For the past eighteen years, Aaron Watson has been doggedly working nonstop, building his career and climbing his way to the top of the country charts.
The Texas native made history in 2015 when his album The Underdog, became the first album by an independent male artist to reach the top of the country charts, debuting in the No. 1 spot. And he’s done it all on his own, with no help from radio or the Nashville machine.
His latest offering, Vaquero—the followup to The Underdog—while outselling his previous album, debuted at No. 2 on BIllboard’s Country Album chart and still, Nashville shuns the Texas native. Because of this, Watson formed his own record label, appropriately called Big Label Records, and became “CEO and custodian” of his own career. At this point, Watson doesn’t need the help. He’s made it this far without outside assistance and admittedly, he’s is not looking for any.
“I love country music, and I love Nashville. But what people have to understand is that I’m a fighter,” Watson tells One Country. “And music is not an industry to me. It’s the family business. So I’m out to make a living for my family. A dad that’s out to make a living for his family, that’s a driven, driven, driven man.”
What drives the 40-year-old singer is his family—wife Kimberly and three kids, Jack, Jacob and Jolee. His current single, “Outta Style,” is straight from Watson’s own life, about his musical path and his relationship with his wife. The first single from Vaquero gives fans a peak into what the album is offering—namely some of Watson’s most radio-friendly tunes yet.
Courtesy Aaaron Watson Instagram
With “Outta Style” reaching No. 35 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, the “That Look” singer has no plans to change what he’s doing or the way he’s doing things. “At the end of the day there’s no way that I’m going to change who I am. This is who I am,” proclaims Watson. “This is my brand of country music. We are thankful for every spin. Whether it’s at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. But whether they play me or not, I am not going away. We’re gonna keep working hard, and we’re going to keep putting out records. And we are not a threat to anybody. We are, if anything, we’re out there waving that flag for country music.”
As Watson continues to wave country music’s flag, One Country sat down with the handsome Texan, at the esteemed Ryman Auditorium, to talk about his work ethic, the latest single and the current success he’s found all on his own.
One Country: Let’s start off with you’re current single, “Outta Style.” What’s the story behind it?
Aaron Watson: “It’s about my musical journey and my relationship with my wife—where it’s taken us. My wife and I were out on date. I had been gone a lot and mom and dad were watching the kids. We were talking about how crazy things had gotten. I mean, I was a few months away from headlining the Houston Rodeo for 70,000 people and there were some nerves. I was nervous about putting out Vaquero because The Underdog had made history. We were talking about how far we’ve come. Not just as an artist, but as a couple, as a family. And I was like, ‘you know, so much has changed, but the way we love is never going out of style.’ It’s just about our love—staying true to who I am.”
OC: What was your process for making Vaquero?
AW: “I always record three quarters of the album and then I live with it for about a month. I listen to what we have, and I think about what the album needs to be a completed project. Then we go back and record. We record three or four more songs. We always call it the bottom of the ninth session— I’ve done that with all of my records for the last 18 years. I feel like that is why my albums have a theme. They feel complete. Its not just, ‘here’s an X amount of songs, and just mix them up and throw them on there.’ There’s a thought process behind it.”
OC: You made history with your previous album, The Underdog. What’s been the response?
AW: “The Underdog became the first independent album to go number one, but everybody was like, ‘It’s what he does following this that’s really going to tell.’ I was getting that a lot, and a lot of people that are way high up on the totem pole at record labels said, ‘Hey, what you’ve done is great, but if you want to make this grow, you’ve gotta get away from your Texas cowboy thing.’ I was like, ‘we just charted an album number one, why would we?’ What’s that saying? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So on [the cover of Vaquero] we painted a Texas flag on the wall. We held it up, I held up my guitar in a very rebellious stance, and called it Vaquero, which means cowboy. But there was some nerves.
OC: You felt pressure to measure up?
AW: “Yeah, and I have to remind people that I’m not just the artist. I’m the CEO and the custodian of my record label. So, financially I am very aggressive, which makes me nervous sometimes because I’m also a dad and a husband. And my wife is also very financially aggressive, but not towards my business, towards purchasing things like purses, etc.,” Watson laughs.
