I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in August of 2009 on The 9513.
You’ll have to forgive David Nail for bringing a little bit of those Mississippi Delta blues into his country music. Like many that have found their way onto the Nashville country music scene, his is a tale of persistence and dedication to find that elusive record launch. Few have taken it hard on the chin twice before that lucky break, however. The small-town Missouri native turned away a college baseball scholarship after high school and drove to Nashville to follow his musical dreams. After just a year in Music City, Nail would be overwhelmed by a music industry he didn’t know anything about and returned back home. He would return to Nashville two years later and this time, thought he had kicked off a career. Signed to Mercury Nashville Records in 2002, Nail recorded a self-titled debut album, co-produced by Keith Stegall, and had the lead-off single, “Memphis” land up high on the charts. Advance copies of the album were sent out to radio stations and then inexplicably, Nail was dropped, the album shelved, Stegall was fired and with that, it was just Nail and his guitar. By 2005, Nail would enter a depression, largely brought on by the lack of movement of his music career. He’d return to his baseball roots coaching the Twitty City Knights.
“I did it just to get away from the reality of what my career had become at that time, and it was being around those kids that recharged my batteries. It reminded me how free and easy life is at 17 and 18 years old and how truly blessed I’d been, both growing up, and now, being able to chase my dream. I will forever look back on that time and those kids for getting me back on track.”
Not long after, Nail was signed to MCA Nashville, ironically the sister label to Mercury Nashville, and the chase was back on. On August 18th, David Nail’s long ride, ten years in the making, comes to fruition with the release of his debut album, I'm About To Come Alive. It features tracks written by Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts' Gary Le Vox and hosts guest vocals by Miranda Lambert. The title track was the first release off the album, reestablishing Nail on the country charts. But it’s been his second single, “Red Light,” that has spend an amazing 21 weeks on the charts thus far and is still climbing up into the Top 20.
Ken Morton, Jr.- 2009 has been a big year for David Nail with the big “Red Light” single and getting married and all. But the big question, what was the bigger thrill, appearing at the Opry for the first time in or throwing out the first pitch at the St. Louis Cardinals game in May?
David Nail- You’re going to make it tough right off the bat right, here. I guess politically, right off the bat, I should say the Opry. That was definitely the most nerve-racking. But growing up a huge Cardinals fan, and with my father, it wasn’t just a memory for me throwing out the first pitch for the Cardinals. It was so much more than throwing out the first pitch. It was an entire day of firsts. It was an unbelievable series of things that happened like sitting down with Tony LaRussa and Red Schoendiest, the Hall Of Famer. There were just so many things that made that such an incredible day. It’s truly one of those things where you sit back the next day and are totally taken aback. It
was so surreal and it was hard to believe that it happened because it came and went so quickly. But at the same time, the Opry was an unbelievable experience and I had my parents there and several friends that made the trip. It was something that I will cherish forever.
KMJ- You came pretty close to making baseball a career I understand.
DN- Well, I don’t know how close I came. There was definitely a large chunk of my life that baseball was the priority and it was something I dreamed of doing and wanted to do. But, at the same time, I’ve always been a realist. And I realized fairly early on that my peak was approaching rather quickly. The reality of me doing it as a career was not that great. But at the same time, I have a tremendous love for the game and still love it today. In my late teens, I realized I was a little better at music and enjoyed it a lot more. It could’ve been different with different moments in time, but I enjoy the music thing a whole lot more.
KMJ- What was the country music scene like in Kennett, Missouri?
DN- You know what? There really wasn’t one. Everybody always references that there were a few people that came out of their town that pursued this as a career. But I think it was more coincidence than anything. It was one of those things where everyone in town was listening to what was hip and what was cool. I just got a little more intensely involved than most people.
KMJ- This new album isn’t your first one actually. You released a single with Mercury Records in 2002 called Memphis that was a top 50 hit but the album never got released. What was that album like and how is I’m About To Come Alive different?
DN- They’re night and day. The first record I started making when I was 20 or 21 years old and was a baby. I was green as can be. I really had no concept of what I was doing. I was so new to town and things happened so quickly that I more or less was just flying by the seat of my pants. Having some struggles in my mid-twenties and being able to reference those in song for the record was important. I just had so much more life experience. I had been in town for awhile and had a better understanding of what I was doing. I really think with the exception of being the same parent record label, there are really no similarities to each other whatsoever.
