Aaron Lewis wants the world to know just how country he truly is.
After logging miles on the road for years as the frontman for hard rock outfit Staind, the singer/songwriter and guitarist has been enjoying new-found success as a country solo act.
It's been a career transition years in the making for the self-described country boy from Massachusetts.
Armed with his acoustic guitar and backed by a select group of sidemen, Lewis will give local fans a chance to judge how well he has shed his head-banging persona during a special evening of pure country at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace on Tuesday (and the fans, it would seem, are eager to find out for themselves; the show is sold out).
"Country was the one thing that I could do to change up what I was doing that was in a different genre that wouldn't be compared to Staind and also stay true to me and my upbringing," said Lewis, 40, in a phone interview. "I'm happier hunting and fishing, being out in the woods. We got chickens and goats, a pig, and we live out in the middle of nowhere in a town of 1,200 people. I'm not a city boy."
Raised on a musical diet of Johnny Cash, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, Lewis credits his grandfather with filling his world with some of the genre's most iconic sounds.
"My grandfather was my baby sitter growing up and it was his country, the old stuff I was listening to. I was born in '72, so it was everything being played on the radio at the time along with the stuff from yesteryear."
But Lewis' introduction to rock eventually pulled him away from the sounds of his upbringing. He formed Staind in the heat of the nu-metal craze alongside acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit.
"During the '80s and '90s, country kind of stayed in Vermont, so I missed that whole era. The friends that I was hanging out and discovering new music with listened to rock. That's what led me down the road with Staind all those years."
Staind hit a winning streak at the tail end of the '90s and on into the decade that followed with hit singles "It's Been Awhile," "So Far Away," "Outside" and others from the band's seven-album discography.
But as tastes changed, so did Lewis' longing for a new creative outlet. For a few years he hit the casino circuit and performed alone with his acoustic guitar, straddling the worlds of rock and country.
"When the time came to reinvent what I was doing for another project, it was either make an acoustic record and have it constantly compared to Staind or do the only thing that was staying true to me, which was country."
The choice to follow his heart proved successful with the release of a five-song EP, "Town Line," which contained his first country single, "Country Boy," featuring childhood heroes George Jones and Charlie Daniels. Other successful singles like "Endless Summer" and "Forever" helped propel his latest full length album, "The Road," into the Billboard country Top 10.
"The one thing about country is that I can go to different lyrical inspirations. It doesn't have to be all about purging my soul. It can tell stories. I can write a song like 'Endless Summer' about taking my daughters to the beach for the weekend. I couldn't do that with Staind. It's a different vein of lyrical inspiration. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel; just coloring the songs differently."
Lewis added that while his country aspirations seem to be taking flight, Staind is not breaking up.
"We're in hibernation, just taking a break. Just to give you an idea of the inspiration level that's happening right now, the last Staind record we did took us six months.
"This country record I just put out took like 30 hours. It's what I'm feeling right now and where I'm at.
"It's very cool to see all the fans I've accumulated over the years with Staind are cool and open about it. A lot of people tell me they don't necessarily listen to country, but they really like my record. That's almost better than appealing specifically to a country-listening audience."