Aaron Lewis says when it comes to his music and creativity, he simply refuses to be told how to do things. The country artist, also known as vocalist and primary songwriter for the metal-tinged hard rock band Staind, says he decided long ago he would succeed or fail on his own terms and his music’s merit.
This outlook has become especially apparent as Lewis, who will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Cotillion, has started a country music career alongside Staind.
With Staind, the band’s music happened to fit with hard rock trends, and the band has gone on to become one of the most successful acts in the genre.
Beginning with its third album, 2001’s “Break the Cycle,” the group had three straight albums top the Billboard magazine album chart (2003’s “14 Shades of Grey” and 2005’s “Chapter V” were the others) and the two albums that followed, “The Illusion of Progress” (2008) and “Staind” (2011), were also significant successes.
With country music, though, Lewis is bucking current trends toward more rock- and pop-driven sounds of mainstream country.
Instead, Lewis is making music that recalls the likes of Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings — the kind of hard-edged country that is all but forgotten these days.
“There’s a bit of a void in country music for real country music,” Lewis said in a mid-May phone interview. “There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s pushing the envelope of country music, that is being accepted as mainstream country music right now. And there’s kind of a void for good old-fashioned, your grandfather’s country music.”
That the music Lewis has made on his 2011 EP, “Town Line,” and his 2012 full-length debut, “The Road,” gravitates strongly toward a bygone era of country music makes sense when one considers the way he grew up in western Massachusetts.
“Traditional country music was what my childhood soundtrack was,” he said. “My grandfather was a huge country music fan, and the radio, the music, was on all the time, always, always, always, from the time that people woke up in the morning to the time that the last light got shut out. It was literally like the radio got shut off and the last light went out and everybody was in bed. So I was born in ’72, so you know, it was that time frame of music. It was what my grandfather was listening to. It was that time frame and earlier.”
Given that background, it’s no wonder Lewis bristles a bit when people question why he pursued country music as a solo artist.
“People still think I’m just pandering to a different audience because the audience that I’ve supposedly pandered to for the past 15 years (in Staind) is sick of what I have to offer,” Lewis said. “So I’m coming over here to the country side to take their audience. I’ve heard some pretty messed-up stuff as to what my motivation is as to coming over to country. The fact of the matter is I’m more country than I am anything else.”
The way Lewis made “The Road” seems to suggest that country music comes naturally to him. The album was written and recorded in less time than it takes many artists to write and finish recording a single song.
“It was a very, very fun, inspired process,” Lewis said. “It took like 30 hours to record the entire record — and write — write and record, like 30 hours, like seven or eight four-hour sessions.”
The sessions came on off days on a Staind tour, and Lewis only worked on “The Road” during the 30 hours of recording sessions.
“I was like writing stuff while it was happening. Me and (multi-instrumentalist) Ben (Kitterman) would run into the other room out of the control room, sit down for five minutes and I’d run a couple of chord progressions by him and we’d see how easily the dobro lines came, because that’s how we write, basically, him with the dobro and me playing the guitar,” Lewis said. “And (we’d) literally come up with a chord progression, go back into the control room, play it for the musicians … and they would nail it on one take. The whole record is a take.”
If anything, “The Road” is even more raw-boned and stripped back than “Town Line.” Songs like “75,” “Red, White & Blue,” “State Lines” and “Anywhere But Here” are built around Lewis’ solid vocal melodies, with guitars, fiddle, dobro and pedal steel frequently adding even more of a country flavor to the songs.
Those are, of course, time-honored ingredients of traditional country music. And on tour, Lewis takes a similar no-nonsense approach to performing his country material.
“I just stand there at the microphone, play the guitar and sing, and do what I’m there to do,” Lewis said. “I’m not there to aerobicize. I’m not there to make a spectacle of myself. I’m there to deliver the songs in a live format as close to the recorded format as I can get them. And then that’s my job for the evening. My job is not to run an aerobics class.”