In the 2½ years since the release of his last album, 2010’s fine blend of heartaches and houserockers “They Call Me Cadillac,” Randy Houser has been busy.
The Mississippi-born country singer-songwriter got married, had a baby, and switched record labels.
Since making the leap from songwriter — co-penning tracks for others like Trace Adkins’s “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” — to performer, Houser has received critical acclaim and cultivated a devoted following for his soulful singing and storytelling. But he recently reached a crucial commercial milestone: The title track to his new, sleeker-sounding album, “How Country Feels,” hit number one on the country singles chart and the album itself debuted at number 11 on the Billboard top 200 albums chart.
“It’s the strangest thing. The momentum has totally changed with this project. I feel it, it’s really weird,” said Houser with one of his trademark giggles when we caught up with him this week by phone from the set of “Conan.”
Q. How does number one feel?
A. It feels pretty country. (Laughs.) No, it’s awesome. I can’t tell you. I mean, really? That’s the spot that you want to be in.
Q. Is there a sense of relief in having a commercial breakthrough?
A. Yeah, there is. Sometimes the stars line up. The main thing is the team that I have surrounding me now. They really just worked hard and believed in me as an artist and made it a mission to get our music out there to people on a bigger level than before.
Q. Hearing the opening riffs of the title track made me think you were listening to some ’80s records while you worked on this.
A. I was definitely a kid of ’80s rock ’n’ roll. A lot of people have referenced “How Country Feels” to AC/DC. Well, AC/DC is one of my favorite bands of all time. So there’s definitely a thread of that going through there. And a lot of that also has to do with Derek George, the producer of the album, he’s a really great guitar player.
Q. While this album shares some of the emotional heft of “Cadillac” it also has a much more polished vibe.
A. I definitely set out to make a more commercial record this time out. With all of their excitement to work with me, I wanted to give this team something they could go accomplish something with and not just make a record for me.
Q. Talk about the friction of that a little bit, because it’s an issue a lot of artists wrestle with: wanting songs and sounds that will work on the radio and wanting to write and produce music that comes strictly from the heart, and just hoping it’s a hit also. How do you approach balancing that?
A. I think the “Cadillac” album, that definitely was just a more selfish record for me. Honestly, I didn’t feel like things were going all that great career-wise at the time. And so I just became numb to it commercially and said, “Well hell, if I’m not going to get much help than I’m going to make the record I want anyway.” There’s a lot of honesty on this album, too. I tried to mix in a little bit of everything.
Q. So it feels good to record a song like “Route 3 Box 250 D” which is probably one of the most personal, heartfelt things you’ve ever written but you also enjoy cutting something like “Sunshine on the Line” which is just a big, fun, good time?
A. Right. That’s the point. Everything doesn’t have to be serious all the time. You’ve got to realize where I was in my personal life also when I made “Cadillac”: I was single, lonely, and all I did was party all the time and I wasn’t a happy person. And I wanted this record to reflect more where I am now, which is a lot happier, more fulfilled place. I like to do things different. And on the next album you never know what it might be.
Q. Do you feel like fatherhood has changed you as a songwriter?
A. It has definitely affected my songwriting. I don’t really want to write songs about staying out all night drunk and a lot of women. I want to respect my family and try to teach my son that there’s more to life. It’s not like I’m Mr. Mom, but there are some things that get my guard up. That might change. I might get more comfortable with [certain topics] but right now — you have to realize, I didn’t grow up with a very strong father influence — I’m kind of tippy-toe-ing around things and seeing how much everything I do affects my son and family.
Editor’s note: Randy Houser’s performance was rescheduled for Feb. 24. Ticketholders who cannot attend the new date of Houser’s performance can get refunds at the point of purchase. The “g” section was printed in advance with the original date.