Ever Dreamed Of Learning Guitar? Get Started With A Free Chord Chart. Enter Email For Chord Chart

Staind's Aaron Lewis Comes Full Circle with a Move to Country

Genre jumping is common in music. For some, like Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell, whose unlikely collaboration with hip-hop producer Timbaland had fans in an uproar, a change in artistic direction scratches an itch. For some, the switch is instigated by a lineup change. Fleetwood Mac began as a blues outfit before burning up the charts as a pop rock band with the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Others venture into a different genre to rejuvenate a flagging career, à la the Bee Gees, who were a harmonizing soft rock act before they became disco deities. And then there are those who swap genres in answer to a calling, like Staind's Aaron Lewis.

The sullen, bodaciously-inked Lewis, who made a name for himself as one of heavy metal's all-time top vocalists and purveyors of angst, is trying a new genre on for size—namely, country. Not all his fans are on board with Lewis's about-face, however, and those who are not have been vocal about it. Judging by some of the scathing comments on social media during his country tour this summer, and by the few hecklers in the audience at a recent Aaron Lewis date in Pittsburgh (although considerably fewer than a performance here less than a year ago), some fans are slow in getting the memo or worse, are in complete denial. Aaron Lewis has gone country, y'all. Deal with it.

Anyone who's attended one of Aaron's solo acoustic tours as far back as three years ago can't say they didn't see it coming. Lewis has been priming fans for this move for some time, slipping "Country Boy" in between "It's Been Awhile" and "Everything Changes" on those unplugged gigs. Since those first hesitant steps, he's been busting his butt in an attempt to carve out a sideline career in country music in between his work with Staind.

This genre flip is not some passing fancy for Lewis. Starting over from scratch in a new genre is difficult. The 15 million-plus records he's sold in his career already with Staind don't mean jack to country fans. He has to prove himself all over again. Make no mistake. Aaron's foray into country is the real deal. And this isn't country-lite we're talking here either. Aaron's gone deep into old school country, into the backwoods, the musical stomping grounds of some of his idols like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., and Merle Haggard. For his efforts, Lewis has come up against a lot of close-minded people.

"I'll be honest with you, it's been a little mixed," Lewis tells the Connecticut Post of his reception as a country artist. "There are definitely Staind fans that wish that I would stop it and go back to Staind. And then there are Staind fans that are enjoying what I'm doing. A few have said things like, 'I never would have listened to country music before you, and now I find myself looking for other country music to listen to.'"

But convincing longtime fans of his crossover to country is one thing. Even more daunting is doing likewise with the traditionally insular world of country music, which hasn't always been accepting of outsiders. And you don't get any more an outsider than Lewis, who grew up in Massachusetts and has spent nearly two decades at the helm of a very successful hard rock band, singing songs like Staind's breakthrough hit, "Mudshovel". "I get country people that are suspect of my rock thing, and I get rock people who are suspect of my country thing," he says. But Aaron is making headway. The singer-songwriter's 2011 debut country EP, Town Line, garnered him the No. 1 spot on Billboard's top country albums chart, while his first single, "Country Boy," featuring George Jones, Charlie Daniels and Chris Young, was certified gold and earned Lewis multiple CMA, ACM and CMT Music Awards nominations. Aaron followed up with his first full-length country album, The Road, which charted at No. 7 after its release in November 2012.

Country music is in Aaron's blood. Like two sides of the same coin, family dysfunction led Lewis to write lyrics for Staind that made him the pied piper of the tormented. It also landed Aaron in his grandfather's care during his formative years, where the impressionable boy was steeped in country music.

Aaron Lewis was born to hippie parents on April 13, 1972, in Rutland, Vermont. Their house, a log cabin whose front yard was littered with pot plants, sat on the side of a mountain adjacent to a dirt road too precarious to drive on during the winter months. "They would have to drag me and the groceries up the hill on a sled," Lewis recalls. "And then we would sled down to the Volkswagen bus when it was time to leave." When he was very young, Aaron's parents played in a folk band, and he quickly became a fan of artists such as James Taylor, Harry Chapin, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

By the time Lewis's family had moved to New Hampshire in 1980, his parents had separated and reunited more than once. The new surroundings didn't improve the relationship. Aaron's parents split up a couple more times before moving to Springfield, Massachusetts, and finally divorcing when Lewis was thirteen. After the divorce, his mother moved back to New Hampshire and Aaron remained in Massachusetts with his father and the younger of his two sisters.

Lewis spent summers in rural Vermont hunting, fishing, and listening to country music 24/7 with his grandfather Corky, a WWII veteran. "When he got up in the morning that radio came on and it was on until right before he went to bed," Lewis tells Times Leader Online of his grandfather. "Country music was important to him and it was the first music I can remember listening to." During all the time spent in his grandfather's company, Aaron not only developed a love for the outdoors and the simple life, but the seeds of his love of country music were sown.

Lewis grew up a sensitive child, due in large part to the tension between his parents. "There wasn't much of a safe home atmosphere," he says. "There wasn't the feeling of a tight-knit family." The situation only worsened with the death of his grandfather. "My grandfather died, and his whole side of the family may as well have died with him, because we were basically disowned," Lewis says. "To have half of my family disappear left me with a lot of abandonment issues." To further compound matters, Lewis's childhood was marred by what he calls "a few bad people in the neighborhood." Older kids who picked on him. Bullies. "They didn't just beat me up. It was a little more than that," he says, cautious about adding more, but it's clear the experience left deep scars. Ultimately, it was music that offered Aaron a lifeline.

Although he was steeped in country, life had other plans for Aaron Lewis. After his grandfather's passing, there was really no more country music in his life. All his friends listened to rock music and that inevitably led Aaron down the path to being in his first rock band, J-CAT, and then to Staind, where Lewis drew freely from his traumatic childhood to write songs full of self-loathing and alienation. Songs that served as mutual therapy for fans and for Lewis himself.

Aaron was reacquainted with country music in 1999 when Staind toured with Kid Rock. Staind's tour bus had more people than it did beds, so Lewis took every opportunity to ride on Kid Rock's bus. The music he heard there—Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash and others—was the soundtrack of his childhood. "The only thing on the stereo was old country music," Lewis says in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "It was a blast from the past. It brought back all these memories. I haven't been able to get away from it since."

Lewis says the process of writing for a country audience has been amazing. He tells Eric Lacy of Michigan's MLive that, "the first country song I ever tried to write ended up with George Jones and Charlie Daniels and Chris Young on it. I mean, the first song ever that I tried to write! One day I just sat down and said 'You know what? I'm going to try and sit down and write a country song.' I’ve been telling my buddy that I hunt with all the time that I was going to write a country song—for years. So I thought, 'Let's see what I can do.' Then I wrote "Country Boy". And, you know, that was beginning of the end for my hardcore rock fans, and the beginning of the beginning for my country singing."

So where does Aaron's move to country leave Staind fans? Well, first off, no, Staind is not broken up. They are, however, on hiatus while Lewis pursues his country ambitions. Staind's lead guitarist, Mike Mushok, is now playing guitar for former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted’s new band, called Newsted, and bassist/vocalist Johnny April is enjoying a very long-awaited vacation. "Me and Mike, the creative writing team for the last decade and a half, are committed to other things at the moment," Aaron says. "But we are cool with each other and we're good. When the time feels right, we will go back in the studio again and write another [Staind] record." In the meantime, Aaron Lewis is right where he belongs—singing songs about his country, about fishing with his daughter, and about partying in hell with Waylon, Merle, and Jim Beam.

More Content by Category