By Beth Maiman, SI.com
From September through December, SI will be speaking to musicians of all genres about the intersection of music and sports. This week, SI sits down with country singer Justin Moore, who loves his Arkansas Razorbacks. Moore, who won New Artist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2014, talks about the seriousness of the SEC and his experience at the 2015 MLB All-Star weekend.
SI.com: You were born Arkansas, so I am going to assume that’s where your love for the Razorbacks grew? Did you have family and friends attend the school?
Justin Moore: Well, I did have friends that went to school there, but when you grow up in Arkansas they don’t have any pro teams. No teams matter to the state, even though there are other DI schools—it’s about the Razorbacks. It’s different than growing up in a place like Pittsburgh, New York or a lot of other towns across the country. You don’t have anything but the Razorbacks. You are kind of born into it.
SI.com: Do any specific games at Arkansas stand out to you?
JM: Just like any other fan of any team you have good memories. Razorbacks football is unique. Since I was growing up, it’s kind of changed over the years. When I was growing up they played three of their home games in Little Rock, which is close to where I grew up. The campus of the university is about three and a half hours northwest of there. So we didn’t get up to the campus as much as we got up to the Little Rock games. I think they only play one game there now. I remember going to the last Southwest Conference game, I want to say we played Rice but I don’t remember that. I distinctly remember that game because the whole crowd was chanting “SEC” because we were joining the SEC in ‘92.
My dad took me to the first couple rounds of the NCAA tournament in ‘95. We had won the national championship [in basketball] against Duke in ‘94, so we had a good team coming in and went back to the national championship game and lost to UCLA that year. That was always a lot of fun.
Of course you remember the big games that we won, whether it be against a rival or whatever the big game is that year. When I was growing up we weren’t as good at football and we were more of a basketball school. We were a national power in basketball my entire childhood. We were top 10 annually for a good 10-15 year stretch. That kind of swapped over the years and we’ve become a football school, so hopefully we can get them both back.
SI.com: Thoughts on the season this year? Arkansas has had some pretty exciting games this season, were there any that caused a little too much stress for you?
JM: Yeah, just about all of them. I told somebody the other day that I think this has been the most emotional season that I have experienced in a while. We have had some unbelievable wins in the last minute. You look at last week, and I was at the game, and we could have won the ball game, maybe should have won the ball game. It was a pretty emotional loss at the end with a blocked field goal. I went to the Auburn game, which was four overtimes. … I’ve watched all of them. I am really good friends with the head coach. My wife and I have become friends with Bret and his wife Jen. He inherited a pretty difficult situation after Petrino and the John L. Smith year. I have the utmost confidence in what he is building there and we are thrilled that he is our coach. I think better years are ahead.
SI.com: Did you play sports as a kid?
JM: I played baseball and basketball and loved it. I grew up in a town of 300 people, so we didn’t even have enough people to fill a football team. One of the reasons I started playing music was to replace the adrenaline rush of playing basketball and baseball. I always wanted to play baseball in college and had a couple opportunities to maybe do that. But I started playing music and realized I was 5’6”, 140 pounds and realized that I was going to make more money doing [music].
We won the state championship my senior year in basketball. I wasn’t a star by any stretch, but I did start and we went 37-0. [Playing sports] really taught me a lot about how to lead. Now I have 20 employees. I think I learned a lot about how to lead, the discipline and how to be led. There are a lot of parallels in what you learn in sports and [I] carry that into whatever business you go into.
SI.com: Did you have a favorite song to listen to before you competed in sports?
JM: You know, I am pretty boring as far as music goes. It's either old country music—Hank Jr., Charles Daniels, Mo Haggard—that kind of stuff or classic rock—Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top. But there wasn't one particular song it was just a handful of artists.
SI.com: So I am going to guess no “Hotline Bling” on that list?
