Blake: The Mercury News


Blake Shelton talks ‘God’s Country,’ SAP Center 25 concert

Blake Shelton has been a constant presence on the country music charts since releasing his self-titled, platinum-certified debut in 2001.

The country crooner’s long string of hits includes “I’ll Name the Dogs,” “Came Here to Forget,” “Sangria,” “Mine Would Be You,” “Boys ‘Round Here” and, the recent chart-topper, “God’s Country.”

He’s also well known as a judge on TV’s “The Voice” and for dating co-star Gwen Stefani.

We recently interviewed Shelton, who performs Sept. 13 at the SAP Center at San Jose. Hunter Hayes and Devin Dawson are also on the bill. Show time is 8 p.m. and tickets are $49-$199, www.ticketmaster.com.

The show is part of the SAP Center 25 Festival Weekend, a three-day celebration of the venue’s 25th anniversary that runs Sept. 13-15. Following Shelton will be Kings of the West (featuring Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and others) on Sept. 14 and Colombian singer-songwriter-rapper Maluma on Sept. 15. (For more information, visit www.sapcenter.com/sapcenter25festivalweekend.)

Q: When you play a show in the Bay Area, what do you know you’ll get — in terms of energy or emotion — from the crowd?

A: I’ve always been shocked at how strong the country music fanbase is in the Bay Area. The energy the audience has is unforgettable, and I always love coming back. I’m excited to perform my new songs “God’s Country” and “Hell Right” for the first time for these West Coast fans.

Q: Speaking of “God’s Country”– it’s one of the best things you’ve recorded. What was your reaction when you heard the song the first time?

A: You know, I wasn’t even looking for new music at the time. My producer Scott Hendricks said, “Man, I’ve got this song you’ve got to hear.” He sent it to me when I was on my tractor, and when it came on I just stopped. I called him and said, “We have to record this now.” I think this song is a sound that is missing in country music right now, and I’m so excited to have been able to record it. It seems like the fans love it as much as I do.

Q: What does the term “God’s Country” mean to you? Does it have a zip code? Can we find it on a map? Is it in the South (noting lyrical references to Dixie and Georgia)?

A: God’s Country for me is Oklahoma. It’s where I was born, where I live and where I will die. But I think everyone has their own God’s Country. I also think it can be representative of both a physical and mental state. Maybe it has a zip code, maybe it doesn’t. It might have a bar — mine does!

Q: The imagery conjured up in the song is just so vivid. Is that kind of America — the “one church town” pictured in the song — still very much alive today? It can be hard to tell sometimes, living in a metropolitan area like Silicon Valley.

A: One of the writers of the song, Devin Dawson, is actually from Orangevale, California. I guess there are a lot of literal references to a more rural setting, but it’s really a song about working hard, and people work hard all over the country. I feel like you can apply the messages of hard work, loving where you’re from and family to anything in life.

Q: Will this be the title track of your next album? What can you tell us about the next full-length studio offering?

A: I don’t always name albums from song titles — it’s more about my state of mind at the time. I don’t know what the title of the next album is going to be, but we’ve already recorded four or five songs that I’m really excited about and that are in a different vein than the last few albums.

I’ve been saying, I’m really enjoying releasing individual songs. When we find something that resonates with us, we can go in the studio and record it and have it out in a matter of weeks. Both “God’s Country” and “Hell Right” had very fast turnaround times. To me, this is one of the most exciting ways to share new music with fans right now.

Q: Do you enjoy recording and performing live equally? Or does one appeal to you more?

A: You know, I love them both. Obviously I moved to Nashville when I was 18 to record songs and have them played on the radio, and I still love that part. But there’s nothing like being out there in front of a crowd, feeding off of that energy and having the shared experience of music with the audience. I used to tour a lot more, but I’m tired, man. I do about 25-30 shows a year, and that’s enough for me right now.

Q: Would you and Gwen ever consider touring together, a la Tim and Faith? Or maybe recording an album together?

A: You know, Gwen and I have written a couple of songs together. From the “If I’m Honest” album, “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” which we performed together on “The Voice” back in 2016. And then we wrote “You Make It Feel Like Christmas,” the title track from Gwen’s Christmas album that she released in 2017.

Q: Tell me about your recent Friends and Heroes Tour, featuring the Bellamy Brothers, John Anderson, Trace Adkins and Lauren Alaina. Anderson is a particular favorite of mine — “Seminole Wind,” what a song! Great idea for a tour.

A: I think I had more fun on tour last year than any other tour I’ve done. To be able to bring out a talented newcomer like Lauren Alaina and then some of my idols like Trace Adkins, the Bellamy Brothers, John Anderson was a treat, and every night was a blast. And recently I got Trace, who is also a great friend of mine, to sing with me on “Hell Right.” In my opinion, he has one of the best and most unique voices that has come out of Nashville in the last 20 years. I’m glad fans got to see that on tour and now on a new track.

Q: What should fans expect to see from the show in San Jose?

A: I hope they’re ready for a long night of music, because once I get up there and start playing I can’t stop. We’ll play some hits. We’ll play some not-hits. I’ll talk some crap. I’ll have a drink or two. It’s going to be great.

interviewNicole Barkerblake