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Staying productive during the pandemic at the Church of Eric

UPDATED: Thu., April 15, 2021

Eric Church doesn’t care about convention. If Church did paint it by the numbers, the country superstar, who has 10 chart-topping singles, five platinum albums and 10 Grammy nominations, wouldn’t release three albums in the span of a week.

“Heart & Soul” is the collection. “Heart” will be released Friday. “&”, which was specifically crafted for his fan club, the Church Choir, will be available exclusively for devoted aficionados as a vinyl record on Tuesday, which is Record Store Day. And “Soul” will drop on April 23.

Church writes his songs. “Heart & Soul” wasn’t recorded in a studio but in Church’s favorite restaurant, which is located close to his summer home in the mountains of North Carolina, his birthplace.

Once again, Church isn’t following a playbook but his gut, which is fitting since his project was crafted in a bistro. Church and his longtime collaborator, Jay Joyce, set up a makeshift recording studio in the restaurant that had closed its doors for the winter.

Tables were moved out of the dining room. The basement was turned into a drum booth.

Microphones were placed around the premises to capture the acoustics of the restaurant’s barn wood interior.

And then, as the weather outside turned frigid, the “Heart & Soul” production commenced.

Rotating groups of songwriters and instrumentalists traveled to the compound every few days.

“I can do what I want,” Church told me during a 2017 interview. “That’s always been how I’ve done things.”

Church, 43, has influenced an array of young country recording artists courtesy of his music and approach.

“I have a lot of respect for Eric Church,” singer-songwriter Tucker Beathard said while calling from Nashville, Tennessee. “I think he’s great. He’s written a few hits with my dad (Casey Beathard, ‘Like a Wrecking Ball’ and ‘The Outsiders.’).”

Casey Beathard (Trace Adkins, Travis Tritt) has some co-writes with Church for “Heart & Soul.” Jeff Steele (Miley Cyrus, Big & Rich), Luke Laird (Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton) and Jeff Hyde (Keith Urban, Easton Corbin) are some of the other Nashville hitmakers who also worked on “Heart & Soul.”

“I’ve always been intrigued when a song is born in a writer’s room because there’s a magic that happens there,” Church said when detailing his “Heart & Soul” experience in his new media kit. “I wanted to take that magic into the studio with us. So, every day, we would write a song in the morning, and we would record the song that night.

“Doing it that way allowed for the songwriters to get involved in the studio process and for the musicians to be involved in the creative process. You felt a little bit like you were secretly doing something that was special, and you knew it. You started going, ‘Hmm, wait till the rest of the world finds out about this.’ ”

Over the long, pandemic-scarred winter, Church and his friends finished 24 songs in 28 days. There’s the heartland anthem “Heart on Fire,” a meaningful Southern rocker. Speaking of the South, one of the highlights is the spare ballad “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones.”

Church mixes the catchy tear-jerkers (“Kiss Her Goodbye”) with country-soul (“Rock & Roll Found Me”), and there’s also an amusing drinking song (“Crazyland”).

Every evening, Church’s small army of songwriters and session musicians would gather in the restaurant’s dining room to record whatever had been written earlier in the day. There was a communal spirit to those nighttime recording sessions.

Often, the songwriters themselves, such as Charlie Worsham, Moose Brown, Rob McNally, Kenny Vaughn, Billy Sutton and Billy Justineu, would make appearances on the finished tracks singing harmonies or strumming guitars alongside session players.

“There was an interchangeable quality that felt so unique,” Church said of the recording process.

“We were eating together, living together and acting like a big family up there in the mountains. When we’d record, it didn’t matter if you were one of the writers or one of the players.

“It really came down to everyone wanting the song to be born, for the song to come alive, and it was just a matter of who could make it come alive. If you could do that, then you’d be in the studio making it happen. And I’ve never seen that happen before. I’ve never even heard of that happening.”

Church has crafted an eclectic, vibrant collection of tunes that will be showcased April 16, 2022, at the Spokane Arena while on his “The Gather Again Tour.” For the first time in his career, Church will perform in-the-round with the stage at the center of the arena floor.

Tickets go on sale May 7 at 10 a.m. at Church Choir members will have access to tickets on May 4 at 10 a.m.

Expect Church to again deliver a marathon show like he did when he played the Arena in March 2017. Church performed for more than three hours delivering 36 songs, including “Springsteen,” his infectious homage to Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of the iconic New Jersey rocker, “The Boss” reportedly inspired a number of Church’s new tunes, including “Heart of the Night” and “Russian Roulette,” which are songs about escaping dead-end towns with the hope of a fresh start.

Those are just two of the 24 new songs Church has added to his already lengthy catalog.

Even with a three-hour-plus show, fans must wonder how much new material will be added to his already jammed setlist. Church has a few months to figure it all out.

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