Staind's Aaron Lewis may have gone country on his first solo release, but don't expect to see him sporting a Stetson and fancy boots any time in the near future.
"Hell no," Lewis tells Billboard.com. "I've never felt the need to try to put on airs or try to be what I'm not. In the very beginning [of Staind] we used to put on the same outfit every night to go out and play. But since we stopped doing that I wear the clothes that I wore around all day. Whatever it was I felt like putting on in the morning is what I walk out onstage in. You get what you get."
With the March 1 release of Lewis' "Town Line" EP, fans received an earful of his solo sound, produced by veteran Nashville hitmaker James Stroud and featuring three versions of the title track -- with guest appearances by George Jones, Charlie Daniels and Chris Young -- and a twangier remake of "Tangled Up in You" from Staind's 2008 album "The Illusion of Progress."
"It's kind of coming full circle," explains Lewis. "I grew up on country. There isn't a memory of my grandfather that doesn't have country music associated with it. He listed to all the old stuff -- Hank [Williams] Sr. and Jr. and Merle Haggard and George Jones and Charlie Daniels and David Allen Coe, all the best of the best. There are songs I wrote over the years on my own and then brought them to the band -- songs like 'Outside,' 'It's Been Awhile,' 'So Far Away,' 'Everything Changes'...I chose to bring them to the band to finish, but if I took those songs and put country accompaniment over them just like I did on this EP, you'd definitely hear the continuity."
Country audiences certainly hear something they like; "Country Boy" debuted at No. 9 on the Country Digital Singles chart, hit No. 1 on CMT.com and is rising on CMT's "Top 20 Showdown." The song also crept onto the Hot 100 this week, at No. 100.
"I get country people that are suspect of my rock thing, and I get rock people who are suspect of my country thing," notes Lewis. "My whole career I've heard things like 'sellout' and 'going too commercial' and all that. But I know how it all went down. I know the only thing we've ever sold out in our whole career is venues."
Lewis celebrated the "Town Line" EP's release by hitting the road for a solo acoustic tour on Feb. 25, appearing on the syndicated radio show "Rockline" on Feb. 28 and on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on March 1. After the tour wraps in early May, he'll return to the studio with Staind, which is recording its seventh studio album with "The Illusion of Progress" producer Johnny K in the converted barn on Lewis' property in rural Massachusetts.
"We're about two-thirds of the way through," reports Lewis, who's hoping for a late 2011 release and is also planning to put out a live DVD of a 2007 solo concert. "It's the heaviest record or collection of songs we have written in a long time. There's no 'Outsides,' no 'It's Been Awhiles,' no 'Right Heres,' anything like that. It's straightforward and heavy. I think with me doing ['Country Boy'] the line can be un-blurred; the songs I used to bring on the mellower side will now be the embodiment of my solo career, and Staind can stick to doing the heavier things."