There's just one road into Fort McMurray, a small town in northern Alberta, Canada, about 600 miles from the United States border. Pick up Hwy. 63, a two-lane blacktop road, about 10 minutes outside of Edmonton, then drive 300 miles north. You'll know when you get there, because you can't go any farther on Hwy. 63. Fort McMurray is the end of the road.
In the winter, the temperature can plunge to 50 below zero, and there are precious few hours of daylight; summer lasts 2 months or so, and the sun is up from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., though it doesn't offer warmth for long. In Fort McMurray, which these days counts about 40,000 residents, most young men will go to work for one of the two major employers, the Syncrude or Suncor oil sands plants; the work is hard, but the salaries are good and reliable. More restless or ambitious types can take Hwy. 63 back out of town, south to a university in Edmonton or Vancouver or, if they're good enough, to a bigger city to play professional hockey at some level.
Aaron Lines is from Fort McMurray, the youngest of four children of a schoolteacher and the town's first dentist. He says it was a great place to grow up, but he always dreamed of playing music. And he knew that dream would mean moving away. "It was a small city, you pretty much knew everybody, and everybody knew you. I went to school with the same thirty kids until 8th grade."
Like most Canadian kids, he laced on a pair of skates not too long after he started walking, and began playing hockey when he was about three. "I loved hockey, it was just always there in my life. It was like breathing. But when it came time to get serious about it, I found out I just didn't have the passion for it that I did for music."
When he was 12 years old, the shy, soft-spoken young man who "never got in trouble" told his mother that he would like to learn to play guitar. The idea came out of the blue. "Well, no one in my family was particularly musical, I don't remember my parents even playing records, though my older brother and sisters did. They had all taken piano lessons, but didn't like them and never wanted to practice, so, by the time they got to me, my mother had given up. When I asked about guitar, she actually found an old acoustic one that my dad had and signed me up right away for lessons."
Though he hardly knew it then, it was that guitar and those lessons that would fuel the vehicle to lead Aaron Lines out of Fort McMurray, down Hwy. 63 to Edmonton, then Los Angeles, and eventually Nashville, Tennessee and RCA Records, the legendary label that signed him to his first recording contract barely ten years later, and has now released his debut album.
Aaron's mother didn't have to push her youngest child to practice. "I liked it right away," he remembers. "I just took to it naturally. I would practice every day, for hours. It was all I wanted to do. My instructor was great. He taught me all the basics and he also taught me how to play songs from some of my favorite artists like Alabama, Shenandoah, and of course Bryan Adams. I loved their music and their style, and they had a great influence on me as I was learning."
"I started singing right from the start, just to sing along with what I was practicing." Lines devoted earnest efforts to songwriting, and starting a band with his brother Jay, who was the singer, and his brother's friend. "We mostly rehearsed," he says with a laugh. "We played in public about three times, and it was pretty awful. But I learned a lot about the art of writing songs through that period.
He began testing the waters with occasional appearances on a taped, one-hour show, McMurray Music, which aired on his hometown station KYX-98. On one of those shows, he performed a song he had written, called "I Know I Shouldn't." "I wrote it after my girlfriend dumped me. It was pretty painful, and of course, at 17, I thought it was the end of the world, so to deal with it, I wrote a song about it."
The station began to get requests for the song, and placed it on their "Top Six at Six," which asked listeners to call in votes for their favorite song. "I Know I Shouldn't" ended up at #1 for four weeks in a row, and boosted Lines' confidence in his performing and writing abilities.
It also led to Lines getting booked in local pubs and nightclubs for live performances, which was not exactly his forte in the beginning. "I am naturally pretty shy, so getting up on stage took some getting used to. I can still remember the first time, because I was so scared. It was terrifying." But he got over his stage fright enough to take a regular gig playing four hours nightly at a Fort McMurray pub called Stroudy's. "The guy was great, because he let me play half my set of original songs as long as I played half my set of cover songs. I also started selling little demo tapes there."
For the first time, he set his sights outside of McMurray, with an assist from his brother Jay. "My brother was my first manager and my greatest supporter" he explains. He always told me I could do it and eventually I started believing him. We bought a book about the music business that had a list of industry contacts: record companies, producers, publishers and booking agents. And we began to mail them our little homemade tapes."
One of them struck a chord with an A&R executive at Arista Records in Los Angeles, John Rader, who encouraged Lines to keep sending him material. By this point, Lines was attending University in Edmonton, majoring in business, but still performing, writing songs and taking vocal lessons. A grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts combined with a loan from his dad was enough to pay for a professionally produced two-song tape, which they sent to their Arista friend.
