Eric Church shares the cover of the very first Rolling Stone Country Issue (on shelves now) with Miranda Lambert, opening up about nearly being arrested at the ACM Awards, getting pranked by Brad Paisley, meeting Bruce Springsteen and becoming a dad.

Some highlights: (Warning-Content)

On topping himself:

Everybody said "Chief" was the biggest record I would ever make. [They said] "Don't even go back in. You'll never top that." I used a lot of that as fuel: "Okay, motherf---ers. I know you think that this is it, but we can be way more creative, we can be way more out there." And I saw other artists trying to follow what we were doing. I thought after the Chief record, we got pulled to the middle and I became one of the guys that were the center of the format. And I hated that, because I feel like we made our best work from the outside of that. With the title of the album and what we were trying to do, I wanted back out there. And I think, musically, we got there.

On the stigma of country:

The stigma with country is it's not cool. That's wrong. Country is very cool. I look at award shows, I look at how country is represented. Country is represented with an asterisk. We have to perform collaborations. We have to perform a tribute. We can't perform by ourselves. Country music right now is the most popular American format. The most popular! Look at tickets, you can look at album sales, it is the format.

On country radio:

It's very feel-good. It's a little bit shallower than it was a few years ago – it's "Let's drink, forget our worries, beach, bonfire, lake." When something's working, everybody falls into a pattern. One thing I miss is turning on the radio and just having a song punch me in the gut, and, as a songwriter, knock me on my ass. And I think we could use more of that.

On his favorite pre-show ritual:

My favorite thing is to go out in the arenas like an hour before doors and run the concourse. And you get that anticipation. You smell the popcorn. You see the people tapping the kegs. And nobody is in there yet but you, but you feel it. It's my favorite thing on tour.

On scalpers:

It drives me f---ing crazy. For our [upcoming] Minneapolis show, we identified 900 tickets that were from scalpers. The building went back in and looked and found that basically, 200 tickets went back to one credit card. So when they figured that out, they had already sold a lot of those tickets to fans for astronomical prices. And we decided just to go in and cancel and let the fans know and start over.

It's a systematic problem with music, it really is. Right now, in Omaha, you can get on Ticket Exchange and pay $200 for any ticket you want in Omaha. Not true. They're taking the money, and they're not even on sale. There's no tickets on sale yet. They don't really have them – they're promising the fact that they can get them. It's a damn scam is all it is. It's the mafia. The price of some tickets for Minneapolis right now is $1,200, and the price for Madison Square Garden is $800. It's stupid. It's not solveable until it's illegal. If a fan who gets on at 10 o'clock has the same chance as a scalper that gets on at 10 o'clock, I'm OK. The problem I have is that scalpers have a bazillion people working for them. and they have those bots that scan. So it's not fair....

On socializing at award shows:

I genuinely hate it. I'm not comfortable there. [My wife] Katherine? Completely comfortable. You could throw her in with 40 strangers and she'll jump right in. I'm not. So I guess that makes me introverted. I went to a Grammy afterparty. Very uncomfortable. I don't let people in. It's a little bit of a trust thing. I would say even people now, who are my team members, who you would think are foxhole people, it took a while. You've gotta go through wars with me. I don't care who you are. Band members, managers label, anybody. You've gotta go through battle with me and swap blood. I'm not just gonna give you respect.

On offending Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert (In 2012, Church told Rolling Stone, "Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green fucking turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That's crazy ... Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that's what it is. I'll never make that mistake."):

I wasn't trying to be a d--k. I was trying to make a generalization of my opinion, and did it poorly. It became sensationalized. [Miranda and I] saw each other later on, and it was fine. Blake, Miranda – I run into them and it's fine. I was being honest, and it didn't come across right. We've all kind of been around. It happens. And you kind of go, "Here's what I was saying." It honestly wasn't that big of a deal. It was more what people made out of it. And hey, that got a lot of radio stations, a lot of website hits and stuff like that. By naming them, it kind of took away from my point. I wanted people to hear what I said and go, "Interesting point." And I think what they took away from it was, "That guy is a d--k." But, you know, that's fair.

On politics:

I'm not political. I think it's all sh-t. I think the whole system is broke. Nothing can get accomplished. I think they're all full of sh-t, personally. I don't really get into that whole red-blue-conservative-liberal because I can't tell them apart. They all seem inept. So for me it's not something I focus on at all. I probably should be more political than I am. I just don't care.

On upsetting Taylor Swift fans (Church released a cryptic teaser video for his album showing Taylor Swift thanking him at the CMAs for getting kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour, which created a spot for her early in her career, with the words "One Will Rise and One Will Fall" scrawled across the screen. It was quickly taken down.):

This is about where my manager about got me killed. When Taylor was on the CMA awards thanking me for getting kicked off the Flatts tour, I saw it on the bus and loved it. What John wanted to show was we wanted to pay homage to our path and what this record was, going with what Taylor said.

[We meant] "The Outsiders" will fall and "Give Me Back My Hometown" will rise. I love Taylor. I love her art her creatively, we're buds. All of a sudden I'm calling out Taylor, and it couldn't have been farther from the truth. It was the most insane thing. It was so blown out of proportion. I've never had anything that blown out of proportion. The reason we took it down was I didn't like how the dialog was starting to shift to stalkers – the dialog went there. And I didn't like that dialog. It was never intended. Taylor and I laughed about it later. My son [two-year-old Boone] knows who she is when she comes on TV. He calls her Aunt Tay Tay. I told her that, she loved it.