As the singer awaits the arrival of his second daughter, he's also celebrating an ACM nomination for "Down to the Honkytonk" and a first-time role in a feature film

By Nancy Kruh
April 07, 2019 05:15 PM
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Just about the only big thing that isn’t happening to Jake Owen right now is a new baby. But give him a few more weeks: The daughter that he and girlfriend Erica Hartlein are expecting is due on May 1.

Otherwise, Owen already has lots of major news already happening: a new album (with no small thanks to a new label and new management), a fresh ACM nomination, and even a first-time plunge into movie acting.

Add it all up, and “I’m just in a great place in life,” Owen, 37, tells PEOPLE.

Jake Owen
| Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty

The album, Greetings From ... Jake, debuts on Friday, and Owen considers it a personal reflection of his current happy state. “It’s personal to me because these songs are a representation of me bringing back what I love in country music,” he says. “And it’s a representation of where I am in my life right now because of where I’ve been and where I want to go.”

How do those sentiments translate into songs? For starters, Owen has let his inner Merle come out to play on several of the 14 tracks, including current climbing single “Down to the Honkytonk.” Twangy six-strings and a moaning steel guitar accompany much of Owen’s rich vocals, but even the songs without the traditional sounds still brim with countrified themes, from drinking and dirt roads to pickup trucks and two-steppin’.

The album also shows off Owen’s versatility as he dabbles in Latin rhythms (“Senorita,” a duet with LeLe Pons) and tropical vibes (“Drink All Day“). And he leans into his sentimental side with songs like “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” already a chart-topper, “Homemade” and “Made For You.”

The lyrics of the latter song are a celebration of life and lifetime love: “Like a ship without a sea / Or a song without a melody / I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d do / ’Cause I was made for you.”

If you think it sounds like a wedding song, you wouldn’t be the only one. Michael Ray and Carly Pearce have already tapped Owen to sing it at their upcoming nuptials.

Owen says Ray heard him play the song at a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital event, and “he just said, ‘Man, if you don’t mind, would you do this for me?’” Owen recalls. “And I said, ‘Hell, yeah!’ I was flattered. For two great singers to ask me to sing? It’s the power of a song, really. It’s not about me.”

The lyrics, Owen says, also strike deep into his own heart. “I have those same feelings for Erica,” he says of his girlfriend of two years. “We’re having a child together, you know, ‘tiny shoes and tiny feet, two pink lines made for growing up’” — he recites lyrics from one verse — “and we both are at that place in our life, and I think this song really resonates for both of us strongly.”

Jake Owen and Erica Hartlein

Already the father of a 6-year-old, Pearl, from a marriage that ended four years ago, Owen says the prospect of a second child “is just as exciting.” But he adds, “I’m more calm this time” as he and Hartlein await the birth of the baby they’ve already named Paris.

One reason for the calm: He’s already the experienced dad of a daughter. “To be blessed with another beautiful little girl is a big deal because I do think that it takes special men to be a great dad to a little girl,” he says. “And I feel like, thanks to Pearl, she’s shown me how to be a good father to little girls, and I’ll be a great father to Paris because of that.”

Jake Owen and Erica Hartlein
| Credit: John Shearer/WireImage

A little less than a month before Paris’ expected arrival, Owen has another important date — the ACM Awards on April 7 in Las Vegas. “Down to the Honkytonk” is up for song of the year, Owen’s first nomination since 2009 when he won new male vocalist.

The industry nod is “a super big deal,” he says. “I mean, I can’t believe it. But it’s very, very fulfilling.”

Owen received the news from a phone call while snoozing with Pearl on a daddy-daughter ski trip in February. “What better way than to wake up on a vacation with my little 6-year-old girl curled up next to me and be in Vail, Colorado, and realize that I got nominated for single of the year,” he recalls. “It was just so cool. It’s such validation.”

The new album
| Credit: Courtesy Big Loud Records

Even as his music career is surging, Owen also is getting a chance to stretch his creative wings with acting. In between concert dates, he’s been filming The Friend on location in Fairhope, Alabama. Starring Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck, the movie is based on a true story about a husband who gets the help of his best friend to care for his terminally ill wife. Owen will play a friend of the friend in the film, which is due out in 2020.

“I’ve always been intrigued by challenging myself to do things that I’m not necessarily comfortable with,” Owen says of the surprise opportunity. “No one hired me for this because they saw me act in a film before,” he adds. “I think they’re putting faith in me that I can do this, and that gives me some energy.”

Jake Owen
| Credit: RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Jake Owen
| Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Owen says he’s been able to find similarities between performing on stage and before a camera, and that’s helped him in his acting. Memorizing lines, he says, is not unlike learning song lyrics, including when he might forget a few words. In either situation, “you roll with it,” he says with a grin, “and just act.”