The unmistakable growth and development Lines showed on the tape convinced Rader that Lines should come to LA for a meeting. "I was only 20 at the time, but my parents were completely supportive, so I went to LA and met John. He was so good to me. He let me stay at his place when I came to town, set me up with other country writers and really believed in me. It showed me I was making progress and gave me the confidence to keep at it."
The plan, as envisioned by Rader, Jay and Aaron Lines, was to write some new songs with other, more established country writers, and send them to Nashville, where the contemporary, youthful direction of country music seemed a natural fit for the type of material he was writing. "Nashville was always where I wanted to be and Los Angeles provided me with some great contacts there." As it turned out, Los Angeles was just a stepping stone for Lines' path to Music City.
Lines began making trips to Nashville in early 1999 to hook up with other songwriters and develop his skills. "Well, it's interesting," says Lines. "You find yourself in a room with someone you've never met before, and you're supposed to connect and write a song together. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's great. I went from writing about 12 songs a year by myself, to writing nearly 70 that first year with co-writers. It's a great experience, a great learning curve. As a newcomer, I was able to absorb so much. The process of co-writing teaches you a lot about writing, and about yourself."
Lines was still living in Canada, but was making so many trips to the States he says he was getting to know the Customs agents on a first-name basis. The hard work and commitment were productive and it was decided that it was time to seriously shop the artist to the Nashville labels. A show case was set and dealmakers were invited to take a look. "I was nervous, but confident. We had worked hard, and I knew I had some good songs. I felt pretty good about everything." The showcase went well. So well, that immediately after stepping off stage, he was approached by the president of a major label and struck a handshake deal. Ultimately however, that deal fell through.
In record label limbo, Lines went on the road, opening for fellow Canadian Paul Brandt's tour, "Small Towns, Big Dreams." He also put out a couple of independent singles, which went top ten on the Canadian charts. That tour and those singles led to his Chevy Truck Rising Star nomination at the Canadian Country Music Awards in 2001 and his Best New Country Artist nod at the 2002 Juno Awards (Canada's version of the Grammy's).
In May 2001, he met with RCA Records and then performed a showcase for them in a small Nashville club. The label phoned the next day to offer a deal. In December of that year, Aaron and producer Chris Farren began recording with some of the sessions happening in Nashville, and some in a studio in Vancouver, Canada.
On Aaron Lines it's love that makes the world go round: new love, lasting love, committed love, unconditional love. "I am a total sucker for love songs, always have been," admits Lines with a grin and sparkle in his brown eyes. "I believe in it - in its ability to bring joy and happiness, to heal, to transform and inspire, to effect change. The CD also is balanced with songs like 'Livin' Out Loud' a song about making your dreams come true and 'You Get The Picture' a song about the morning after. Aaron's personality really shines through on his debut CD as he wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 11 songs.
Lines shows his sensitive side with the album's first single, "You Can't Hide Beautiful" a man's heartfelt reassurance to his significant other that in his eyes, she is beautiful from the inside out, the one who makes the ordinary extraordinary. "Love Changes Everything" is a rocking, feel-good anthem on the power of love to affect lives, soothe pain, and fill need. "Turn It Up" is a joyful description of the everyday sounds that bring simple happiness: waves breaking on shore, a breeze through the trees, raindrops falling, fire crackling, the sound of your lover's heart beating. "Close" describes the utter grace of finding someone to love without fear or hesitation. "You give me strength, you give me hope, you give me someone to love, someone to hold. When I'm in your arms, I need you to know, I've never been this close." No matter what the sentiment, the emotion-packed songs are delivered with all the passion and clarity of youth, but with an honesty, depth, soul, and edge that belies his age.
"I was so disappointed when the first deal didn't work out, everybody was working so hard for me, and I felt really badly," says Lines. "But in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened" and indeed 2003 has been a great year for Lines. His debut album, video and single all reached the top 10 in the US early in the year with the single going to # 4 and the video to number one. This quickly established Aaron as one of the hottest new acts on the Nashville scene and earned him a spot on the 40 city Brooks and Dunn Neon Circus Tour.
Back home In Canada, Living Out Loud, the self penned title track of the album, rose to the number one and two positions for the video and single respectively on the Canadian Charts. This helped earn Aaron an incredible 6 Canadian Country Music Award nominations...second only to Shania Twain. When awards night had ended, Aaron was holding not only the Rising Star Award, but also the coveted Male Artist of the Year Award. Shortly after, his current single, the power house balad "Close" became his 5th top ten in Canada.
Its been a long road from Ft McMurray to Nashville and as Aaron begins work on his second Album for RCA, all bets are off on just how far this soft spoken Canadian will go. If the last couple of years are any indication, there's an amazing journey ahead!
--- from the official Aaron Lines website