Aaron Lewis on Tucker Carlson, Joe Biden and racial wokeness

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Ninety minutes or so into a recent conversation, Aaron Lewis had worked himself into enough of a lather on the topic of Anthony Fauci that he had to stop for a second, as though suddenly he could envision his words in print.

“Listen, there’s got to be some separation between the interview and us just talking,” the country singer said over the phone from his home in Massachusetts. Once known to rock fans as the frontman of the nu-metal band Staind, Lewis, 49, scored a No. 1 country hit last year with “Am I the Only One,” an anguished ballad sung by a guy who can’t believe nobody else sees the damage that woke-ism is doing to America. And last month, his latest album, “Frayed at Both Ends,” entered Billboard’s country chart as the genre’s top-selling new release.

Still, Lewis worries that his music is often overshadowed by his conservative political views, which went viral on social media this week after he questioned American support for Ukraine — and said “maybe we should listen to what Vladimir Putin is saying” — in onstage comments recorded by a concertgoer in Ohio.

“People are very unaccepting of other people’s opinions these days, unless they match what’s been spoon-fed to them,” he told me, weeks before Russia’s president ordered his country’s deadly invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, Lewis seemed concerned that I was baiting him into making some outrageous proclamation as we spoke in February for a story ostensibly about his album and a tour scheduled to stop Thursday and Friday for sold-out gigs at Cabazon’s Morongo Casino.

So allow me to say: As a piece of music, “Frayed at Both Ends” is first-rate hardscrabble country — a moving and witty (if also tough-minded) set of songs recorded in a minimalist acoustic setting that showcases Lewis’ powerful baritone and the expert playing of sidemen including Vince Gill and Dan Tyminski.

Yet the record hardly asks the listener to set aside Lewis’ politics, which fall well to the right of what even Nashville’s more conservative acts will express publicly. In “Am I the Only One” he laments the removal of Confederate statues and notes proudly that he’s quit “singing along every time they play a Springsteen song.” And “Get What You Get” warns folks who “keep telling lies and changing your story” against using “the Stars and Stripes to serve your own glory.”

In the latter tune, Lewis suggests that he might once have forgiven what he regards as the excesses of the liberal establishment. Now, though, “my give-a-f—’s empty,” he sings.

At one point in “Am I the Only One,” you say that you’re starting to feel like your old man. Did you have the sense when you were growing up that your dad was unhappy with the way things were headed?
I think all of our parents are having a hard time watching what’s happening to the country that treated them so well. It took us a really long time to get where we were. And it took a matter of seconds to unravel it all.

What would you pinpoint as the beginning of that unraveling?
When the federal government took over the education of our children. I said it a long time ago on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, back in 2001: Parents have forgotten how to be parents. We’re so caught up in our own lives that we’ve forgotten that our primary responsibility is to make sure that our children leave the nest as well-functioning adults who are responsible for their own outcomes. This country is beautiful in that, by design, we all start on a pretty even playing field. There are faults. But what are you comparing it to?

The line about Bruce Springsteen in “Am I the Only One” turned heads when the song came out.
We laughed about it when we wrote it. The fact of the matter is, that gentleman — so proud to be American, such an American icon — said that he would move to Australia and give up his United States citizenship if the election didn’t go the way he wanted it to. If you’re that unstable on your Americanism, I’ll buy you your ticket.

Was Springsteen important to you in the past?
Not at all.

So this wasn’t a grand disillusioning for you.
It was the realization that Bruce might not be the perfect representation of America — or blue-collar America, I should say. He no longer represents those without a voice. I think now he represents the voice that overpowers all the other voices. In a country that’s based on free speech, it seems like anybody who has a differing opinion from the mainstream narrative is deemed a misinformationalist.

Has Nashville — not the city but the industry — felt welcoming to you?
I don’t consider myself part of the Nashville machine. I’m certainly not gonna go down the road of bro-country. I’m gonna be 50 years old in April. I’m a full-grown man singing about real life, which isn’t a party all the time. I don’t write songs to escape life.

You see a lot of escapism in down-the-middle Nashville stuff?
I do. And it’s like: What planet are you on right now? Because the songs that you’re writing do not match life in this moment.

Your songs sound like someone pouring out their frustrations.
When I was making this record we were in the middle of a COVID lockdown that was only supposed to be 15 days to stop the spread. And here we are two years later. Everybody’s scared to death of a virus that no one’s telling the truth about. And we’re listening to the most bought-and-paid-for bureaucrat that calls himself a doctor and ignoring the most highly touted experts in their field.

