[ROLLING STONE] Aaron Watson on New Album 'Vaquero,' Studio Battles, Truck Fires

On the eighteenth floor of a hotel in downtown Nashville, Aaron Watson is standing with his head pressed against the window glass. Below, the city looks like one long construction zone, all cranes and hard-hatted chaos.

"I'm looking down," he says in a voice that's gone slightly hoarse, the result of a long week spent promoting his eleventh album, Vaquero, "and there's a bunch of dudes who've been up since 6 a.m., working construction at the building across the street. I've done a lot of manual labor in my life, so I'm very thankful to get onstage every night and strum my guitar and sing my songs."

Watson is familiar with the workingman's schedule. For the past two years, he's been getting up before sunrise, nailing down ideas for new songs while each day is still new. Some of those mornings have found him at home in Abilene, Texas. Others have found him on the road, promoting 2015's The Underdog – an album that topped the Billboard Top Country Albums chart back in March 2015, making Watson the first (and only) male singer to send an independently-released record to Number One – with a tour that visited six countries and nearly 40 states. He's done all this without a traditional record label. Without major radio airplay, too. And, perhaps most importantly, largely without Nashville's help. Watson is a Texan in the classic mold: a self-governed, cowboy-hatted family man who's found success on his own terms, 850 miles away from the country capital of the world.

Don't mistake his 18-year career for some sort of countryfied civil war between Tennessee and Texas, though. On Vaquero, Watson ignores state lines and whips up his own geography, creating a place where Tex-Mex twang, sexed-up soul, backwoods ballads and big-city country-rock all intersect. Recorded in Nashville with producer Marshall Altman – the man behind left-of-center mainstream releases by Frankie Ballard and Eric Paslay – Vaquero is the broadest, boldest thing he's ever done, weighing in at 16 tracks. That's more than an hour of Watson-penned music, written with zero regard for the mainstream world that, thanks to The Underdog's success, the guy more or less occupies these days.

Read the full story on RollingStone.com