The accomplishments are impressive enough for any new artist – a chart-topping debut album nearing a half-million in sales, three hit singles from that album (all of which he wrote or co-wrote), a Gold ringtone certification, and opening spots on some of country’s hottest tours. The key to Jason Michael Carroll’s success is evident in every note he sings – live or in the studio – and it lies in his authenticity. Whether it’s the empathy brought to bear on the tragedy of “Alyssa Lies,” the pure passion of “Livin’ Our Love Song” or the youthful exuberance of “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead,” Carroll knows how to connect with fans, and together with hard work, undeniable talent, and good looks, that connection has launched one of country’s most impressive young careers.
It’s a career whose music aptly depicts Carroll as country’s Gen-Y family man, reflecting his generation’s transition from party to parenthood, and able to fully express the joys inherent in both worlds and the tensions that can come in moving from unencumbered freedom to the responsibilities of home and hearth. As a husband and father of four, Carroll sings eloquently about both sides of the equation in songs that recognize the firm foundation that country roots and a sense of community provide in a fast-moving world.
Now, with the April 2009 release of his sophomore album, Growing Up Is Getting Old (Arista Nashville), he fulfills the promise of his first record and takes his career a big step forward. The first single, “Where I’m From,” could have come from the pages of his life, and yet paradoxically enough, given his strengths as a songwriter, it’s one he didn’t write.
“People ask me, ‘Do you only record songs you wrote?’ My answer is always, ‘No, if I believe in a song I didn’t write more than a song I did, I’d record it first,’” Carroll says, “and here I kind of had the chance to put my money where my mouth is.” The tale of two men from seemingly opposite worlds who meet by chance explores the similarities that lie beneath most of our differences.
“No matter where life carries you, and it carries us in all different directions, if you boil it down to the nuts and bolts of it, most of us are really the same,” he says. The song is filled with points that hit home, from the seat he occupied in his father’s church and the fact that his son bears part of his grandfather’s name to the affect cancer has had on those close to him. Its authenticity is ideal to an album that finds Carroll digging deeper creatively and solidifying his place in country music.
“You have a responsibility to your fans,” he says, “not only to record songs that are hits but also to record songs that mean something to you and convey to your fans who you are.”
Those songs are all over Growing Up Is Getting Old. A Carolina-born preacher’s son raised in a strict household, Carroll threw himself whole-heartedly into life and music when he got the chance. The resulting tension between experience and responsibility, and the hard-won wisdom that grows out of the maturing process have always infused the music he makes. Jason Michael sees himself in songs like the title cut, of which he says, “I don’t think there’s a truer statement out there right now, especially to a father of four who tries to get home as much as I do and who travels as much as I do.” His children – three from a previous marriage – are at the core of Carroll’s identity, and his relationship with them helped bring vocal passion to songs like the cathartic “Hurry Home” and the poignant “Tears.” “Sorry Don’t Matter” explores the cold reality of a betrayed relationship, while “Barn Burner” gives him the chance to revel in the joy of days when responsibility could be set aside one party at a time. Love’s complexities figure in “Happened on a Saturday Night (Suzie Q),” a story with a rocking pace and a hairpin plotline, “Let Me Go,” featuring a seemingly star-crossed pair of lovers, and “We Threw It All Away,” in which two people rolling the dice surprise everyone with a win. The laid-back anthem, “That’s All I Know,” sums up the easygoing, comfortably fitting philosophy that permeates the record.
Growing Up Is Getting Old found Jason Michael once again working with producer Don Gehman, known for his work with Hootie and the Blowfish, John Mellencamp, Tracy Chapman, and R.E.M.
“We collaborate really well together,” Carroll says. “Now, we butt heads really well together, too,” he adds with a laugh, “but I think that’s part of a great relationship when you have two people with really creative sides who can find a way to get both their influences into what they’re working on.”
The creative tension behind the teamwork produced an album that showcases both the passion and sincerity in his voice and the talent that brought Jason Michael from the Carolina nightspots where he honed his craft to national attention.
He was an unlikely candidate for the clubs. He was not allowed to listen to secular music growing up in North Carolina. In fact, his father once took him to task for having a copy of Billy Ray Cyrus’s first record, but through friends and later at his job in a motor shop, he immersed himself in music and found himself drawn to country. After winning a radio station’s karaoke contest, Carroll was asked to join a local country band in need of a singer. He began paying his dues in clubs, and his mother, who was by then encouraging his dream, signed him up for a televised talent show in Raleigh/Durham. He won, and the visibility opened doors that led to Gehman.
Soon, Carroll was signed to Arista Nashville, and his first album, Waitin’ in the Country, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. His first two singles, “Alyssa Lies” and “Livin’ Our Love Song,” shot into the Top 5. He opened for Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins, and Alan Jackson, and became part of the 2008 tours of Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride. He was also featured on Good Morning America, thrilled the crowd at the CMA Music Festival, and has played multiple times at the Grand Ole Opry.
He quickly learned how his music could truly affect lives, with fans regularly approaching him with stories of the impact that “Alyssa Lies” or “Livin’ Our Love Song” had on them.
“My songs speak so much to so many people,” he says. “I really can’t take for granted what I’m doing, and I thank God every day I have the chance to keep doing it.”
He is especially thrilled with the RIAA Gold Mastertone certification of “Livin’ Our Love Song,” recognizing sales of 500,000 ringtones and ringbacks.
“Standing in line at a bank or at a fast food restaurant and hearing somebody’s phone ringing and it’s my song, that’s pretty cool,” he says.
But through it all, he remains a young man who has not lost touch with his roots, and it’s obvious he’s embraced the wisdom he received from a superstar touring partner.
“I was hanging out with Brooks & Dunn on the road, and Ronnie Dunn said, ‘Jason, don’t let anything change you. Be who you are. That’s what got you here.’ It’s great advice.”
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