OC: When you find success like that, does it feel like a big middle finger to those who didn’t believe in you?
AW: “Not really, No. For me, I’ve always dealt with that. I could take you back 18 years ago when I met with a head honcho at the biggest label in town and he told me that I didn’t have what it took. I went back home to Amarillo, and I told my dad that I was pretty upset. I said, ‘Dad, they said that I don’t have what it takes.’ My dad said, ‘It’s okay. It’s the same thing they told Willie [Nelson] for all those years.’ I was 20 at the time and I was like, ‘yeah.’ And my dad said, ‘Willie finally made it by the time he was 45.’ I remember going, ‘whoa!’ And I say this—I quote this all the time. I said, ‘Dad, are you telling me I’m going to have to grind it out for the next 25 years if I’m going to make it?’ And my dad looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Yeah, if you want it bad enough.’ So that changed my way of thinking. I kind of like it when somebody says that I can’t..
OC: It motivates you?
AW: “You know what, when someone finally says you can’t, in my mind I smile and in my mind I’m like, ‘you just messed up. You just messed up.’ Tell me that I’m not good enough. Okay. Well, I’m going to retaliate with action. With my effort. I grew up playing baseball so I’m all about the competitive nature, the competitive aspect of the business.”
OC: Do you think if people didn’t tell you, “you can’t,” that you would still work this hard?
AW: “No. I think it’s made me a fighter. But it’s always been that way for me. Nothing’s ever come easy for me. I was a good baseball player, I played in college—I wasn’t a genetic specimen. It was because I worked hard. I still would have the same work ethic because that’s how I was raised. But I will tell you this, I understand the magnitude of the situation I’m in now and how lucky and blessed I am to be here. And I use my career as a model to share with younger artists. I think, ‘So they said you’re not good enough. What are you going to do? Are you going to cry about it, or you going to get out there and work your rear off?’ Cause here’s my deal—we get to play, we get to share the stage with a lot of big people. We played all the Live Nation events last year. And out of 60 bands at Stagecoach, we outsold 55 of them. It’s a music business. I’ve always kinda been in the penalty box because I’m from Texas— I am unapologetically Texan. But I without a doubt love Nashville, Tennessee and country music. I mean this is where George Strait made all of his records. This is where Alan Jackson made all his records. I’m fan of country music, I’m a fan of Nashville, Tennessee”
OC: Do you still find resistance?
AW: “Oh, nobody has called me. Let’s talk about that. You have an independent artist who’s out-selling those guys, and no one’s picked up the phone to call me. It’s not a normal business. Anywhere else, in West Texas, if a little old company starts making some money, one of those big dogs is gonna come in and offer big bucks. But at the end of the day, there’s no way that I’m going to change who I am. The thing about it is that I am the boss. Well actually, that’s a lie. My wife is the boss. My wife’s the boss, but for all my musical career I have been in charge of me. I have picked the singles. I’m all over touring, I’m all over every aspect of the business and my manager has been with me every step of the way.”
OC: Are you the same person you were before all the success?
AW: “Oh yeah. I don’t really get a whole lot out of me. My dad is 100 percent disabled for serving our country during the Vietnam War. So that’s a hero, a real life hero. I’m not a hero because I play a silly guitar. I do think that God gives me a wonderful platform to have a very positive effect on people, so I try my very best to make the most of that. But I don’t get much out of me. I don’t think I’m special. I think I’m incredibly average. A lot of heart, a lot of hustle. The biggest thing we try to tell everybody is thank you for the opportunity. We’re grateful for it. I have a slogan or manifesto that I always say, ‘that we don’t chase phases, stages or flavors of the month. We stay true to our brand, we work hard, we ride a horse named Hustle. And that’s who we are.'”
OC: What’s up next for you?
AW: I’m working on a new record right now. And my goal is to make the best doggone record anyone has ever heard.