Eric Church Head to an Eric Church show, and you’ll notice it isn’t the typical country music crowd. You’ll see fans of rock, country and a range of genres, all packed in to sing along to rollicking, high-spirited chart-toppers such as “Springsteen,” “Drink in My Hand,” “Like Jesus Does,” and “Smoke a Little Smoke.” That makes sense. After all, Church never set out to be a standard country singer. “I think for me, I’ve never really made music and thought, ‘It’s this kind of music or that kind of music,’ and I never tried to put walls around anything we’ve done. I think we’ve always made the music we make. Sometimes it falls on one side or another side. I love it because I grew up listening to everything, and I think there’s a wide variety of influences in our music,” Church said. “I would hope that the rock side or country side or any other side would find something in our music.”

Church is currently touring in support of Mr. Misunderstood (2015), an album he spontaneously wrote in three weeks after wrapping up his album cycle for his previous album, The Outsiders. He spoke with Gibson.com about the new album, his charity work and why he “couldn’t be more thrilled” with his new Gibson Hummingbird Dark signature model.

What challenges have you had to face in your career that you never expected?

The biggest thing is that we’ve always done things in a unique and authentic way, which is pretty consistent with the music. That’s not always been the easiest to get accepted by the industry or commercial format. There are sometimes challenges with the industry finding where you belong. That’s the biggest thing. It’s been difficult to get traction sometimes, and I’m proud we haven’t conformed there. I feel good that I stay true to what the music is and what I want it to be.

What is the best advice you could offer aspiring musician’s trying to make it?

I think the best thing is if it’s something you would be doing anywhere. You have to have the passion for it. It should never be something you do to make a living. That should not be the driving factor. If you don’t have that love for it, it’s not going to work out for you. You have to want to do it no matter what.

You have always played by your own rules and the new album, Mr. Misunderstood, was not released in the traditional fashion. What was the thinking about the surprise and rushing it out like you did?

People have to understand, nobody was more surprised than me. I didn’t want a record. I didn’t need a record. We had just finished our last album cycle, and usually I take some time off. With this one, all of a sudden within three weeks, not only had I written but I had recorded an album. It’s the most creative I’ve ever been. It’s the best album I’ve ever made. For me, it felt like a crime against that creativity to put it on the shelf for six months. It didn’t feel right to me to sit on it when it arrived as a gift the way it did.

Eric Church

Your live show is spectacular. How do you guys keep it so solid live?

We change it up every night. Our first arena tour was the most structured show I’d done, so when I went on the Outsiders tour, it was important to me that I didn’t want it to feel like the same show every night. We didn’t play the same set list every night, and I think doing that keeps it fresh on stage.

When did you get your hands on your first Gibson and what memories do you associate with it?

My first Gibson that I remember was in college. I got into guitar and got my first one my sophomore year. I’ve always been a fan. It’s such an iconic brand, and it’s been around and has that history. When I got in college, I started touring and playing, and I would take it out and carry it to every show. It actually got stolen, but I made a lot of money with that guitar. It was a Hummingbird. My first Bird!

How did you learn to play guitar, and did it come easily for you?

I don’t know if it came easy. I never compared it to what other people went through. I never took lessons. I just picked it up and worked my way through it. I learned some chords and songs and put them together and taught myself. I started to write songs when I was 13. I got serious when I was in college. All of this really started in college.

Do you remember the first gig you attended?

Yes! My first show I ever went to, I was 4 years old, and it was Alabama. It was a big fair show. I remember that moment of going up above the crowd and seeing the big stage and production. It was very entertaining, even though I didn’t know what it was yet.

Greatest guitarist you've ever seen?

I have a couple! One would be Jerry Garcia. I think he’s the most underrated. To me, he was a stylist. He had jazz phrasing and voicing that were so interesting to me. It was Americana before there was really Americana. The other was Prince. I think Prince was the best guitar player we’ve ever had. I think he was unequalled and maybe wasn’t as known for it. I don’t think people know how incredibly gifted he was on guitar.

One of the stars of the “Record Year” video is the new Gibson Hummingbird Dark signature model, can you tell us how that came about?

I’ve always been a Hummingbird guy. When we started talking about maybe doing my own model, I had some ideas about what I thought it needed to look like. I didn’t really want to do a different guitar than the Hummingbird, because I love the Hummingbird. But, I said, “What about a different version of the Hummingbird?” We finally came up with Hummingbird Dark. I wanted it very matte and black and dark and sinister and unique looking. And I wanted it a little smaller of a body style. It went from there, and I’ve been involved with the whole process. I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s my favorite Gibson I’ve ever played.

Eric Church Authenticity has been a constant in your career, does it get harder or easier to remain true to yourself as you become more and more popular and powerful in the business?

Easier. I think when you start off, the hardest thing to do is not bend to what is happening that, you know, will probably help you be more successful quicker. That’s where the authenticity with a lot of artists gets compromised. They start making decisions about other things instead of what is authentically them. As you have more success, you don’t worry about that as much, and you can be more authentic. I think you can take more chances. You can push the envelope more of what you want music to be. For me, it will always come down to creativity. If I’m not feeling that creativity when I go into the studio, I won’t do it.

OK, so imagine you have three days off: what do you do?

I love to fish. I love the outdoors. I love to play golf. I do something outside. I have a 4 and a
1-year old, so I take my older son fishing, and that’s as good as it gets for me. I just get outside.

Would you talk a little about your foundation, the Chief Cares Fund?

It’s a foundation we started a few years ago, and the most proud thing, for me, is that we donate a lot of money. We have always really focused on people. It’s Christian-based. It’s about finding small groups of people that are trying to do really big things, and they don’t have the finances to do it, but they’re doing incredible things anyway. We try to be the financial and moral support that they need to do what we already see what they’re doing.

“Three Year Old" is a great song and the first you’ve released about your sons. What’s the best part and most difficult part about being a dad?”

The best part is the fulfillment, joy and pride and things I never knew weren’t involved in my life before I had kids. I can’t believe I could live without them. The difficulty, for us, is the travel. It’s well worth it. It’s a disruption in everybody’s normal life. I don’t know if it’s harder on me or them. A lot of that is because I’m not a dad who believes in leaving the kids at home and going on tour. I think so many artists are on tour, and their dreams are coming true, but it’s just hollow. So, we all travel together, and that’s a challenge.