Country Music People May 2019 - Page 15

“Sadly, that’s exactly right,” reflects the hunky singer on the pressure to keep the money machine going and follow up the hits with more of the same. “As far as the whole project goes, each time for a record, I think everybody in the process has always had one word to describe what we need first. ‘Let’s get radio’, ‘we’ve got to have some radio stuff’, and I think we lose. We put the cart before the horse. I think sometimes if you make great music, if you just make a great album, radio will probably play something. But if you start making songs in the studio meant to appeal to just a certain group of people there’s a chance they won’t like it, and there’s a bigger chance that everybody won’t like it. So my approach is ‘Let’s make something great’, and not have to go in and block off a third of the album with songs that are specifically made for a few people in the hopes that they’ll play it to the masses. What if those few people don’t like it at all? They’ll never hear it anyway… and then a third of the album is…useless. Over the years, sometimes it’s worked out and sometimes it hasn’t. Let’s just make what we feel is good. That first album is a great example. That was an album where we went into the studio and I was like ‘I love this song. God, I LOVE this song.’ “I have been very fortunate to have really great songs come my way. I’ve really been lucky with a lot of great song ‘ears’ around me and we’ve found songs like The Impossible and Brokenheartsville...That whole Man With A Memory album I feel like there’s just one blessing after another. That was just one of those collections of songs that I’m like, ‘Wow! We couldn’t do this again if we tried,’ but along the way, over the last, gosh, all these years, since that very first album, I think that’s been the key, those really incredible songs, those once in a while type songs went into my pocket.” Due to make his UK debut this summer with an appearance in Bristol, with dates in Nottingham, Manchester and The Borderline in London, Nichols has recently released an EP of classic country covers to augment his last full-length release Never Gets Old. Among the covers is a touch of Jones (Choices), Haggard (Sing Me Back Home), alongside Good Ole Boys Like Me and a stunning take on a vastly under-appreciated and under- heard Charley Pride masterpiece The Rose Is For Today, about which Nichols says, “That’s one of those obscure songs, that Charley Pride song, I don’t think a lot of people remember it. I don’t think it was a big hit for Charley Pride but it’s one of my favourites of his entire catalogue. My wife and I, that’s one of our earliest songs together. I used to sing it to her when I was broke, and pretend we were teenage sweethearts. It was a cute thing back then and I decided to put it on there for her.” Just to hear Nichols wrap his tonsils around an old Gene Watson song, as he’s done a couple of times on record, or duet with Lee Ann Womack on Merle’s If I Could Only Fly and do it better than The Hag, is to witness a country singer schooled in the classics and deeply appreciative of them. This is not just a singer going through the motions trying to establish some instant cred with the hard country crowd. He loves it, he means it, he gets it, and it’s obvious that the traditional sound is where his heart lies. Joe Nichols not only flies the flag for a traditional sound, he is defiantly passionate about reviving it. “Well…yeah, I think I always have to be,” he muses. “There’s so much special about country music’s identity from the years past, it’s what drew me to want to be in the country thing. If we lose that identity then what are we other than just another genre for singers to go? Nothing stands out if we lose that. We’re storytellers, we’re country singers, we’re from rural areas, sometimes we’re from cities too, but we’re simple storytellers and if we lose that and embrace an indentity-less genre that doesn’t really discern its stuff from other genres I think that’s a bad deal. That’s kinda why I always try to keep that traditional feel alive. It’s not only my favourite thing about country music itself. I have a lot of reasons for wanting to do that old-school kind of sound. More passionately than anything I feel that country music just has to have its identity. We have to be able to tell what country music is. “I look back at 2002, that’s when I first had The Impossible,” he continues, “I remember the whole landscape of country music being very ‘pop.’ Everything was rock, and I remember A&R people telling me, ‘We gotta make a Rascal Flatts [type] record with you, anything new we gotta make it real Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney’. Everything was so geared towards those guys and I was like, ‘I can’t do that.’ I’m not trying to be holier than thou. I’m very limited, I can’t pull that off the way other people can. “I thought that was a scary time to release a record as a country singer. I thought, ‘I’m 100% on board and I’m proud, and I’m sold.’ I realised that this was a long-shot to work because there are so many things that sound different that are working. For a country record to stick out it’s going to have to be REAL good. It was a terrifying deal for me back then, I can only imagine a brand new artist putting out something traditional today and getting an actual shot at radio with it. It’s even more progressive, more contemporary today than it was back then. God bless all the new guys that are trying to put out traditional country records. It’s like Mo Pitney, several others… thankfully there are artists that are doing it without radio too, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton for a long time has worked without a whole lot of radio presence. Sturgill Simpson’s another favourite of mine. There’s a lot of traditional country out there that’s being successful without radio and that goes to show that given the chance, traditional country music will work and it will sell.” O ne of the most notable tracks on Nichols’ last album, Never Gets Old, is an unlikely cover of the Sir Mix- A-Lot hip-hop/pop crossover smash Baby Got Back which is given a full-on country two-step arrangement. It alone can disprove the suggestion that country music is ‘all about the song’ when it might actually be more about the instrumentation and production. A long-time favourite in his live shows, Nichols says, “For me, I meant it as something that has given me about two minutes of pleasure watching the band’s reaction to me doing that just acoustically in the show. They were totally surprised one day. It turned out to be a fun part of the show when the full band started to kick in and we had steel guitar and started playing it as a shuffle, people started dancing to it. I think the lightness, I’m not joking per se, but I think the lightness, the ‘fun-ness’, I think is what matters; it’s a fun song. It’s fun to dance to, it’s fun to play, and there’s some really cool instrumentation on it and it sounds like a country song. Sadly, it’s more country than most ‘bout anything you hear on the radio.” Stylistically, Joe Nichols is somewhere between Jackson and Strait, and that’s a mighty fine place to be. However, despite being a regular visitor to the charts with number ones like 2005’s Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off and Gimme That Girl MAY 2019 - cmp 15