Aaron Watson has seen his share of pain.
In fact, as the son of a disabled Vietnam war veteran, the West Texas native spent many a day as a young man going to the VA hospital with his dad, witnessing the plight of men and women who proudly fought for this country, men and women left to deal with the physical and mental leftovers of war.
It's a vision he still can't get out of his head.
"The hardship that this country has been through has always been in my face," admits the self-made country music sensation in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE. "This world has been through hard times, time and time and time again."
But despite this fact, Watson has made a career out of giving his fans music that focuses on the positive. Music that serves as a salve to what ails them. Music filled with light and joy and an abundance of pride for the country he calls home.
And it's this easygoing attitude that fills Watson's new album American Soul, a 10-track, feel-good album produced by Watson and Phil O'Donnell and already bolstered by the strength of such songs as "Whisper My Name" and "Silverado Saturday Night."
"I wrote American Soul two years ago, before the pandemic and everything that's going on right now in politics and such," explains Watson, 43, of the album set for release on Friday, an album which he actually recorded vocals for during quarantine from the confines of his wife Kimberly's closet. "We are going to go through hard times, but you can't hold down the American soul."
Indeed, as the country continues on its never-ending roller coaster of political uncertainty, the soul of each and every American has certainly been through the wringer as of late. But Watson refuses to let it faze him.
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"I love America and I don't care if Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck is elected president," Watson says emphatically. "I'm going to wake up every day and be so darn proud that I am American. I can't control anything that these politicians, or frankly anything anyone else does, but what I can control is what happens under my own roof and what happens in my own community. People need to stop putting all their faith in these men and women in Washington. Put your faith in God and the ones you love."
Indeed, love serves as the backbone of much of the music that Watson has put out throughout his 20-year career. In his new, sexy swagger of a song "Boots," which premieres exclusively on PEOPLE, Watson sings of that fun sort of love that everyone strives for, from the teenager on their first date to the married couple celebrating 50 years of matrimony.
And despite an ongoing pandemic and political divide, Watson is confident that love is still very much alive.
"I've done 3,000 shows in 40 states and 11 countries, so I am sort of a pro when it comes to field research on this topic," laughs Watson, who now serves as a proud member of The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. "And the people I see? Well, they love each other. I'm not saying we don't have our problems. But I can tell you, there is so much goodness out there. We need to focus on things that bring us together."
And Watson wholeheartedly believes that music can do just that, whether it ends up being played on mainstream radio or not.
"I have been ousted, or as a West Texas boy might say, I kind of got booted by mainstream radio," proclaims the independent artist, whose previous album, Red Bandana, opened at No. 2 on Billboard's country sales chart. "But that's OK. I'm grateful they gave me an opportunity while I was there, and I do feel like a new stage of my career is coming. Maybe more outlaw, you know? I mean, I have always been outlaw, just without the whiskey and the weed and the wild women."
Watson laughs at the joke, but it's true that he believes that he is on the cusp of a brand-new chapter of his career and his brand that has always been bolstered by truthful, heartwarming and completely authentic music. During the pandemic-riddled year that just passed, Watson says he has written enough music to fill albums for the next two years. In fact, Watson says he plans to release three albums in 2021 alone.
"When I look back on 2020, I will remember it as a crazy year," he says quietly. "I lost a lot of money and I made some priceless memories. I have a better idea of who I am and the parts of me I need to work on. I truly appreciate things I once took for granted. I'm different now. We all are."
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