Aaron Lewis encountered his share of naysayers when he first dipped his toes into country music with his 2011 EP, “Town Line.” As the lead singer of Staind, Lewis was a star on the metal scene, and plenty of people dismissed his foray into country as a vanity project.
With the arrival in 2016 of Lewis’ second full-length album, “Sinner,” (as well as the 2017 stand-alone single "Folded Flag") Lewis said people are taking his intentions to have a solo career in country far more seriously.
“I think that everyone is finally starting to figure out that I’m not going anywhere,” Lewis said in a recent phone interview.
He's not going away but he's certainly going places, including the Fox Theater Thursday night.
That's not surprising for the tireless performer. While Staind has been dormant — aside from a summer tour in 2014 — Lewis has been one of the hardest touring artists in country music since releasing “The Road,” in 2012. (That includes a 2015 visit to Buck Owens' Crystal Palace.) He’s reached the point where he’s a reliable headlining draw for theaters and large clubs.
“I’m consistently selling out 2,500 to 3,000 seats with hard tickets,” Lewis said.
Lewis figures to stay focused on country for at least the next several months or so and says Staind fans should not expect that band to reunite any time soon.
“I definitely see it staying on hold for awhile,” he said of Staind. “I’ve got to stay focused on this (country career). I’ve got to take this to where it needs to get to before I can start risking things with the good ol’ boy network reception and throwing in a handful of Staind shows in the summertime along with all of my country shows. But that’s down the road. I can’t even think about that right now.”
Although appearances may have suggested otherwise, Lewis came to country music honestly. Growing up in Massachusetts, he was immersed in traditional country through his grandfather, a huge country music fan who had classic country playing throughout the day.
In his later teens, he began getting interested in heavy metal and hard rock, which is why when he emerged on the music scene, it was with Staind, which became one of hard rock’s most popular bands with a string of chart-topping albums, 2001’s “Break the Cycle,” 2003’s “14 Shades of Grey” and 2005’s “Chapter V” and continued to enjoy significant success with later albums like “The Illusion of Progress” (2008) and “Staind” (2011).
The group, though, experienced its share of internal turmoil as time went on and went on hiatus after the 2011 self-titled album.
With the chance to step out as a solo artist, Lewis re-embraced the country music roots of his youth and released “Town Line” and “The Road,” earning praise for his earthy brand of traditional country music.
He’s earned enough respect that “Sinner” features guest appearances from such major names in country as Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss.
Nelson adds his distinctive vocals to the new album’s title track, while Gill and Krauss sing on “That’s Not Country,” the first single from “Sinner.”
On “That’s Not Country,” Lewis takes aim at current mainstream country music, saying what he hears on radio isn’t what he considers country — both musically and lyrically. The second verse sums up the message:
“That ain’t country, that’s a natural fact/It’s full of tales of good times and happy endings, my life ain’t like that/ So I’ll keep listenin’ to the old songs that my granddad used to play/Full of pain and heartache and desperation and the ones that got away.”
As with “Town Line” and “The Road,” “Sinner” takes Lewis down a musical path rooted in the classic country of Haggard, George Jones and other artists of the 1960s and ‘70s.
The album features a mix of sturdy acoustic-based ballads like “Sunday Every Saturday Night,” “Whiskey and You” and “Mama” and a few rockers (“That’s Not Country” and “Northern Redneck”).
There is one significant twist with “Sinner.” Where Lewis focused more on story songs on his earlier releases, several songs (“Lost and Lonely” and “Story of My Life”) on the new album are considerably darker and more personal — in other words, not that far afield from the kind of self-lacerating, purging lyrics Lewis brought to Staind.
Lewis didn’t get specific about what inspired this shift in his lyrical focus.
“Well, I was in a different place in my life, different things to express, different things stuck in my craw,” he said. “It’s just a different time, so different lyrics came.
“I’m very self-destructive,” Lewis said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Lewis wrote the songs on “Sinner” during soundchecks on tour over the past several years, and tested out most of them on audiences during concerts over that span. So his shows this fall figure to feature a selection of songs new and old that will be similar to the set lists he has played since the release of the album.
“I’ve been playing it (the “Sinner” album) a bunch, probably about half and half new stuff versus the stuff from the previous records,” Lewis said. “It certainly hasn’t slowed down on how country it is.”