Moving up from solo shows in clubs to working as a support act on bigger tours, getting some radio hits and recognition as a top newcomer, that’s the way a country music career is supposed to work, isn’t it Jon Pardi?
“I don’t know how it’s supposed to work, to tell you the truth.” Pardi said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve never really thought anything about that. I’m just trying to make country music.”
Even if he doesn’t know, that’s how Pardi’s career has gone. From clubs in California, then around the country, opening tours for Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert, landing some hits – “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt on My Boots” both hit No. 1 on the country airplay chart. And at the Academy of Country Music Awards last April, he took the new male vocalist award.
“It’s an accomplishment,” he said of winning the ACM award. “It’s an industry recognition, you know. For the fans to see me up there on the show, for my family, it was pretty awesome. It was my fifth ACM to get to go up there and get the award and play on the show, that felt pretty good. You’re a part of the show, you get to be up there with the guys. It was a lot of fun. It’s a good stepping stone.”
While he took the “new” male vocalist award, Pardi’s been singing country since he was 12 years old. Pardi’s brand of country is the real deal, drawing on the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and he cites the two Georges – Jones and Strait – among his primary influences.
Now, after seeing country turn pop, Pardi’s seeing traditional country return to prominence, his music joining that of Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson and Jamey Johnson.
“Traditional is getting a little more accepted now than it was a couple years ago, that’s for sure,” Pardi said. “But if you’re not using the new pop in country music to your advantage, you’re missing out. I turn it traditional. But it makes it so I can go play with Alan Jackson and I can go play with Florida Georgia Line.”
Pardi spent much of 2015 opening for Jackson, learning at the feet of the master, so to speak, when he’d watch the traditional country icon perform every night of the tour.
“From Alan, I took what great songs do,” he said. “They stand the test of time. He ain’t going to dance around, but he’ll sing you a song. He’ll sing you a damned good country song. That’s what any songwriter will take from him.”
Unlike many of today’s country artists, Pardi is a songwriter, co-writing 10 of 11 songs on his 2014 debut, “Write You a Song,” and seven of 12 on “California Sunrise,” which was released last June.
So how do you write a song?
“You can take a big emotion and make a movie out of it through music and melody, something that connects with people like movies do, but it’s on the radio,” Pardi said. “The emotions can be love or heartbreak or loss or partying, anything. You’ve got to think of the everyday people out there who work hard and have families. You stay real, take an emotion and write a story.”
Pardi’s not playing any new songs in his shows these days – whether he’s opening for Bentley or Tim McGraw and Faith Hill or playing headlining shows. And there’s no plan yet to go into the studio to cut a third album
“We’re going to work this (album) a little longer,” he said. “I have a couple new songs I’m excited about. We haven’t started looking for outside material yet. But I’m writing down titles and lines and trying to get going.
“I tell my manager, ‘Damn, if we don’t have a third record, stuff’s not going to happen in 2018, 2019. You’ve got to lift off the pedal on all the touring and let me get back to writing,’ ” Pardi said. “They’ll say they’re trying, but you ought to see my schedule. I’m booked through 2019. I can’t tell you who I’m going out with next year. But we’re booked.”
Pardi could talk about much of the rest of 2018. He’s out opening for Lambert through March, and he’ll open for Luke Bryan this summer. In between, there will be some headlining dates, a setting he really enjoys.
“I love headlining shows, especially when they’re sold out,” Pardi said. “That’s your fan base. Nobody else is bringing anyone in. It makes you feel good, although you hate it that some people can’t get in.”