By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Despite having more than 2.7 million Facebook fans and over a million Twitter followers, country music singer Eric Church is not a fan of social media.
"I've never tweeted and I never will. I'm not on Facebook and I never will be," said Church during an interview in a Nashville studio.
Instead, the 36-year-old singer is going back to music basics to engage fans with videos to accompany the intimate, often melancholic love songs from his new album, "The Outsiders," due to be released on February 11.
The videos for the new songs will be connected by recurring characters and themes, which Church said would come together into one story as each installment is released.
"We know what the singles are going to be, so we've conceived and conceptualized what these videos will be," Church said. "Everybody you see in the 'Hometown' video has a story line that relates to each other."
From the heyday of MTV in the 1980s and 1990s to YouTube, music videos have long been used to popularize songs.
It is rare, however, for an artist, especially in country music, to create videos that will become a mini-movie of an album.
"I wanted something more compelling to give my fans than just the music," Church said. "I think creatively and artistically, there are broader story lines here. I thought it would add some intrigue and fun to carry these videos throughout the album and give the fans a way to be involved."
The only video to be released so far is for "Give Me Back My Hometown," in which Church sings at a barren graveyard while a funeral for a woman takes place. Flashbacks throughout the video offer glimpses into how she may have died.
"The further we get into this the more you're going to be able to look back and see how many clues we gave you to see just where this is going," Church teased.
A DARKER SOUND
"The Outsiders" follows Church's 2011 album "Chief," which catapulted the North Carolina singer into mainstream country music with hits such as "Springsteen" and "Drink in My Hand." The 11 tracks were dedicated to partying.
For "The Outsiders," Church said he knew he had to embrace a mature sound.
"When we started this album, I knew I was at a point in my career where I had two choices. I could continue to do songs like 'Drink in My Hand,' 'Springsteen' and 'Creepin,' or I could make a conscious effort to challenge myself and do something that was artistic," he said.
"The Outsiders" was recorded in a renovated church in East Nashville that is now used as a studio by the singer's producer Jay Joyce.
The album's namesake lead single is a rock-heavy anthem evoking the journey the singer has traveled from his rebellious past. The second single, "Give Me Back My Hometown," is a dark tune of lost love and loneliness.
"If you are going to be a relevant artist, it is up to you to carry that artistic flag and do something with it," Church said of the direction for the new album.
"I don't know how it's going to be received. I don't know that I care. Creatively we are trying to be relevant with our music."
"Chief" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, a surprise because he did not have a big radio hit at the time, said Keith Caulfield, Billboard's associate director of charts and retail.
The unexpected debut demonstrated the strength of the fan base Church developed over the years, Caulfield said, adding that Church "is in a really good spot" to enter high on the Billboard 200 chart with "The Outsiders."
In today's world of digital song downloads surpassing overall album sales as listeners pick and choose the tracks they want, Church said he has made an album with a beginning and an end, and a carefully designed order of songs.
"It's going to aggravate me a lot if people hit Shuffle when they listen to this album. It needs to be listened to as an album, from start to finish," he said.
(Writing by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)