Getting motivated for a summer tour just got a little easier for Tim McGraw after his latest album, "Set This Circus Down," debuted at the top of the Country charts. For nearly a decade, McGraw has been one of the most exciting and successful artists to come out of the Nashville circuit. His summer 2000 tour with wife Faith Hill saw nightly sell-outs and garnered some of the highest ticket grosses on record. So what's left? Tim recently sat down with Guitar Center to talk about what's next for him.
GC: Can you tell us about your new CD, "Set This Circus Down?"
Tim McGraw: Out of all the records I've made, I feel I'm closest to the mark of the sound and the feel that I had in my head when I wanted to make a record. I feel like I've improved every album and gotten better and gotten closer to that mark. But this is the closest to what I've actually heard and tried to get down on the tape as any record I've done.
GC: Tell me what do you think about giving a lucky fan, our contest winner, the chance to go on tour with you?
Tim McGraw: They might like it for a while. The food is always good. That's the main thing. If you don't work-out, you'll gain a lot of weight. But it would be a great experience. We love being on the road. Not as much as we used to because we're getting older now. But you know it's a part of the whole lifestyle of wanting to do this when you were a kid.
GC: We're interested in how you choose material for your albums. Can you describe the process and do you have a final word on whether a certain song makes it or not?
Tim McGraw: Nobody, nobody picks the songs I do but me. As far as the process goes, you listen to a lot of songs and before I go into the studio, I kind of have this idea of the sounds I want to have on a record and the feel that I want. It's nothing that you can put your finger on or write down and say exactly what it is. You just have this feel for what you want on the record to be. Then you start looking for songs that fit that, songs that you can incorporate guitar sounds that you hear, and the feels that you hear and how they'll tie together. Secondly, you got to pick songs you think you can handle well. I don't want to go out there and pick a song that you burn your shirt on that you can't sing. So, all those factors combined and not necessarily what's playing on radio or not what other artists are trying or things like that. I think if you do that, you kind of get caught in a trap. You just kind of got to go in with blinders on and cut the kind of record that you hear in your head.
GC: You've co-produced several records for other artists, as well as your own, what does that entail and what is the difference between producing and co-producing?
Tim McGraw: Well, co-producing or producing is the same thing. It's just that more than one person is doing it. I think more than anything is the creative thing for me. I'm not real technical. But I like the process of putting a track together and going into the studio with a lot of players and having the song come from a demo tape. I'll have these ideas of how you want the songs to sound on the guitars to the keyboards to the sounds of the drums. The arrangement, you know. That's what producers do when they're in the studio. You don't tell the guitar player how to play. You don't tell the drummer how to play. You want them to play the way they play and add their artistic step to it.
GC: Is that what makes a good producer?
Tim McGraw: I think all of those things combined. Having a vision of how you want things to sound is the main thing. Then, being able to articulate and communicate with the other players of what that vision is and trying to get as close to that as you can.
GC: What kind of preparation goes into a tour? Do you feel pressure to top yourself each time you go out on the road?
Tim McGraw: I don't feel pressure to top myself. The only pressure I feel is to do a good job and have fun. I think we're having fun up there no matter how many lights and screens and everything we have. Although, we like to have all the toys because it's fun for us. But you have to come up with the designs for and build the stage. All this comes with numerous conversations with everybody that works for you, ideas that you have, ideas that your band members might have after shows and things like that. You're always accumulating ideas. It's an ongoing process. It's nothing that ever stops and finishes. It's cyclical. You're always working on how you want to do it.
GC: Do the shows change for you from night to night a lot?
Tim McGraw: They stay pretty consistent. Little things change that probably a lot of other people wouldn't notice. You play better and you sing better some nights than you do others. But generally once you're up and running on a tour, you try to keep everything as close to the same as you can and try to keep it fun.
GC: I believe you've played with the same musicians now for about ten years, haven't you?
Tim McGraw: Yeah, for the most part. Some of them a little longer, some of them just a little shorter.
GC: The musicians you choose for your live show is your band, really.
Tim McGraw: That's my band, absolutely. It's my band that I've had since we were playing clubs, since before I could pay them.
GC: Is it the same band that you record with?
Tim McGraw: No it's not. Although, we'll go in and record an album sometime in the future. We have recorded live stuff a lot before, as well.
GC: How do you choose players for sessions?
Tim McGraw: Mainly when you go into the studio, you have such a limited time and everybody's been working on the road, working hard. Everybody wants to shut down. So, you come in and keep it rolling and cut an album with studio musicians are used to to being in there all the time. That's what they do.
GC: Do you choose those musicians that you record with?
Tim McGraw: Yes, myself and the other co-producers of the record.
GC: Why are you playing guitar only on a few tunes during your show?
Tim McGraw: Because I move around a lot and I won't stand in one place too long. I used to play guitar a lot more at my shows. I enjoy it when I do the songs that I do play and try to pick the right songs to do. It's kind of hard to move around with a guitar and carry a microphone and play all at the same time.
GC: What kinds of guitars do you play?
Tim McGraw: I got Taylor guitars that I absolutely love. I played a Rickenbacker a little bit last year. I've got some Gibsons that I love. So, I play a lot of different things.
GC: Guitars that you have just always been attached to?
Tim McGraw: Yes or just something that I think is right for the song.
GC: How do you warm up before a performance?
Tim McGraw: I don't (laughs). I should. It's the wrong thing to do, but I don't. I just usually go into the band's room and hang out with those guys.
GC: There's no vocal exercises or anything that you do?
Tim McGraw: No, nothing like that.
GC: Do you have a home studio that you use for recording?
Tim McGraw: No I don't. I record in a few different places, but no one particular place. Probably my favorite place in Nashville would be an old church there.
GC: Do you keep a guitar sitting next to the couch though in case you get an idea while you're watching TV?
Tim McGraw: Yeah, there is always a guitar lying around the house.
GC: Do you have any particular microphones that you like to use for live vocals or recording?
Tim McGraw: I use mainly Sennheiser live. We went through a lot of different mikes and that was my favorite one with the sound of my voice.
GC: And recording, do you have a preference?
Tim McGraw: We switch back and forth a little bit, depending on the song, between Neumann 47s and 67s.
GC: What advice would you have for a young player who might want to model their career after yours?
Tim McGraw: Don't. (laughs)
GC: What would you tell someone who asked, "How can I be successful and get to where you are?"
Tim McGraw: There really isn't any answer for that. There's no way to tell anybody how to be successful. It's such an intangible thing. So many things have to come together at the right time. The only thing I can say that you can do is to work hard and believe in what you're doing. I think there's a lot of different kinds of talent that get you to be successful and there's no way to put one finger on it.
GC: Do you ever shop at Guitar Center?
Tim McGraw: Yeah I have, actually. I got my Rickenbacker at a Guitar Center on a home tour last year because I decided that I wanted one. So, I went out and got one. It was great.
GC: Thanks a lot for your time.