Scotty McCreery on ‘See You Tonight,’ Brad Paisley and country lyrics: Interview

When Scotty McCreery”s debut album, 2011″s “Clear As Day” bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, he became the youngest solo male to achieve that milestone.

Now with “See You Tonight,” his second studio album (not including a Christmas set), the “American Idol” champ hopes to prove that he has a sustainable country career. The 20-year old sophomore at Raleigh”s North Carolina State University attends classes during the early part of the week, and then spends most weekends traveling around the country playing gigs and visiting radio stations.

What comes across in even a brief conversation with McCreery is how grounded and mature he seems for someone who just turned 20. He’s clearly enjoying college life, but he not likely to be showing up at any parties dropping Molly with Miley Cyrus.

On “See You Tonight,” which came out on Tuesday (15), McCreery co-wrote five of the tracks, fulfilling his goal to play a greater role in the creation of his albums. He talked to HitFix about the making of the album, his first headlining tour, if country music has a content problem and what he really thought of his first album.

You recently played at six Major League Baseball parks as a way to promote and support its inner-city youth baseball programs. As a former high school pitcher, what did playing baseball teach you that you”ve carried over into your music career?

I think where it”s helped me out the most is on stage. I might have been on stage in front of 15 people in the coffee shop in Garner (N.C.) and then all of a sudden I”m live in front of millions [on ‘Idol”]. I think it helped my nerves there a little bit and kind of helped prepare me for that moment. Baseball”s been a big influence on me growing up.

It also teaches you how to handle being in front of a hostile crowd.

Exactly, nobody said all of the people in front of you love you. Sometimes you”ve got to make somebody a fan, that”s the mission every night.

You took a spill on stage a few weeks ago on stage and you handled it with so much humor, even tweeting about it and making fun of yourself.  You seem to have already figured it out that you can”t take any of this too seriously.

I thought it was hilarious. Throughout the rest of he show, the rest of the hour and a half I was on stage, I”d start thinking about it and start cracking up in the mic.

This is your first headlining tour after opening for Brad Paisley. What did you learn from him?

Brad was the man.  I snuck out with a hat and a hoodie and watch him perform [every night]  and just kind of pick up little tips…even more so than the stage stuff and the music, him backstage and the way he treated his crew and the way he treated us, he took things very seriously. He wasn”t going to be passive about anything. He treated everyone with respect and made sure you knew you were appreciated. You hear the horror stories of people who treat their opening acts and crew like crap, but Brad was the total opposite and treated everyone with class.

What”s been the hardest thing about being a headliner? The biggest surprise to you that opening had not prepared you for?

I”ve only had one record out; our challenge was to really put together a show that fans would really be getting their money”s worth. We had an hour and a half of music to fill with only 40 minutes of music on my first record.

Now you have a whole new album of music out there. You co-wrote five songs on “See You Tonight.” How did you become a songwriter?

I tell you what, honestly, I”ve been writing songs since I was a kid… It was kind of a natural transition for me, but I had a lot to learn, I think that”s why getting to Nashville and writing with [top songwriters] and honing my craft there was important for me. Somebody described it to me the best as when you go in to write a song with two people that you”ve never met, you”re pretty much going in and taking off your pants in front of strangers, so it”s a really weird feeling. You”re expressing all your thoughts and diving deep into your heart and your mind, but once you get going and start writing more and more songs, you get comfortable with it and that”s when you start writing your best stuff.

You just turned 20 and there are two songs that deal with death, “Carolina Moon,” which includes beautiful backing vocals by Alison Krauss, and “The Dash.” What”s on your mind that you”re thinking about death so much.

(Laughs). I”m not necessarily thinking about death and thinking it”s going to be coming soon because hopefully I”ve got a long life ahead of me, but it”s just one of those things you”ve got to think about. I”ve dealt with losing close ones before and I”ve been around friends that have lost friends at a young age. I think it”s important to think about- not necessarily death, but about life and think about where you”re going and how you want to be remembered and the legacy you want to leave. It”s just one of the things that”s kind of always on my mind, how I”m going to be remembered.

You”ve had two top 20 country hits, but are you frustrated that you haven”t been embraced more by country radio?

Looking back on  ‘Clear As Day,” I don”t know if we had a hit on the record. ‘The Trouble With Girls” was our biggest chance, I really felt that song could have done a little more than it did. ‘I Love You This Big,” I  loved the song, it had huge success for me. I could have never expected that, but it just wasn”t a hit song and that was the first one that radio got to know me by. It”s just one of those things. Hopefully this next record they can see that we have some hits on it. I think ‘See You Tonight” is a hit if we work it right. We”ve got songs to back it up too, which isn”t something I think we really had on the first record. We got options, so I”m excited.

One of the songs you co-wrote is a song called “Something More,” which is about really wanting country songs to have more substance than about riding around in a truck and falling in love with a hot girl. Was there anything that prompted you to write that?

‘Something More” is a song that I wrote not necessarily about country radio, more so about a lot of songs that were being pitched to me. I wrote that after song after song after song was just the same song, just a different melody, so I was just looking for something more to put on the record. So that”s pretty much what prompted that song.

As you know, Zac Brown recently criticized Luke Bryan for ‘That”s My Kind Of Night,” calling it a horrible song and there”s been some criticism of the lack of substance in  songs on the charts.  Do you agree?

With the whole Zac thing and Luke thing, my only take on that is music changes, life changes, everything goes through cycles, everything evolves…I don”t think country music is going hip hop or pop or rock, I just think it”s going more mainstream. For me, I think that”s a great thing.We”re getting more fans listening to it. If a fan wants to listen to Florida Georgia Line. I love Florida Georgia Line. I love “Round Here.” So if a fan wants to listen to that  and if a fan that wasn”t listening to country music before is listening to “Cruise” on Pandora and after that a song by George Jones comes on, they may have never heard George Jones before. I think it”s a good thing for the genre. I like where we”re heading. That”s my two cents. take it or leave it. I dig where we”re heading right now.