To be clear, you’re talking about the president’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci?
Tell me one success story from Dr. Fauci for his entire career. You know how much testing on animals that guy has done? And for the stupidest s—. I’ve seen videos of beagles in cocaine vests, to see what the effects are of keeping a beagle jacked up on blow for weeks at a time. Millions of dollars spent on this! It’s on video. You just have to look past the people that are spoon-feeding you information.

A man with tattoos holding an acoustic guitar.

“I heard Eddie Vedder and Scott Weiland and was like, oh, my God — I could be the lead singer of a band,” says Aaron Lewis.

(Eric Englund)

The idea of showing people the truth seems important to you. Is going on the road about that? Or are you just playing songs people want to hear?
I don’t go into a show thinking about what I’m gonna preach from my pulpit, if you will. I might feel moved in the moment to say something because of the energy in the room. But I realize that people don’t come to a concert to hear a dissertation.

Do you think there’s any chance of somebody coming to see you who views the world differently than you do?
If I’m being realistic about it, I would have to say that I’ve already driven away anybody that might not feel the same way I do.

Does that bum you out?
It kind of does. This is America — we all have the right to speak our minds and say how we feel and have an opinion. And everyone — I don’t care what side you’re on — everyone should be up in arms when anyone’s voice is being silenced by anybody.

Have you been silenced?
I mean, that’s a slippery slope.

What’s a meaningful way you’ve been silenced?
Fact-checking the things that I’m saying that I know to be true. Taking that fact-checking thing and twisting it a tiny bit over a little detail that I might not have said just right or a quote I might not have delivered just perfectly. [Music-industry columnist Bob Lefsetz] tried to demand that I be canceled. Before I put out “Am I the Only One,” he had nothing but good things to say about me. Then he demanded that I be dropped by my record label.

Which didn’t happen. The president of your record label publicly came to your defense.
Listen, I’m just pointing out s—.

How did you develop your singing voice?
I grew up in a very musical household and knew at a pretty early age that I could sing. As a little kid, I was hearing Kenny Rankin and Gordon Lightfoot and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Then, when I was 8 or 9, my babysitter gave me five vinyls: Kiss’ “Alive II,” Kiss’ “Destroyer” and three AC/DC records. And that changed my path. Junior high was torn jeans and metal band T-shirts: Overkill, Metallica, Metal Church. Then high school was a really crazy mix — because I did a lot of drugs in high school — it was the Doors and the Grateful Dead and the Beatles. Stuff that sounded good on acid.

By the time I graduated high school in 1990, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots and all these bands were starting to happen. And they were singing in my register of a voice. That was a moment in music when the lead singer, instead of singing up in his falsetto like in the ’80s, he was singing down in his regular voice. I heard Eddie Vedder and Scott Weiland and was like, oh, my God — I could be the lead singer of a band.

Did you ever take vocal lessons?
The extent of my vocals lessons was my high school chorus teacher. That’s just warming up your voice, which I don’t even do that now. I smoke a joint on the way to the stage. It’s zero to 100, and it’s probably not good for me. But it hasn’t failed me yet.

A man with an electric guitar sings onstage

Aaron Lewis performs in 2019.

(Amy Harris / Invision/AP)

A couple more things. Is Joe Biden our legitimately elected president?
I think that Biden, all on his own with every idiotic thing that he does, I don’t think I have to answer that. I think it’s pretty obvious.

Let me rephrase: Was the election stolen from Donald Trump?
I don’t know. I certainly hope not. Because the truth will come out.

Are you vaccinated?
How’s that herpes going? Were you able to get rid of that gonorrhea that you caught? We’ve been alive longer than this bulls— has been occurring. Do you follow me when I say that? How old are you?

43.
You’re 43 years old. So there was a whole lot of life that you lived all the way up to this madness that was completely contradictory to the narrative at hand right now. You have to see that.

Which narrative specifically?
Everything they’re talking about. All this racism that just appeared out of nowhere. Everything!

I don’t think it’s that the racism just appeared. I think it’s about trying to look at history from a different point of view — not from the perspective of the people who were in control but of the people who were being marginalized.
We’re Americans, bro — every one of us. And I will not get into who’s responsible for all the atrocities. I’m not uneducated; I’m actually really smart, and I look for myself. I seek other options of information. I refuse to believe that a huge gigantic corporation has our best interest in mind.

Where do you get your news?
I have news feeds and people that I follow on Telegram. Dan Ball. Andrew Wilkow. Mark Levin. If I’m gonna watch any sort of news source on television, it’s Tucker Carlson.

Is Fox News an exception to your mistrust of corporations?
I think that if Tucker didn’t have the following he has, he’d be gone. He’s pretty much anchoring the network at this point.

Last question: What does success mean to you?
Being able to continue to do this.

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