The more specific and distinct a song is, the more relatable it becomes. That's how Jake Owen broke out and grew into something more than just another male country music star singing about pickup trucks, girls and Saturday nights.
"It took me a little while," he says, "to really adapt and kind of incorporate my Florida heritage, and being from the beach, into my music. I didn't know if me disclosing I'm this beach kid from Florida is going to suit me that well in the country music world. But the more I was real to myself and putting that into my music, people really saw my true identity and it made it almost easier for me."
"I wasn't the popular kid at school or anything," Owen elaborates, "but working hard at something I really love brought me happiness in life at a time when I didn't have anything."
The first single from his forthcoming fifth album, Real Life, is emblematic of Owen's embrace of his small-town Florida roots — a jaunty little tune that bounds like an early '90s college rocker. "I grew up in a real town," he sings, "where the prom queen had a plastic crown, and we really did just drive around, cause there wasn't shit to do."
Owen actually toyed with calling the album Songs I Like, an acknowledgement of his willingness to follow his heart more than ever. The off-beat first single was a sign of this.
"I wanted to, on this record, change it up a little bit," says Owen, who combined previous albums' more anthemic approach with songs that, as he puts it, "sound like '40s and '50s country songs with a lot of steel guitar. So it's all over the map but, at the end of the day, it's just stuff I like."
Before music, Owen was on his way to becoming a professional golfer, with a tournament win at 15 and a scholarship to Florida State University. But he injured his shoulder in a wakeboarding accident and was forced to quit the sport. Devastated, he picked up a neighbor's guitar and taught himself to play.
He almost placed a song on a Kenny Chesney album, Eight Second Ride, but it didn't fit the tone, so Owen released it on his own 2006 debut, Startin' With Me. He then re-recorded it for his second album, Easy Does It, where it was the second single. Owen was opening for top-notch acts like Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, but broke through as a headliner in his own right with 2011's Barefoot Blue Jean Night, led by the chart-topping title track.
By any measure he's been fortunate.
"I do look at my life and at a lot of things I've been very lucky to obtain, the situations I've been put in, the people I've met," Owen says, noting his close friendships with NASCAR champ Kevin Harvick and golfer Jordan Spieth. "Anyone that can say they're doing what they love and it's helping to support their life and it's making other people happy — you're very lucky and blessed."