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Country Strong: Q&A With Dave McElroy

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Dave-McElroy

A longtime Life Time member shares his thoughts on faith, family, and a healthy way of life as he embarks on a country-music career.

Dave McElroy has always had a strong work ethic. When he was 10, he routinely woke up at 5 a.m. so he could help his dad sell and repair farm equipment. At 17, he started running his dad’s landscape business. Soon after that, he founded several construction and landscape businesses of his own.

These days, the Lakeville, Minn., resident is launching his country-music career. His love of country music goes way back to when he was a kid riding around in his dad’s truck and listening to 8-tracks of Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Hank Williams. Currently, he is touring the country promoting his new single, “Without You.”

Where does he get all that energy? He chalks it up to a healthy way of life.

“Paying attention to my health has always helped me. You can’t sustain the pace of the construction work I did without being mentally and physically healthy,” McElroy says. “Now that I’m touring and putting up with the rigors of the road, I focus even more on eating right and training. I hit Life Time gyms across the country when touring because working out is critical to your mental and physical state and your ability to perform properly. I mean, you can’t be out there on stage, belting out a tune and running around, if you’re panting.”

We recently caught up with McElroy while he was on tour, and he shared his tips for keeping it all going:

Experience Life | You’ve said that leading a healthy life is sustaining you as you pursue your country-music career — have you always been health-minded?

Dave McElroy | My siblings and I were raised very European-style, I guess you’d say. My mom and dad never kept sugary cereals, candy, or any of that stuff around the house. My mom would say, “Hey, if you need sugar, there’s nature’s sugar right there,” and she’d point to a bowl of fruit.

We also had our own garden at the house, and my mom grew her own green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, and all these vegetables, so we were always eating healthy.

EL | Where did your parents’ philosophy come from?

DM | My parents were first-generation Americans, and it’s the way they were both raised. Both of my mom’s parents came from the old country — Italy — and my dad’s side came from Ireland. So they raised us the same way their parents raised them.

We were also raised to be active and to be outside. At one point my mom gave the family TV to Goodwill, and we had no TV for about five years. She told us to get outside, play, read a book, and do other things, so that’s what we did.

EL | A lot of kids find it hard to do active things these days.

DM | Growing up, we lived in a great neighborhood. I was born in Chicago and then we moved to Green Bay, Wis., when I was really young. The kids in our neighborhood played everything together — tag, basketball, football, baseball, street hockey. I mean anything you could think of, we were playing it. Even in the winter, we’d keep one driveway on our block shoveled perfectly all the time so we could play basketball. The second one flake dropped, we cleaned it, so we could always play.

EL | You worked for years running your own construction and landscaping businesses — and now you are setting your sights on Nashville and a country-music career. How did your love of music begin?

DM | I’ve always been very musical. I started off playing the violin in 2nd grade, and I played first-chair violin in 8th grade. I also played trombone, and I was in jazz band, the choir, and high-school musicals. I just loved it all. I even played the lead in the high-school musical, two years running, in both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan.

You might be going, Dude, it’s a high-school musical, but we had an auditorium that seated 1,000 people, and the priest that headed up the production (it was a Catholic school) was a Broadway producer before he became a priest. And, so we would have these amazing sets and the training and coaching we got was crazy. I was also in a couple of bands in college, and even recorded a few albums and did some additional acting.

EL | How does music sustain you?

DM | Music is like breathing for me. It infiltrates every part of my being, and it always has. I missed it, so I started writing, and I wrote about 20 songs in three weeks — they were just pouring out of me — and one thing led to another. I said, Lord, is this what you want me to do, is this the direction you want me to go in?, and it was very clear he was leading me in that direction.

The doors that have opened for me, in this short amount of time, are staggering. Everything that I’ve ever done or accomplished, it’s all a gift from Him.

EL | Have there been any challenges as you’ve transitioned away from your construction and landscape work into a country-music career?

DM | It’s funny, I’m a very type-C person — so I’m very creative — but at the same time I’ve cultivated a very type-A personality because you have to be organized when you’re running these large companies. It’s a weird combo, but it’s a good one because I can be laid back and creative, but I can also be organized, like this has to get done this week. The biggest challenge for me has been understanding that there is no simple business model that fits music. I’m all about, Let’s get this done, boom, it’s done, but, in music, there are no straight timelines.

EL | How do you stay inspired when you are experiencing challenges?

DM | I love the music, the writing, and getting to hang out with some of the most gifted, talented musicians in Nashville. I also drive myself all the time — I don’t quit.

There’s also my faith — you know the old phrase, “Pray like everything depends on the Lord, but work like everything depends on you”? I do everything I can, and then the Lord will fill in the gaps.

EL | You’ve said that staying healthy is also a big part of your drive and energy — what is your daily health-and-fitness routine like?

DM | I go to morning Mass three to four days a week. It’s a great way to start your day. From there I go right to the gym, and I train, and then I get into the business of the day, working on my vocals and my songs. I might be outside during the day, working around my property or going for a hike.

I also focus on eating real food. In the morning, I do a shot of apple-cider vinegar mixed with water to clean out the gunk in my system, and then I’ll start out the day with eggs and berries. I eat a lot of proteins, salad, and vegetables throughout the day.

I limit things that are unhealthy, like extremely processed foods, and I don’t touch deep-fried stuff. If I’m eating out, I’m focusing on grilled chicken and salad. I take fish oil, but I don’t take a whole lot of supplements because I’ve always eaten pretty clean. At times, I do love my bread, but I try to eat that in moderation.

I try not to overdo it because I just want to feel good, and I know that living a healthy way of life will give me all the energy that I need — it’s just been embedded in me my whole life.

Check out Dave McElroy’s new country single, “Without You,” on iTunes and Spotify.