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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

‘Rebel Soul': Kid Rock still doing what he wants to do

NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE
"Rebel Soul" is Kid Rock's ninth album. "Rebel Soul" is Kid Rock's ninth album.
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Kid Rock loves to give visitors a tour of his Allen Roadhouse studio in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston, Mich.

There's a new performance area, big enough to host an entire band, and isolation rooms for drums, keyboards, and other instruments. Vintage guitars sit on stands, and in the spacious control room with its state-of-the-art mixing board hangs an autographed photo of Johnny Cash thanking Rock "for keeping the music going."

Rock has been doing that for two decades now, since his debut album "Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast" (1990). Back then he was a libidinous, profanity-spewing rapper. He can still do that, but these days Rock — real name Bob Ritchie — is a more eclectic musician whose blend of Southern rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, blues funk and soul has sold 27 million albums and scored mainstream hits with songs such as "Picture" (2002), a duet with Sheryl Crow, and "All Summer Long" (2008).

His ninth album, "Rebel Soul," continues that diversity. In fact, the 41-year-old Rock calls it "a greatest-hits-feeling record with all new songs."

"I was basically just doing whatever I want to do, not listening to anybody or anything, just finding inspiration from other music or just in the songwriting process," Rock says, lighting a cigar as he reclines in a chair at his studio. "If I wanted to write this type of song, that type of song, whatever. If I wanted to get crazy and write one of the old-school Kid Rock songs, fine.

"That's the way I like to make records. At this point, after doing it for so long, I know that whenever I feel something that makes me tingle, if it makes me feel something, I know that's what's transcended to the people who have gotten into that stuff."

It's also Rock's first album to be released on iTunes, after a decade-long holdout over artist compensation.

"It's just the right time," he says. "I said that I wouldn't hold out forever. There's going to come a time, and it felt like this was it."

Striking a 50-50 deal with his record company made all the difference in the world, Rock adds.

"Hopefully this is the beginning of something, some transparency, that's starting," he says. "I'm not going to fight the technology — I embrace it like everybody else — but at the same time I stood up for what I believed in, and I proved my point to millions and millions of records."

During the reconstruction of the Allen Roadhouse, Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker band hunkered down at The Warehouse, his rehearsal facility not far from his home, which includes a full-size basketball court and storage space for his vintage-car collection.

"I was writing new stuff," the 41-year-old Rock recalls, "and we started picking on some of the new songs, and everyone was playing really well. We had all the gear sitting around next to us from the studio, because it was still being built and we had moved it all up there. So I said, ‘Man, let's plug this stuff up and start to recording it.'

"We did, and it worked out great."

With 14 tracks featuring Twisted Brown Trucker augmented by guests such as guitarists Audley Freed and Blake Mills, and with Sponge/Crud frontman Vinnie Dombroski drumming on five songs, "Rebel Soul" is a stylistically varied album that ranges from earnest rockers to rootsy rave-ups, including the stomping, Southern-fried opener "Chickens in the Pen" and the over-the-top pomp of "Mr. Rock n Roll," as well as a return to Rock's hip-hop roots in "Cucci Galore."

It's a dramatic step away from the platinum-selling "Born Free" (2010), a more serious, heartland-flavored effort produced by Grammy winner Rick Rubin. He enjoyed that experience, Rock says, but didn't necessarily want to repeat it right away.

"'Born Free' was a very poignant record," explains Rock, a native of Romeo, Mich. "Everything was pretty straight and narrow across the board. On this one I wanted to go back to making Kid Rock records the way I've done it for so many years.

"Rick was really strict on no direction, just everybody get in there and play, do it a couple of times, talk about it, go play it three or four more times and we're done," he continues. "I like to make some more (planned) parts than that. I look at Eagles records and things like that, where they have these great guitar lines and great parts ... that become kind of signatures about the songs.

"So I took a lot of that, which I've been trying to do for years, and put it with Rick's sensibility for keeping it organic and letting the song breathe and have a feel, and just took all that and put it into a big casserole — and then you have ‘Rebel Soul.' I was talking to somebody and trying to explain the record. I said, ‘It's really confusing, so it's a perfect Kid Rock record.'

"I think at this point I'm kind of set in my ways," he continues, "and whether I do a pointed song or I pop up at something country or something hip-hop or something rock ‘n' roll, people, whether they like me or not, are like, ‘Eh, whatever ... It's Kid Rock.'"

The album's first single was "Let's Ride," a charged rocker about troops heading into combat, inspired by Rock's visits to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It seems like all the songs in their honor ... They're kind of country tunes, can be a little hokey at times," Rock says. "I think they're all coming from the right place, but when I see (the troops) making footage of their travels on their iPhones and stuff, they're putting it to music like ‘Bawitdaba' (1999) and ‘American Bad Ass' (2000) and Metallica music and things like that. So I was like, ‘Let me make them something hard and heavy ... for when they have to go out and do this very tough job, jump in a Humvee and travel around and have to worry about roadside bombs and things.'

"It's still melodic and it's poignant," he continues, "but it's not PC. I don't run lyrics by anybody except the guys I'm writing them with, but on this one I did run some of them by my buddies who have served, so that it felt true to them."

With "Rebel Soul" out, Rock is champing at the bit to work its songs into his concerts. He and Twisted Brown Trucker have already started rehearsing for a North American tour that's slated to kick off on Feb. 1, preceded by shows in Hollywood, Fla., on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31.

"We're experimenting with a lot of things in rehearsals now," he says. "Right now I'm thinking a real clean stage, the band all together, playing together and have a real clean look. And then, with the songs that complement it, kick into big production and shoot flames and bright lights in your face.

"We'll just go both ways, whether it's stripped down — or there's strippers," he adds, laughing.

Rock is also contemplating some overseas dates, including offers from Australia and Japan, with some ambivalence

"I wouldn't say that I'm a homebody, but I'm a big fan of being close to home," says the singer, whose son, Robert Ritchie Jr., currently attends college in Tennessee and is launching his own music career. "I just feel like I have everything here in America. I get weird when I get out of the country. I don't know why what it is. I just feel goofy about it, man. I just feel a little nervous and on edge.

"I'm always messing with my label's international guy," Rock adds. "He's like, ‘You do great in all these places' and this and that. And I'm like, ‘I'm big in Kentucky, man. I'm cool.'"



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