Tracy Lawrence had reached an impasse. He was one of the most hit-savvy country artists of the 1990s, but his career had cooled off as country radio and major labels began turning their commercial attention elsewhere.
That wasn’t the problem, though. Lawrence adapted, became an indie artist overseeing his own record label, his own management and pretty much all aspects of his career. Such hands-on involvement sustained him as a recording artist, kept him visible as a touring act and, in the end, just about drove him nuts.
“I just kind of hit the wall midway through last year,” said Lawrence, who will kick off Renfro Valley’s 2016 series of Headliner concerts on Saturday. “I was doing a whole lot of things OK, but I wasn’t doing anything great. I was really burned out and decided I needed to back up and rethink things, so I took some time and interviewed around Nashville and finally made a decision to hire outside management.
“Since then, I have been letting go. I closed my offices downtown and let my office staff go and decided I needed to get back to being an artist. So I’ve restructured my life. I’ve renewed my focus on the creative part and let all the business go. I’m reorganizing my life, rethinking my life and just working on the quality of my life.”
As my head gets clear, I’m putting on better shows. I’m in a much better head space than I’ve been in for a long time. It’s like somebody just turned the switch back on.
To understand what exactly Lawrence “let go” of, you need to glance back at the career he assembled. Throughout the ’90s, he was a fresh voice on country radio, matching a traditional vocal air in hits like Alibis and Sticks and Stones with a subtle slant of pop smarts that would emerge later in the decade, on singles including Time Marches On and Lessons Learned. He released five albums during the decade, all for Atlantic Records, with each one attaining gold or platinum status in sales.
The new decade brought some label-jumping before Lawrence headed up his own Rocky Comfort Records and became, in totality, his own boss. That meant adjusting to the times of a changing music industry, and to the demands of an evolving career.
“The industry has not only changed in the last few years; it’s been changing a lot every year,” Lawrence said. “So the best way that I can approach this whole thing and find out where I fit back into this picture and to do my career a just service and just do the best I can do is to get back to doing what it is I was supposed to do, and that is performing, writing songs and getting back into the creative process, bringing all that stuff together.”
First up in the next phase of Lawrence’s professional life is an album of duets with an as-yet-unannounced roster of singing partners. Lawrence hopes to begin work on the project within the next few months, finish shopping for a label to issue the recording and release the recording in early 2017.
“As my head gets clear, I’m putting on better shows. I’m in a much better head space than I’ve been in for a long time. It’s like somebody just turned the switch back on. Some of it, I think, comes from seeing fans, to a large degree, swinging back to the music of my era. With what we did back then, there is a revival. It’s all coming back to us. I’m just going to try and do the best job I can.
“I think the future is going to be bright. I don’t know if any of what I’m taking about entails radio. I don’t know if my career involves being high-profile at all on radio again at this point. I think that might be over and done with. But that’s OK. I’ve got a great body of work that I can draw from and a huge fan base out there. I’m just going to enjoy where I am in life and go with the flow.”