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Eric Church happily avoiding the mainstream scene

Eric Church is touring behind his new album “Chief.”

Eric Church is touring behind his new album “Chief.”

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♦ 7:30 p.m., May 11

♦ Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
♦ Tickets, $39.75-$47.50

♦ 847-649-2270;

Country music rebel Eric Church plays what he wants and says what he thinks. Always has — always will.

It’s this raw and oddly refreshing attitude that has been evident both through his music and his interviews since he crept onto the country music scene back in 2006. So perhaps it wasn’t that surprising when he ruffled the feathers of country music‘s royal couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton last week, when his comments in a “Rolling Stone” article seemed to criticize the products of singing reality shows such as “The Voice.”

After releasing a statement and apology, Church got back to doing what he does best, and these days, that’s selling out arenas on his Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour.

“I love the way we have structured this thing,” says Church during an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t use the big video screens that a lot of other artists use because personally, I think it’s kind of a crutch. I think sometimes it’s like watching television as opposed to really getting involved with what is happening onstage and the people in your section.”

Playing the Sears Centre on May 11, Church is currently riding high on the success of his new single “Springsteen,” which takes the prize for his fastest-rising single to date. And while the song seems to be bringing more and more fans to him and his music, he refuses to get comfortable with his expanding fame.

“I’m going to do everything I can to keep from being mainstream,” says Church, who received two Academy of Country Music nominations earlier this year for “Album of the Year” and “Video of the Year.” “I hate it. I want to be the guy out there on the edge. I get frightened when people say you are in the middle of the format and more mainstream. I don’t know how to get my head around that and I really don’t want to be there. I want to remain the guy out there that’s kind of weird and on the edge musically.”

Opening for Church on tour is bad-boy-in-waiting and rising star Brantley Gilbert. “I just like how he is doing his career and how he is doing his own thing,” says Church, who has been writing a bit with Gilbert while out on the road. “I dig that. There are not enough people out there in this format that go out and cut their own path. He and his team have a chip on their shoulder, and I like that.”

While he admits to writing up a storm these days, creating a follow-up to his wildly successful third studio album, “CHIEF,” isn’t high on Church’s list of things to do. “I can’t stand making records,” he says. “When they are done and I’m satisfied, it’s awesome, but the process of making a record is brutal for me. It consumes everything I do and no other part of my life matters when I am making a record. It just sucks me in. It’s a brutal black hole for six to seven months.”

Inspired by the careers of classic rockers such as Bob Seger and Tom Petty, Church admits not knowing exactly what the future holds.

“People like Seger and Petty had their day and had their run, but they keep doing things that keeps their music interesting and their show interesting,” he explains. “I don’t know where it goes for me. I don’t know if I play music live and go as long as they did because I don’t know if I want to. Whether it’s producing or songwriting, I like seeing it as an entire career of doing things that are artistic and creative, no matter what.”

Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.

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