Aaron Lines is from Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. He's 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 Lines out of Fort McMurray, eventually to Nashville, Tenn. and RCA Records, the legendary label that signed him to his first recording contract barely ten years later, and released his debut album in 2002.
Lines' 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 No. 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. 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.
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 L.A. for a meeting. 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.
Chris Farren, a songwriter, publisher and producer, had moved from Los Angeles to Nashville to pursue work in the country industry. He had already scored considerable success working with Deana Carter, Kevin Sharp, Boy Howdy and Paul Brandt, when he received a tape from an old friend in Los Angeles. "This guy sent me tapes all the time, and I hadn't gotten around to listening to this one," remembers Farren. "He had called a few times about it and I knew I had to get back to him with some kind of answer. My wife and I were late for a dinner engagement one night and I took it in the car so I could listen. Honestly, I pretty much wanted not to like it, so I could just move on. We listened to the first song and I thought it was pretty good. On the second song my wife turns to me and says, "Who is that singing?" I was thinking the same thing. Who was this guy? It was his voice that struck me right away. There was just something there and I knew I had to meet him."
The next time Farren was in L.A., he and Lines got together, and immediately hit it off. At Farren's invitation, Lines began making trips to Nashville in early 1999 to hook up with other songwriters and develop his skills.
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 team decided it was time to seriously shop the artist to Nashville labels, and they set up a showcase and invited the dealmakers to take a look. 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 Farren the next day to make the deal. The two went in the studio in December of that year, recording some of the material in Nashville, and some in a studio in Vancouver, Canada.
"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. I wasn't ready then. Going on tour, spending time on the road, working on my live show and my music gave me experience that I was lacking. It was what I needed and when we finally got into the studio to record, all the pieces were in place. A lot of people have believed in me, have given me so much support, and I am ready to get out there and make things happen."