the record?
PV: One of the problems I’ve always had is matching the energy I have on stage. My shows are rock and power — it’s not just a show where you would sit and watch Alan Jackson play a song. No, he’s great and everyone has their own style, but mine is more like listening to Van Halen and watching big rock and arena bands. Garth Brooks did that. That’s my show, and I’ve never matched the energy [on an album]. I think what we did in the studio is exactly what we did on stage. I wanted to do it this way, hit or miss. This is the opportunity for these guys to shine.
CMP: How long did it take to record “Traveling Circus?”
PV: We cut it over a series of several months — we were still touring at the time.
CMP: What’s your all-time favorite song to play live?
PV: “Six-Pack Summer” still goes over great. “Bobbi with an I” everyone goes nuts for. Usually in the concert I try to pull the new stuff.
CMP: What are some of your upcoming holiday plans?
PV: I thought about going to the beach, but I think I’m gonna stay home in Nashville and just hang out. I’ve traveled so much this year, so I’m gonna hang out at home and do nothing.
CMP: Do you ski or snowboard?
PV: I’m more of a skier, but I just learned to snowboard. I didn’t grow up skiing very much. I played football, and if we got caught skiing we’d get in big trouble. I try to work out and exercise, I feel like crap when I don’t. I’m not an avid golfer like I used to be, and I’m not a skier like I want to be. I’m just trying to do more things.
CMP: Do you sing in the shower? What song usually comes to mind?
PV: It depends on who’s in there with me. If I have a group of people in there with me, I usually let them do the singing. I’m just kidding. I really don’t ever sing in the shower. I sing all the time. That’s like asking an accountant, “Can you work with numbers?” Singing’s a lot of fun, I just do it all the time.
CMP: What else are you working on right now?
PV: I’m currently writing the music for the Broadway play “Waitress.” It’s my first play, and it could be a total disaster. It’s supposed to come out next year or next summer. I’m hot and heavy on it right now.