The latest No. 1 country album by Justin Moore is called “Kinda Don’t Care.” But fans shouldn’t read too much into the title, because the bottom line on making music for this Arkansas-born singer is this: He kinda does.
“Our music is and always will be rooted in more traditional-sounding country, which is somewhat rare in this day and time,” said Moore, who brings his Hell on a Highway Tour to Rupp Arena on Thursday night. “But with this one, I did get out of my comfort zone in a few spots. One example of that was our most recent single, ‘Somebody Else Will.’ It’s a little, I guess, more mainstream than anything we’ve done in the past. So that created some apprehension on my part in the studio while we were recording it, but it ended up being a lot of fun. I’m fortunate enough that the fans and radio have not looked at me like I’m crazy at some of the different stuff we did on this album.”
Had fans indeed sent curious glances Moore’s way over his music, it wouldn’t have been the first time. The singer said he received all manner of curious reactions when, as a youth, he told friends in the modest-sized Arkansas town of Poyen that he wanted to be a country singer.
In my town, if you could sing on key, you would get pretty much every role in Christmas plays and all that.
“It wasn’t something growing up in a town of 300 that you realized you could do as a career,” Moore said. “When I started telling people I wanted to be a country music singer, they were like, ‘Huh? You can’t do that from here.’ But what I’ve learned through my journey is that great things happen to just normal people.
“That being said, my parents were huge fans of country music and still are. I always loved country music because it was always describing the way I was growing up. I thought Hank (Williams) Jr. was singing about me and my buddies. In my town, if you could sing on key, you would get pretty much every role in Christmas plays and all that. But not a whole lot of folks are up for that.”
Moore claims a “laundry list” of familiar country inspirations — Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard — as keys to guiding him to a traditionflavored sound of his own, but one Kentucky-born artist stood as an unrivaled favorite.
“My favorite artist of all time is Dwight Yoakam,” Moore said. “I just thought he embodied a style. He’s a great producer, great guitar player, great writer, great singer, and he’s the best performer I’ve ever seen live. I’ve always said he is the Elvis of country music. Our music is not really that similar, but he was always a huge influence on me. As much as I try or as much as anybody else tried, nobody will ever be like him again. I really respect that about him. Some of the other guys like that to me would be Vern Gosdin, John Anderson, Keith Whitley. As much as you try to sound like them, you just ain’t going to. So I really always dug that about him and all those guys.”
Kentucky, as it turns out, has been a companion of sorts to Moore almost since his self-titled, double platinum-selling debut album was released in 2009 and the tradition-minded singles “Small Town USA” and “Backwoods” began to gain favor with country radio. The singer has played Rupp twice previously. The first was as an opener for Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert in 2010. He returned in 2015 with Lambert topping the bill. So what’s the biggest difference between playing an arena as an opener and as a headliner?
“Well, first and foremost, it’s more expensive,” Moore said with a laugh. “But we’ve been doing this for over a decade now and had the opportunity to do each.
“It’s fun to go out there and play with other artists — the Paisleys and the Mirandas. You have 30 to 45 minutes, depending on what slot you’re in. For us, those are pretty easy slots because you go out and play a bunch of hit records. But it’s fun for us also to go do our own tour, because our hardcore fan base looks forward to hearing other songs that we’ve had on albums that maybe weren’t hit records on the radio, but they’re very familiar with. That allows us to have the opportunity to play as much music as we want. I know a lot of the fans get really excited about those shows. We do, too.”