Tim McGraw has helped define American country music probably more than any artist of his generation.

McGraw’s unparalleled career includes: 46 number one singles, 19 number one albums, and sales of over 90 million records worldwide. He’s won 3 Grammys and 20 Academy of Country Music Awards. And he’s been one of the most-played country artists since his debut on the charts in 1992.

Our conversation focused mostly on his life and music, including his new album, Standing Room Only. McGraw has also carved out a successful acting career—most recently co-starring with his wife, Faith Hill, on 1883, a prequel to Yellowstone. But I was even more interested to hear McGraw’s thoughts about this particular moment in American history.

In 2019, he co-authored a bestselling book with historian Jon Meacham, called Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation. And McGraw is the rare artist who appeals to all sides of the political spectrum. His audience is a true cross-section of the American electorate. And he understands that audience better than almost anyone else. With off-year elections taking place in multiple states next week, I found his insights to be especially relevant.

We talked about the importance of national unity, the decline in mutual empathy, and how music can be a conduit for seeing the best in one another.

Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.

On what it meant to find out that his real father was baseball player Tug McGraw:

I’m sure it was tough for [my mom.] She got pregnant somewhere in her senior year of high school. And that’s where she met my dad. He was playing minor league baseball in Florida. So I became what they called a “grapefruit league baby” back in the day. So she didn’t graduate high school because she was pregnant with me. And her family sort of shipped her off to Louisiana to go stay with cousins, and I was born in Louisiana.

She worked at a Trailways bus station at the restaurant. And I don’t remember this, but when she was a young single mom at 19 years old, she had me in a playpen right beside the jukebox. In this little town of Rayville, La., at this bus stop. And so I guess I was listening to country music from the time I was old enough to even crawl around in a playpen.

When I was 11, I was going through my mom’s closet looking for something and ran across my birth certificate and it had McGraw on it. And then McGraw was scratched out and above it was Smith written in cursive handwriting. I called her at work and she came home and told me all about it. And, I mean, any 11 year old kid finding out your dad’s a professional baseball player, it’s kind of exciting. I got to meet him once, and he never acknowledged being my dad at that point. And then I never saw him again until I was 18 years old.

I get asked a lot of times, ‘How could you have a relationship with your dad after all those years? When you guys were growing up without much money and he was making millions of dollars playing ball..how could you have any sort of affection for him?’ It made me think that I could do something with my life, knowing that I had that blood in me. If he could do it, I could do it.

On why so many Americans feel so disconnected from each other, and how music can heal those divisions:

I think the 24 hour news cycle has the most to do with it. And we’re always on these devices all the time and hearing stuff that’s not necessarily true or stuff that’s, just sort of this small segment, instead of hearing what the majority of people really think and feel. And I think for the most part, if we can get back to just realizing that we’re more alike than we are different…and I always try to just let my music speak to that.

On Donald Trump and the path forward for the U.S.:

[January 6] was one of the saddest days in our country’s history, I believe. It was tough to watch. And I couldn’t believe that it had actually happened. And hopefully it will never happen again.

I’m not going to give [Trump] any air. From my perspective and my world, that’s just so far out there that I can’t even put words to it. I want what’s best for our country. I want what’s best for the majority of people in our country. I think that everybody deserves the right to live their life in the best way that they possibly can and to soar in the best way. I think that we certainly need to get back to some civility, on both sides.

On his top political priorities:

Women’s rights. I’m a dad of three daughters and have a wife. I want to see a world where my daughters have control of every decision. Whether it be medically, personally, or the way they want to live their lives. I support a woman’s right to choose. That’s between a family, their doctor, and their God, and I don’t think anybody else has any business being a part of that.

I’m a bird hunter. I grew up duck hunting in Louisiana. I still love to bird hunt. But I think there should be common sense policies. I think there should be some red flag laws. And I don’t see any issue with that. And I think most of America agrees with that. and I don’t understand why we can’t just all figure it out. But I’m not going to sit here and say I want to take everybody’s guns away. It really has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It has everything to do with just good policy.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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