Rory Feek was a single dad Nashville songwriter when he married the aspiring singer Joey. While Rory was on the A-list writing hits like Blake Shelton's "Some Beach," Jimmy Wayne's "I Will," and Easton Corbin's "A Little More Country Than That," Joey was trying to get her singing career going. Traditional wisdom would keep the overall-wearing husband out of view, but when Joey and Rory teamed up, their personal chemistry translated into their music, and after a kickstart on the CMT show Can You Duet, they released their first album in 2008, which featured the infectious - and for many fans all-too-relatable - "Cheater, Cheater."
Rory says that recording with his wife lets him be himself, and he's smart enough to cede the spotlight to Joey on stage. It's an interesting combination, and so far it's working, as fans get to watch this love story play out in real time. Their appropriately titled Album Number Two was released in 2010, with the lead single "This Song's For You" featuring the Zac Brown Band.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): The new album is called Album Number Two, and I realize it's sort of an inside joke about the whole idea of the sophomore jinx and the pressure put on artists to have successful follow-ups. But in all honesty, was there really some pressure in recording this new album?
Rory Feek: Actually, for Joey and I, there really wasn't any pressure. That song was written like five years ago, it was written for another artist that I was producing at the time who was on RCA Records, and there was a ton of pressure on him at the time. And we've watched it all these years. Also, Joey had a record deal on Sony Records, so when I met her she had a record deal, and she had a ton of pressure. As a matter of fact, she lost her record deal because she refused to change. And so we've seen it, we've been around it a ton, and so that was part of it. Our label has actually been 100% supportive, but it's really more based upon other situations within the industry where they go through that all the time. We're making fun of it a little bit, but it's a pretty standard thing that happens.
Songfacts: Tell me about the song that you wrote with Zac Brown that's the single, "This Song's For You." Where did the idea for that song come from?
Rory: "That Song's For You" happened because Zac is a good friend of ours and we've been out playing a ton of shows with him all spring and summer, and we wrote a couple of songs together on the tour bus. And that one we just started playing every night in the shows, and the response was so big to it. Especially in a live situation, that song really hits home a lot with people, and so we just wanted to capture this time in our lives with Zac and those guys, and keep it forever and put it on our new album. We shot that video and recorded the song, and now we've got a forever song, and we get to share that with people, too.
Songfacts: Your song "That's Important to Me" talks about the things that you value off the new album. Not to be cliché, but is it important to you that your fans know the things that are important to you?
Rory: I think it's ultra-important. We don't really write songs for our fans, we write songs for everybody. I think you make fans because fans relate to what you talk about. And if you're not talking about anything, the fans are just a fan of your singing or whatever. What we really love to do is share parts of our lives, and that's how we find our fans: they relate to what you're speaking about and what's important to you. And this song, above every other song we recorded or that we have, really hits home the most. This is how our lives would be and the cornerstone of our music.
Songfacts: I imagine you've talked to some people that like your song, "Cheater, Cheater" and have told you cheating stories. Do you have any particular cheating stories that you want to relay?
Rory: Yeah, I'll tell you one and Joey can tell you one. We had a lady who told us at a show one time that she was with this guy, her boyfriend, and he was in really bad health. She gave him her kidney, and then he cheated on her. So it don't get any worse than that. We had a lady, actually, last night who came up in the middle of our show - I mean, we were done, we played with Don Williams in Salina, Kansas, and we're at a autograph line afterwards. And there were just tons of people, all excited. And this woman bought a "Cheater, Cheater" t-shirt. Most people just love that song, and they're excited, but she didn't just love the song, she was bawling. She was just crying. Her heart was broken, and she said, "Unfortunately, this song really spoke to me." And Joey just held onto her while she cried. She was so hurt. So believe it or not, that song, as silly as it is and fun as it is, it actually helps some people out there, they don't know what to do with the pain and stuff that they're feeling, and it gives them a little bit of strength.
Songfacts: Joey, did you want to add a story?
Joey Feek: Well, that was the story I was going to tell. You know, it's something to share a song and sing a song live, and for the humor and the fun of it. But when you see it firsthand, and you look into a woman's eyes and she's just there and she's hurting so bad, and she doesn't know what to do but all she wants to do is give you a hug, it's something powerful. And I think that is when you know you've touched someone; it may be under a terrible circumstance like that, but it's real life, and it's happening to them today. For an artist, it's something that you feel like, Well, maybe I helped them to work through something. And that's the ultimate. That's really why we do what we do. It's to touch people in a way with music.
Songfacts: Well, you know, one of the songs...