JM: No, maybe we will have to substitute that in. The funny thing about that is that I have still not heard the song. I was doing the CMA promotions where all the radio stations are around and somebody handed me a phone and said will you read this and I had no idea what it was. Most people do know, but I didn’t know who Drake was. Never heard of him. Never heard of the song. I started reading it and it just got more and more ridiculous and then I finally figured out it was a song. The funny part about that was I never thought anyone would see that, I just did it for a radio station in Nashville. The first day they put it up it had a million views. It left me feeling that maybe people would rather have me read than sing. You just never know what people are going to latch onto, it’s funny.
SI.com: I am going to assume you have sung at sporting events. Have you sung the national anthem before any games?
JM: I have. At the risk of sounding less patriotic than I would hope to—I don’t enjoy singing the national anthem because if you screw it up, and it’s an incredibly difficult song to sing, then you are the rear end of the world and if you do it right everybody just goes “Oh yeah, that was good.” So there is not a whole lot of upside to doing it. But I have done it at a number of sporting events. The first time I did it was at Lambeau Field for a Packers game. I had never even sung at a high school game or anything in my life. But I will never forget. My first single that ever went No. 1 was called “Small Town USA” and I was playing in a club the night before in Green Bay and it officially went No. 1 at midnight and that was the same day I sang the anthem. So needless to say, we had a few adult beverages to celebrate having a No. 1 record. I had to have a little “hair of the dog” to get through that. Since then I have done it at some baseball and football games. It’s a neat experience to be able to say you had the opportunity to do it at different venues like Busch Stadium or Lambeau Field whatever it may be. It’s a cool experience.
SI.com: Do you have any SEC rivalries with others in the country music business? Is there a lot of trash talking that goes on during football season?
JM: Oh, there is always trash talking that goes on, which is part of the fun of big time athletics. My record producer is a huge Georgia Bulldogs fan, but we don’t play them that much because we are in the West and they are in the East. But we used to talk crap to each other quite a bit. In Nashville, there are a lot of Volunteer fans obviously, so I enjoyed going to Neyland Stadium this year and beating them.
SI.com: When you have concerts in SEC territory do you try to hide your Arkansas pride or do you make sure people know you love your Razorbacks?
JM: Hell no! You can’t hide that. It’s funny, we did a little college tour this winter during the football season. We played at Fayetteville before the Auburn game and a week or two later we played in Oxford before the Ole Miss game. I make it well known. It would be very difficult for me to hide that because I have a big Razorback on the back of the tour bus. I am pretty much waving the flag anywhere I go.
SI.com: I know you have three daughters, so are you grooming them to be Razorback fans as well?
JM: You bet. My wife is from Louisiana, so all of her family is obviously LSU fans. I worked on her first and got her converted when we first started dating. When our first daughter was born my in-laws bought her an LSU outfit and right in front of them I threw it in the trash. In the South, none of that stuff is a joke, that’s for real. I went to Baton Rouge when we beat the crap out of them a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty fun to rub that in their face. As a matter of fact, I had my father in-law, my brother in-law and nephew on the Razorback side wearing red—so I felt pretty good about myself.
SI.com: Are you a fan of any professional sports teams?
JM: I am a Braves fan. I love baseball, it’s probably my favorite sport. I am a Braves fan because I was in the TBS generation. When I was a kid growing up the Braves were really good and won about 17 or 18 division titles in a row and you could watch them on TV every day. They were one of the only teams in Arkansas that you could do that with because they were on TBS every day. That was when they had [Tom] Glavine, [John] Smoltz, [Greg] Maddux and [Steve] Avery and all those guys. I became a huge Braves fan. They were also kind of the team of the South.
I used to be a Dallas Cowboys fan because most people in Arkansas are Cowboys fans because Jerry Jones is so generous to the University of Arkansas after playing there and being from there. It’s funny how in sports things stick with you and affect you in certain ways, and you don’t really know why. When Jimmy Johnson was fired as the Cowboys coach decades ago, I was 8 or 9 years old, and I despised that decision so badly. Even as a child, I don’t know why it mattered to me who the coach was, but I said I would never be a Dallas Cowboys fan again and I haven’t been. So I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan as far as NFL football goes because I got a guy working for me from Pittsburgh and one of the guys that started my record label was a Pittsburgh guy. Fortunately, I have been able to experience some pretty good years over the last decade as a Pittsburgh fan.
