Based on Life

After 20 years of ups and downs in the country-music world, Tracy Lawrence is finally comfortable in his own skin.

Lawrence's upcoming album, Hard Times, has an especially appropriate title. The artist burst onto the country scene in 1991, kicking off seven straight years with a Top 3 single. Since then, he's released just two Top 3 songs—and he hasn't had one since 2006 (the No. 1 single "Find Out Who Your Friends Are").

Along the way, Lawrence has had disputes with his record companies; therefore, Hard Times is being released this June under the newly formed Lawrence Music Group banner.

Still, Lawrence says that going through the hard times was necessary to get to know himself and his sound.

"I'm not complacent, but I know my limits now," he says. "I definitely do my own thing."

Tucsonans will get to see this new Tracy Lawrence at the Desert Diamond Casino, as Lawrence begins a five-month tour that will take him across the country.

"I love the desert," Lawrence says. "I'm looking forward to it."

The 43-year-old has a rolling Southern drawl and still drives a pickup truck while he's home in Tennessee. His daughter reportedly smiles and nods when Lawrence mentions he's an avid chef—cooking up casseroles, chicken dumplings and other "Southern cooking" for his family. Lawrence laughs back, and it's clear this country-music veteran hasn't let success go to his head.

Lawrence took this same real-life approach to preparations for Hard Times. He's spent the past few years talking with real people about the difficulties they and their families are facing due to the state of the U.S. economy. These conversations are the inspiration for the album, Lawrence says.

"It's a life-based album," he says. "It's about economic troubles and finding peace within."

While Lawrence's album will reflect the American everyman's economic troubles, he says country music's younger stars may one day suffer from their own financial woes.

Twenty-something artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Chris Young currently rule the country-music charts, with singles taking off hard and fast—and sometimes staying on top of the charts for months. Reflecting a fact of life in the music industry, those singles will someday slip off the charts—and so will the money, Lawrence says.

"The big concern I have with a lot of these kids is the longevity and financial security," he says. Lawrence predicts these stars will spend a lot of time and money in the future paying back the financial burden that record companies are placing on them by taking a significant portion of each payday. It's just part of the changing face of country music—but the industry is changing in better and exciting ways as well, Lawrence says.

Thanks to the Internet, satellite radio and other new-media avenues, it's easier than ever for artists to gain exposure and put their music out for consumers to find. Lawrence is enjoying the advancements and says stars should utilize their capabilities.

"We have so many tools at our disposal right now," he says. "Everything's changing. The whole industry is changing."

Lawrence says his wife, Becca, is integral to both his personal life and his professional well-being. The life of a country-music star often takes Lawrence away from home for extended periods of time, and Becca is the rock that keeps the family anchored, Lawrence says.

"She's very supportive," he says. "When you're gone a lot, you need a partner who can help maintain the sanity."

Lawrence doesn't often listen to his own songs, and when he does, he avoids his late '90s music, saying he's "evolved a lot over the years." The veteran artist who grew up admiring country greats Merle Haggard and George Strait has an iPod chock-full of seemingly contradictory music styles. Recent downloads include the music of Michael Bublé, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Billy Joel.

It's all part of Lawrence now feeling comfortable in his own skin.