Mark Wills is jumping between rehearsal and recording studios in Nashville, fielding phone calls from his wife and his 5-year-old daughter, Mally, in Georgia, and squeezing in a couple of interviews over the phone, and he's loving every minute of it.
“I just love to sing,” Wills says during a break from rehearsing songs for his sixth career album, which should be out in October.
Sunday night he'll be back on the road when he stops at the Lucas County Fair in Maumee for a 6 p.m. performance.
The one-time Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist has been singing for Mercury Records for seven years now. He's had seven singles reach the Top 5, including four that hit No. 1 (“I Do (Cherish You),” “Don't Laugh at Me,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “19 Somethin'”), and he has sold more than 3 million albums.
Long known for his ballads, Wills had a little bit of career makeover with “19 Somethin'” which was No. 1 last year for seven weeks.
“We were looking for an uptempo song, looking for something with a little youthful exuberance,” he says. “I've had a good career with power ballads, but I wanted people to see that other side of my personality. It's my life in three and a half minutes.”
A lot of people saw their lives in that song, which touched on popular culture phenomena from the '70s and '80s, including Star Wars, Stretch Armstrong, baseball in the backyard, and Daisy Duke and The Dukes of Hazard.
“Everyone related to it. Daisy Duke was it for me,” he says with a laugh. “My first love was Daisy Duke. Being a little boy in the Blue Ridge Mountains, that was the walking epitome of womanhood.”
In two weeks, Wills will be marking a milestone he had a hard time grasping as that boy growing up on the border of Georgia and Tennessee - he's turning 30.
“I remember 30 as being old as a kid. It's not so old anymore,” he says. “Most guys in this business that are successful, like [Tim] McGraw and [Kenny] Chesney, are in their mid to late 30s, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. My goal has always been to have a long career and make music my whole life.”
So far he's been building that career one hit at a time, following a simple formula when he writes or records his songs.
“The music I put out I have to be able to relate to. It has to mean something to me before I put it on a record.”
That includes “Don't Laugh at Me,” which was a No. 1 hit for Wills. It was a painful topic for him because it dealt with being picked on as a child.
“Anybody that can tell you they were never picked on has the best scam in the world. Everyone has been at some point in their life,” he says. “As a dad now, I think it's important to remember childhood, where you had some up days and some sad days. If everything is always peachy, you won't know how to handle the tough times.”
Sunday night, he'll play that song, but he's also going to play his new single, “And the Crowd Goes Wild,” a song that talks about Nascar and making it big in the music business.
“It's a rockin' song,” he says. “It's going to be a fun show.”
Mark Wills will appear at the Lucas County Fair on Sunday, starting at 6 p.m. Admission to the concert is free with the $7 gate admission. Seating in the grandstand will be first come, first served.