Story Behind “If This Bus Could Talk”

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Interview Credit: USA Today

NASHVILLE — Moby smells of leather and road dust. And Kenny Chesney couldn’t be happier about it.

“It still smells the same, I’ll tell you that,” says the country singer, sitting in the booth of the beige stretch Eagle he bought when his career started taking off 20 years ago. Moby is the subject of If This Bus Could Talk, the closing track of Chesney’s new album, The Big Revival (out Tuesday), and its emotional center.

“It’s been a part of almost every summer I’ve been out there,” says Chesney, 46. “It’s seen every fair. It’s seen every free radio show. It’s seen us open for Alabama. It’s seen us open for George Strait. It’s seen everything in our life out here.”

In the early days of his career, Moby would sometimes sleep 14, though it has bunks for only 12. Band and crew members would take turns sleeping on one of its two couches, before returning to the stacked bunks on either wall in the middle. “I always had a bunk, though,” Chesney says — the front middle bed on the left, when facing the rear of the bus.

Somewhere along the way, it picked up the name of Herman Melville’s whale, but Chesney doesn’t remember when, or who named it.

Chesney wrote If This Bus Could Talk with Tom Douglas, who co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s The House That Built Me. Chesney’s song could be The House That Built Me on wheels, a coming-of-age tale full of life-changing memories.

There’s the line about “when Bobby rolled us down in ‘Bama,” which alludes to the night that Bobby Lowe, who still works for Chesney as a set carpenter, spun out onInterstate 59 in Alabama, taking Moby and the merch trailer it was hauling off the road and onto its side. “That’s one way you never want to wake up,” Chesney says.

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Moby has also “seen Virginia Beach, caught in a hurricane.” Chesney had to cancel that 2004 show because of Hurricane Charley, but the night didn’t go to waste.

“We went to the top of the amphitheater and made homemade Slip ‘N Slides and a bunch of rum punch,” he says. “We had our own hurricane party. Now, it was dangerous, but we did have a ball.”

Moby isn’t the multicolored bus that appears on the cover of The Big Revival and in the singer’s American Kids video, though. That’s a vintage GMC. Chesney painted it with the video’s director (Shaun Silva) and producer (Don Lepore), its design inspired by Further, the psychedelic school bus that novelist Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters drove across the U.S. in the 1960s.

I went out there two days before we shot the video, and we just had brushes and a bunch of paint and inspiration from a lot of free-spirited people that come to our shows,” he says.

Chesney hasn’t used Moby as his main bus since 2000, when he opened for one of Strait’s stadium tours. When Chesney goes back on tour in 2015, it may be used to haul a video crew or sponsors.

By the time that tour starts, a new star coach will serve as Chesney’s home away from home. “I’m actually designing my new one, as we speak,” he says. As fond as he is of his old bus, the singer’s new ride will be much more modern than Moby’s simple leather-and-earth-tone luxuries. “It’s going to have nothing to do with this one, I promise you,” he says.

“I’ll have two big-screen TVs. That’s the one thing I have to have on my bus. I have to have two big-screen TVs, so I can watch two football games at once.”

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