SI.com: Have you ever ran into Jerry Jones and told him about this switch you made?
JM: You know I have shaken hands with him on the red carpet at one point. But it was, as you can imagine, busy. So we didn't get into all that. But what’s ironic about him being the Cowboys owner is that when he was playing—Texas and Arkansas—that was your most hated rival in the Southwest Conference. It didn’t matter if you didn’t win another game, as long as you beat Texas that year. It’s ironic that he became a guy that made his home in Texas.
SI.com: How was the MLB All-Star weekend and playing in the celebrity game? Did you feel like you were a little rusty or were you proud of your performance?
JM: I was definitely rusty. I was a catcher in baseball, but I did play some infield, which is what I played that day. I did feel pretty good about my defensive performance but I think I went 2-for-6, so I wasn’t too happy with my plate appearances. And of course all that they showed on TV was me getting out, they didn’t show my hits. I would like to have another crack at it. I think I could improve on this year’s performance for sure.
SI.com: Were there any baseball players you got to meet for the first time that you created a relationship with since?
JM: I’m buddies with a few big leaguers, but none of them happened to be there, but we know some of the same guys. The coolest people I met that weekend were some of the older guys that are retired now, that I grew up watching. Even though I hated the Yankees, Paul O’Neill, I got to meet and hang out with him. He was a great guy. Eric Davis, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, the list goes on and on. All those guys were so gracious with their time and were willing to visit a little bit. It was a cool experience, baseball has always been my favorite sport. Growing up, watching games every day as a kid. I remember watching a number of these guys and trying to emulate them when I was a kid in little league.
SI.com: I was kind of curious how social media and sports works for you. The other day you issued this long note about a Bobby Portis retweet (below). Does it ever get crazy managing the response of your large following?
JM: As a human being it’s frustrating and the last thing I want to do is offend anybody or get into it with anybody. Trust me I live with four women—I get enough of that at home. Part of the great thing about being a fan of a team is that you are passionate and that goes for the people that are fans of the same team as me and other teams. It gets frustrating when you have a platform like I do and you just want to put something out there that’s not dissing anybody or disrespecting anybody, you just put a passionate opinion out there and one that matters to you and your team, and people take it the wrong way. It is frustrating. At the end of the day that’s why I put [the follow-up message] out there. In a nutshell: Just chill out this is just my opinion on this and if you don’t like it, go follow somebody else. I don’t really let things bother me too much, I just let things roll of my back. Sometimes I just want to make it known, hey don't put words in my mouth. I didn’t disrespect Kentucky or North Carolina. I’m an Arkansas Razorback fan. I am not supposed to be disappointed if a kid from Arkansas, who could change our program, chose to go play for Kentucky? Of course I would be disappointed about that. And besides that, I am a donor so of course I would be upset, as would anybody else.
SI.com: So some questions about your music. Your new single “You Look Like I Need a Drink.” When I listened to it, it’s obviously more of a romantic song. But I thought this song could be great after a tough loss as well. Sometimes you need a drink after a tough loss, what are your thoughts on that?
JM: Yeah, there are a lot of situations where you need a drink. Last Saturday was one of those for me. What’s funny, is it’s inferred that it’s a relationship [song] and I took it that way the first time I heard it. But after listening to it more and more, it never says anything specifically about a romantic relationship. So it could be your boss who walks into your office and he has a look on his face with some news you are not going to love. Like you said, your team loses in overtime or your team is not playing very good. So yes, there are a lot of situations where this song would apply.
SI.com: Anything else coming up for you musically? Your new album comes out in 2016?
JM: Yeah, we are working on our fourth studio album right now. We are probably halfway through that and excited to finish up that process and we are excited for everyone to hear. We will be out supporting that starting next year. We start touring in January. Look forward to seeing everyone out there and hopefully they are as excited about new music as we are to get it out.
SI.com: Anything else to share or add?
JM: ... Woo Pig.