Rory: Hold on, I got to read you this one e-mail I just found it. This is our favorite e-mail we ever got. It says, "I love this song and would like to know where I can purchase it. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, and when I heard this song I thought this is exactly what I'm going through right now. I have been with this man for 17 years and he has chosen to have another woman from Morgan County. I have two kids with this man and he don't care about us no more. He don't even have nothing to do with his own children. So when I heard this, I was like, Oh my gosh, this song is just what I'm going through right now. This woman is a white trash ho', because she told me she don't give a F about me or my kids. I pretty much lost it then and felt I had every right to whoop her ass right then, which I did. I am 39 years old, and I never thought I would live my life like this. At first it hurt really bad and I thought I would rather be dead than alive, because the pain was so much. I recorded it on CMT, so every time he thinks he can stop by, I play it as loud as the TV will go. I would love to listen on a CD while I'm in the car. This song gives me strength to know, Hey, I'm not to blame. It was him and that white trash ho.'"
Songfacts: (laughing) Oh my goodness. Wow. Isn't it funny, like you said, it's a fun song, but it touches a nerve with some people.
Joey: Sure does.
Songfacts: Well, the other song I wanted to make sure and talk about was the Easton Corbin song, "A Little More Country Than That." How did that come together?
Rory: That song was written five or six years ago with a couple of my buddies: Don Poythress and Wynn Varble. We were in Hendersonville, Tennessee. We were up at a lake and we were writing for another artist. We had a little writing retreat, and we were sitting on a porch one afternoon, and we wrote that song for another artist to possibly sing. That same afternoon we wrote "A Little More Country Than That," we also wrote "Album Number Two." Both of those songs. They sat on a shelf these past five or six years and no one recorded them. That artist didn't record either one of them, and all these years later "A Little More Country" becomes a huge hit, and then "Album Number Two." Now I'm not just a songwriter, now I have an album, and a second album, and every word of that song we wrote all those years ago is our story now.
"A Little More Country Than That" was Wynn and Don and I sitting out on the porch thinking about our lives. Wynn lives down where we do, and he lives on a farm just like we do, and we just were naming a bunch of things and that seemed to write it all for us. We had a ball writing the song, and believed in it all these years, and I think it's probably just drawn from our own lives; the lives that we're living now we were trying to live.
Songfacts: I didn't realize that you were a writer on Blake Shelton's "Some Beach." That sounds like it must have come from having a laugh and coming up with a title.
Rory: Actually, that song came from me and Paul Overstreet sitting having coffee one day, and Paul had just come off the road with Kenny Chesney, years ago. And Kenny was about to record a beach album, and Paul was going to try and write something for Kenny. So we were talking about beach song ideas. And one of us said the phrase "some beach," and we just started giggling like schoolboys. Started singing, "driving down the interstate." We wrote a bunch of that sitting at Starbucks, actually outside drinking a cup of coffee, singing into my cell phone so we wouldn't forget it. Then we drove to his house and went out and jumped on the boat, and we wrote the rest of it out there on the boat. Paul had a really bad toothache he was fighting at the time, so that's how that last bridge went in there. But same thing, that song sat around for a good while before anybody ever recorded it. You didn't know if you had a great song or the world's worst song in the world, you couldn't tell for a long time. But when it came out, it sure was a blessing.
Songfacts: Yeah, that would have been a smash for Kenny Chesney, but having spoken with Blake Shelton and knowing what a silly guy he is, it actually fits with him maybe better.
Rory: It does, actually. And so he didn't know that. Now it's one of the first songs that I think Blake had where his personality started showing up.
Songfacts: Joey, you did a cover of Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough." What has Loretta Lynn meant to you as far as an inspiration and an influence?
Joey: Well, I didn't know a lot of Loretta's story until later in my young adult life, and then watching Coal Miner's Daughter and reading the book. Just the strength that she had - she just said what she thought, and she didn't have anything to hold back. There were parts of it that I just loved, because she was innocent. And on "You Ain't Woman Enough," Loretta was raising that flag about supporting her man and standing beside him and fighting for him and everything else. She held that flag way before any other female country artist did. And then we have a song like "Cheater," and there's some parallels there. I just love Loretta. You just can't help but love her, and you hear her talk and she's honest with every word that she says. She doesn't hide a thing.
Songfacts: Have you had a chance to meet her?
Joey: No, we haven't. That's on our wish list. It's just an honor to cut that song, and hopefully we paid it the right respect.
We spoke with Joey and Rory on October 8, 2010. In case you're counting, Rory spoke 8 times and Joey 4.