"All I ever wanted to do coming to Nashville was to write rowdy, in-your-face, straight country music," says Jon Pardi, "and that's what this album is."
Pardi’s high-energy approach, perfected on stages throughout his native California, has its stamp all over his Capitol Records Nashville debut. Just as importantly, that energy is applied to music rooted in songwriting legend Harlan Howard's adage that country is three chords and the truth.
"If you can take a piece of life and put it in a song," says Pardi, "it's going to be a good song—especially if it's from the heart."
Life and love, truth and energy wind their way all through his debut album, which showcases a young artist who is clearly no ordinary newcomer. Few artists hit stride as quickly and as forcefully as he has, and his fellow artists have been among the first to take note.
"People ask me who I'd like to open up for," he says with a smile, "but I’ve been lucky enough to have opened for several artists I look up to."
It's a list that includes Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam, Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan and Luke Bryan, artists who appreciate the kind of influences Pardi brings to the table—echoes of the crisp Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, hints of the driving beat of Waylon Jennings and the excitement of Jerry Lee Lewis. He brings all of it together and puts his unique stamp on it, topping it off with just a bit of swagger that gives a little edge to his undeniable appeal.
Like his heroes, Pardi is a longtime road warrior, a veteran of four-set shows and constant travel, someone who brings a wealth of experience to bear every time he steps in front of a microphone. He has gone on tour with kindred spirit and labelmate Eric Church, and earned a slot on the Austin City Limits Festival, one of the country world's most prestigious venues. His on-stage charisma and accessibility, his polished yet raucous sound, and his well-crafted and infectious songs earn him new fans wherever he goes.
The territory he covers on the CD—road life and the ups and downs of romance—has been the subject matter of many country classics through the decades, but Pardi, whose gift is a feel for atmosphere and an eye for detail, makes it all fresh and gives the project his indelible stamp.
A natural storyteller, he writes what he knows, spinning tales born of his dues-paying days in the area around his native Dixon, California, and bringing it all together into a strong, cohesive musical statement. Between the heartfelt opener "Fightin' the Fool" and the breakneck rocker "Drinkin' With Me," which closes the CD, he lays out a scenario of youth, music, love and loss that is as compelling as it is raucous. "Chasin' Them Better Days" and "Write You A Song" capture all the adventure and uncertainty of life on the road; "Happens All The Time" brings attraction, flirtation and love's possibilities, good and bad, to the table; from there, "Up All Night" celebrates love, "Missin' You Crazy" showcases the yin-yang pull of relationships and the road, "Love You From Here" is a surprisingly upbeat farewell to a departed love, and "Empty Beer Cans" and "Rainy Night Song" show both sides of the coin when it comes to heartache.
All in all, it's an album by an artist who knows just where his strengths lie—the excitement, experience and songwriting skills that fueled his relatively fast rise to publishing and label deals after his arrival in Nashville are all present. His one-of-a-kind voice brings a positive edge to even the toughest emotional scenarios.
"I really don't have any negative songs," he says. "It always feels good with me so when you come to a show or listen to the record, you're going to have a good time."
It's not hard to see where the earliest seeds of Pardi's approach lie. His musical journey began with a grandmother who loved classic country and had a karaoke machine in the house. Young Jon developed a special fondness for Hank Jr. and the two Georges—Jones and Strait—along with Alabama, Dwight Yoakam and Mark Chesnutt. He was just 7 when he sang "Friends in Low Places" for all he was worth at his dad's 30th birthday party at a local Legion hall.
At an even younger age, he walked out of a children's music class and asked for guitar lessons so he could sing like his heroes. He was writing songs by 12 and playing them in a band at 14. A self-confessed "class clown," he was more interested in writing songs and playing guitar than in either sports or homework. After high school, he and buddy Chase McGrew began playing acoustically in small bars around Dixon and Winters.
"Those were some of the fun times," he says, "and that's when I learned that slow songs don't go over when you're trying to sell beer, so I learned a lot of really up, fast songs that I still like doing today."
The two moved to Chico to go to Butte Junior College, where Pardi started the band Northern Comfort.
"We played together for three years and it was a lot of fun," he says. When they disbanded temporarily, "I went home and started saving money. I'd known I was going to move to Nashville since I was 19," and after visits to Music City where he met a few people, he knew the time was right.
"You need to have a level head to move here," he says, "to be confident enough to say, ‘I’m going to do it.' I felt like I was ready and I started out on February 23, 2008, with my mom crying as I drove away."
He took his dog, his PA system and the $7,000 he'd saved, which, he says, "I went through pretty quick." He used a credit card to pay the fee for lifeguard training, using that skill to earn money until he landed a publishing deal, just 18 months after moving. Two of his first collaborations, "Write You a Song" and "Fighting The Fool," were instrumental in landing him his publishing deal, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to write for money.
"I did a lot of co-writing," he says. "There were a lot of headache mornings but I still showed up, and a lot of good songs came on days like that."
As demos he wrote and sang started making the rounds on Music Row, label execs, including those at Capitol, began asking, "Who is this Jon Pardi?"
"We started doing showcases," he says, "and about the third one we did with the full band, [Capitol Records Nashville President] Mike Dungan gave me a handshake afterward and said, 'Let's do it.'"
As they talked about potential producers, Pardi suggested that he and his friend and collaborator Bart Butler, who had done the demos that had brought him this far, do the album."They said all right," he says, "and we cut four songs and they loved them. Then we went back in and finished it up."
The key from his perspective, he says, is "knowing what you want. I had what I wanted to sound like in my head. It's what made doing the demos and then the record so much fun. You take a piece of this influence and a bit of that and make it your own. So much happens in the studio if you've got your lyric and song melody down."
Given the quality of his heroes, the strength of his talent and the depth of his experience, the album became just the right showcase. From there, he says, "it's about surrounding yourself with great people. If you show Nashville you've got talent and if you do it right, they'll help you make that talent even better and help you get it out there."
Life perspective gives his success a special sweetness.
"I know I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing," he says. "I could be back working construction or installing air conditioners in an attic that's at 115 degrees. There are a lot of people who work awfully hard to make a dollar. I'm glad the hard work I'm doing now goes into something I love this much. It makes me really happy to be here doing music."
As he begins making his mark on a national level, that's a feeling being shared by more and more new Jon Pardi fans.