By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Country star Kenny Chesney says that making his new album "Welcome to the Fishbowl" was a personal journey that helped him to better understand himself by being more sure of his place in the world.
"I can tell you this album was unlike any other just for the emotional journey I went on to make it," Chesney said in an interview. "The songs are very personal. Once I heard them all together I realized the thread of searching was there. This is the most vulnerable I've ever been as an artist on a record."
The album, which includes "Feel Like a Rock Star" and "Come Over," sold 193,000 copies in its first week. It scored No. 1 on the Billboard country chart on Wednesday and No. 2 on the music publication's overall album list behind pop star Justin Bieber.
Chesney, 44, was born and raised in Tennessee and first made his mark in country music in the 1990s. He has a reputation for being hard working and has won numerous awards, with hits that include "Out Last Night," and "The Boys of Fall".
The singer, who was married to actress Renee Zellweger for a short time in 2005, said that with time and maturity he is at a point in his career where he wants his music to be truthful.
The title track, "Welcome to the Fishbowl," tells more about the everyday person Chesney is rather than the celebrity he has become.
"I really believe now, more than ever, we're living in an ever-changing world," he said. "There's another song on there, ‘I'm a Small Town,' which is like where I grew up.
"Everyone knew everyone else's business on a small scale inside that town," he said. "Today, everyone knows everyone's business on a global scale and it's instant. You don't have to be in the public eye like me to be affected by it. That's the way we took this song and this phrase."
The first hit from "Welcome to the Fishbowl" was "Feel Like a Rock Star," a duet with longtime friend Tim McGraw that addresses being able to shrug off the anxiety and stress of everyday life and become famous, if only in a fantasy.
"‘Feel Like a Rock Star' touches on what we all do to get outside of ourselves, no matter what that is," he said. "It describes my audience, and it describes me."
Chesney and McGraw, who are on their "Brothers of the Sun" tour, have been friends since their early days in Nashville when McGraw had a record deal but no releases and Chesney was still looking for his first recording contract.
"He was one of first guys I met when I came to town in January 1991," Chesney said. "The thing that makes our friendship special, and this song special and this summer special, is that we've been friends so long. When we get up onstage, there isn't any smoke and mirrors."
"Fishbowl" ranges from songs about Alzheimer's disease to tunes about deep longing.
"While He Still Knows Who I Am" deals with returning home to visit loved ones while they still can appreciate it. Chesney called it "a very powerful, emotional song" and said he could identify with the lead character trying to reconnect with family and friends while "at the same time trying to reconnect with himself."
Chesney covers the Charlie Robison song, "El Cerrito Place," and called "Come Over" "an edgy, rocking song" dealing with a comfortable, if unsettled, sexual relationship.
When the album was finished, Chesney said he realized that what he was searching for was himself.
"It's becoming comfortable in your skin, real and authentic in your emotions. The balance is finding that in a lot of different ways," he said.
"I'm a self-proclaimed workaholic and a dreamer, but there's a balance now that I'm trying to find. I hope the next 10 years of my life don't revolve around sound check at five and catering. I want that, but not all the time."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)