There is a restlessness in Kenny Chesney’s voice that goes deeper than what you may expect from the man who gave us “Beer in Mexico,” “Guitars and Tiki Bars” and "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems."
Speaking from his Nashville home on a rare day off, the mind of country music’s ultimate laid-back superstar is not far from concerns of the day, on both the creative and business sides.
There is the No Shoes Nation Tour, which opened last month in Tampa and is still being tweaked in his head. There are meetings and marketing responsibilities for the imminent release of the album “Life on a Rock,” due out April 30. There is his new and very personal project, Blue Chair Bay Rum, due in stores this summer. And there are preparations for this Saturday’s headlining performance at the inaugural Tortuga Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale beach.
“That’s the biggest misconception. For a guy who sings a lot of songs about not working, I’m working all the time,” he says, with an easygoing laugh. “Right now, I’ve got 10 things working on the left side of my brain, and 10 things going on the right side. It goes on constantly.”
But that is probably what it takes to sell 1 million tickets to each of his past 10 tours, to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award eight times, to chart 24 No. 1 hits and sell more than 30 million albums.
No, there’s somewhere else that Chesney is restless to get to. A place deep inside himself.
“Life on a Rock” is an album that might never have happened. In contrast to the clockwork major-label tradition of producing an agreed-upon number of radio-ready songs for an album every 18 months, these songs were written in different places and at different times over the past six or seven years, Chesney says, often a story put on a shelf waiting for the music to come along.
“It’s the most-organic record I’ve ever made,” he says.
With the exception of the stadium-ready hit “Pirate Flag,” “Life on a Rock” offers intimate sketches of people, places, moments and feelings that Chesney says deserve to be remembered and celebrated. Many were drawn from experiences in the Caribbean and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Chesney has lived and sailed for 15 years.
“This album is about the way I like to walk through the world when I’m off the road. Usually in the islands, on the boat with a lot of friends,” he says. “This record is about how the world can move very fast, and we are conditioned to move even faster. At some point, you realize you’re moving too fast. Meanwhile, some of life’s really great moments have evaporated.”
The idea of the album gained momentum when he wrote “When I See This Bar” and “Happy on the Hey Now,” the latter inspired by the death of a woman who was “part of a wonderful circle of friends in the islands.”
Chesney says the death of such a close friend “has a way of stopping you in your tracks, grounding you in ways you didn’t see coming. It changed me. It made me realize I had to appreciate the experiences life has to offer. Life doesn’t stand still.”
The singer says he soon recognized that he had a bunch of stories and lyrics written over the years that fit that emotional theme.
“[These songs] didn’t pigeonhole me. They were written without a boundary about what might work on radio or at a show,” he says. “I was just a storyteller, who let the music come when it came.”
Chesney says he is getting better at looking at the big picture and is consciously looking for ways to slow down. “When you have a moment, take a moment,” he says, as if quoting a self-help book. But he says the trademark energy he puts into his shows will be in full effect on Saturday. Perhaps even more so.
“I’m really excited about this. It’ll only be the second time we’ve ever played on a beach,” he says. (The first was a concert on the New Jersey shore.) The set will include several songs from the new album, including “Pirate Flag.” And Chesney says he’ll be looking to pull Grace Potter onstage for their duet “You and Tequila.”
Tortuga’s environmental themes also resonate with Chesney, who says he has witnessed the effects of ocean degradation sailing the Caribbean over the years.
“This is huge for me, the idea of protecting what we all have enjoyed for future generations,” he says. “We need to do whatever we can to instill that mentality and pass it along.”
IF YOU GO
Kenny Chesney closes the opening-day performances at the Tortuga Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale beach with a concert beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Info: TortugaMusicFestival.com.