Jon Pardi's 2016 sophomore album California Sunrise was a commercial and critical success, cementing the California-born country artist as one of the most exciting young acolytes of neo-traditional country music. Now, Pardi has returned with Heartache Medication, a lively, fun-loving LP that infuses his throwback sensibilities with modern flourishes. The album also finds Pardi turning up the volume (and the distortion) and showing off his rock 'n' roll chops ("Tied One On," "Me and Jack"), while throwing in the occasional soulful moment ("Don't Blame It on Whiskey") and sweeping ballad ("Ain't Always the Cowboy") for good measure. Below, Pardi gives Apple Music the inside scoop on how he brought his influences together on Heartache Medication.
Old Hat "I heard 'Old Hat' on Jeff Hyde's record [2018's Norman Rockwell World]. It was cool-sounding, and it talked about old-school things, like opening the door for a lady. It's a very sweet song about being a gentleman. One of the main reasons that song is on the record is Summer, my girlfriend, loves it. She said it reminds her of how many shitty dates she's been on. The ladies love a gentleman."
Heartache Medication "I wrote that song two years ago. I had the title. I thought the title was really cool-sounding—you kind of knew what you were talking about without having to say it. It's about a guy having a good time, dealing with heartache but having fun. A little bit of drinking, a little bit of dancing, a little bit of everything to make you feel good."
Nobody Leaves a Girl Like That "'Nobody Leaves a Girl Like That' was written by Bart Butler, Marv Green, and Jimmy Yeary. I hadn't heard anything like it. Originally it was super, super, super country, believe it or not. I always wanted a Brooks & Dunn-sounding song—you could hear Ronnie [Dunn] singing it. I always say that would be me if I left my girlfriend, Summer. As an artist you have to put yourself in that situation to feel that emotion."
Ain't Always the Cowboy "That's the 'lighter in the air' song right there. What an idea. It's something that's always been there, with the cowboy riding away, but it hasn't been sung like this. It's a big power ballad of a song. I like power ballads. It's very '80s. I love that girl power, like, 'Go do your own thing. I'm here toughing it out regardless of what you're going to do.' I knew girls would love it, and guys love it too. It was a no-brainer when we heard that song."
Me and Jack "'Me and Jack' is based on a true story. I wrote that song in LA on a writer's retreat. I had that idea in my phone, as many of our songwriters do with our notes in our iPhones now. I put 'me and Jack and Johnny Cash'—I wanted it to sound like Johnny Cash, with a train kind of beat. I always thought Johnny Cash had the best story-songs. At the top of the song, when it says, 'Hey Jon, it's nice to meet you. My name is Jack,' that was my secret homage to Johnny Cash. In the van days, we'd put Jack Daniel's on the rider for our dressing room, but they'd always give us the gigantic bottle. Crazy stuff would happen. We took it off the rider, and that's where I got the idea."
Don't Blame It on Whiskey (feat. Lauren Alaina) “You notice how we put that right after 'Me and Jack'? I heard Eric Church's version in 2010 and I thought it was a great song. Then my A&R person played it for me the day before we went in to cut, and I was like, 'I'll cut it if you get me the permission.' He texted Miranda [Lambert] and Eric and they said they were excited. I love that Lauren Alaina is on it—she sounds great. It's about that point in a relationship where you're either done or you're gonna try to fix it but you can't blame it on other things. I've been there for sure. I love songs that can hit an emotion."
Tied One On "We got a lot of drinking songs. 'I cut her loose and tied one on.' That was another one that Bart Butler brought me at the last minute, the day before we went in to record the album. The demo sounded a lot different than when I recorded it. It's another one I really related to, because before my girlfriend Summer, I was just over relationships. So that really resonated with me and it made me want to go dance and go party. I feel like if a song can make you feel like that, you need to record it, or write it. It's rock 'n' roll; it's Dwight Yoakam; it has country all over it. What can I say? It's an awesome song. And I didn't write it, so I can say that."
Oughta Know That "That's the jam. When I first wrote that, Bart Butler had the title. We wrote it in two hours. It's just a stomper, a punch-somebody-in-the-face kind of song. It has rowdy all over it. Even nowadays, I shouldn't have stayed out too late, I shouldn't have drank too much, I shouldn't have gone to that one spot with my buddies, because I have to get up and go to work. I oughta know that by now. We can all relate to it."
Tequila Little Time "I can feel a spicy margarita in my future. I love spicy margaritas. We wrote that on a Northern California retreat at the little studio I have at my mom's house. Rhett Akins was on the couch, just laying down. He couldn't come up with nothing all day. He blurped out, 'Tequila little time with you,' and we finished it in about an hour and a half. It's the old-school picking up a girl when she's down, but slyly. Not trying to be too creepy. When we wrote it we were like, 'We can't make it creepy.'"
Buy That Man a Beer "Clint Daniels wrote that song. It reminded me a lot of the guys I grew up with, like my dad's friends, like veterans, or people playing music downtown, just out there working hard. It's a song for hard workers, like, 'Here's a beer, bud. Keep doing what you're doing.' The song took me to a different place. You have to pay respect to people, and why not do it by buying them a beer?"
Call Me Country "'Call Me Country' was written about my '70s heroes. It's a time in country music where you're not really gonna hear songs like those on the radio anymore. You've got Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard. For me, those guys are the older generation I got into as an older listener. When I was young, I was all about some Alan Jackson and George Strait. But when you dig in to those older guys, it's a different sound. Waylon Jennings was Waylon Jennings, you know."
Just Like Old Times "'Just Like Old Times' was supposed to be on California Sunrise. I was like, 'Man, I'm not going to shelve this song again. It has to be on the record.' I didn't have to sing it. I just put it on the record. It was ready to go. It's one of my favorites. When I hear that song, it makes me want to dance with somebody. I love the story—you can see it in your head."
Love Her Like She's Leaving "That's Dean Dillon and Bart Butler and Jessie Jo Dillon. I was talking to Dean—he was wanting to get on the record—and I was like, 'Man, I love that '80s George Strait stuff. We've been digging into that.' He came up with the song and we really produced it so it was '80s, early-'90s kind of style, with the gut-string guitar. I love the message—every guy's been there. It's one of my favorites on the record."
Starlight "I wrote 'Starlight' in 2014. It was mainly inspired by my grandmother, who got me into music when I was young. She died when I was 14. I wish she could see me, but I know she's around me and here in spirit. I wanted to make that feeling universal to everyone. I didn't want to write a song about my grandma, I wanted it to be meaningful to anybody who has lost somebody they love and they feel like they're there around them, like when you get chills on your arm. My buddy passed away last year. Back in the day, he was the guy who thought I would never lose. I couldn't make the damn funeral because I was on the road, so I made this video and talked to his family—he left two daughters—and I wanted to give them something. I sent them 'Starlight' and the video for his celebration of life. Everybody talked about the song and everybody was crying, and it showed me how powerful that song could be. And that's why I wanted to end the record like that, to end with a remembrance."