KMJ- I’ve had a chance to listen to the new album and it is very bluesy & soulful, what were some of the influences on your own sound?
DN- There’s so many that I really can count them all. When I sat down with Frank to make the record, we talked about a lot of different records that we liked- whole records that we enjoyed. We like a lot of the same records. My father was a high school band director and had a very extensive record collection growing up. I grew up listening to a whole lot of Motown Records and old classic albums and a whole lot of things that a lot of kids my age weren’t listening to. All of those records and artists that I was a fan of
and all the country and rock artists and genres across the board just melted into how I sound whenever I’m performing. We didn’t try to set out to accomplish any one thing. We went in and let the songs dictate the sound. My producer, Frank Liddell, did a great job of setting some parameters so we didn’t stray too far outside the box. But at the same time, the soul comes through. I just put on an old Otis Redding record and have been listening to that a lot over the last week. It’s amazing how much soul is in those records. The pain and the emotion that he performed with is amazing. And even the musicians that he performed with are just inspiring. I don’t claim to be anywhere near that realm of greatness, but hopefully I can contribute to the sound just a bit.
KMJ- Is it true that the first song off the album was originally penned for Ray Charles?
DN- He had been in town making a record. I’m not exactly sure the time period. One of the writers, Scooter Carusoe, had caught wind that he was coming into town looking for songs and getting ready to cut a record. So he sat down and wanted to write something that would be right in his wheelhouse. I came across that song one day just going through some old Carnival Music Catalogs. Immediately, I gravitated towards it and thought it was perfect for me. It was something I was digging into.
KMJ- And you have a couple other songs on the album with songwriters that the country world will recognize, Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox on “Summer Job Days” and Kenny Chesney on “Turning Home.” You must have some good dirt on those guys for them to give up their songs…
DN- (laughing) You know, it was one of those things that I have a slight connection with both. I’ve met Gary maybe once or twice but that song came through the grapevine to us a little bit. We knew that they were possibly considering putting it on their last record. I just wanted to hopefully hang onto it and we were lucky enough to be able to keep it.
KMJ- Your first single off of the album was the title track “I’m About To Come Alive.” Originally written and performed by the rock band Train, you’ve said that the song tells your story. Explain.
DN- When I first heard the song, it was very much what I was dealing with at the time. When the career finally started to take off again and things began to happen, it took on more of a literal meaning for me. After ten years of ups and downs, hopefully we’re now on the verge of something big happening.
KMJ- Miranda Lambert sings with you on “Strangers On A Train,” how did that collaboration come about?
DN- I’ve gotten to know her through Frank Liddell. We had talked about possibly having her sing on the record. And I think obviously the Frank Liddell connection helped speed that along. I’ve gotten a chance to befriend her and get to know her and she’s great. Obviously, I’m thrilled and honored that she has graced the record with her voice and presence.
KMJ- You’ve written 5 of the 11 songs on the album. Those five were easy for me to pick out for they were fairly autobiographical. Is that how you envision songwriting?
DN- It’s something that I’ve never done every single day. Most people probably do it that way as the natural way of doing things. I’ve always used it as therapy, writing when things are laying on me. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people that kind of do it the same way. I usually spend a chunk of every year writing as much as possible when I’m inspired. I’m kind of in that frame of mind right now, in fact, so I’m writing as much as possible right now.
KMJ- Is that due to the new marriage or the success or a little of both?
DN- It’s probably a little bit of both. It’s always been a subconscious thing. I’ve never really gotten into the reasons why. But I’ve just been in a frame of mind where I can just feel it going on. I’ve been taking advantage of that.
KMJ- As you were going through back catalogs for the other 6 songs, what were you looking for?
DN- We recorded five songs before I ever signed a deal. We had sort of established a little bit of a theme of what we were trying to do. It was just, more or less, a small-town kid chasing his big-town dreams. It involved a lot of experiences that growing up you didn’t know or just could barely dream about knowing about. It involved the struggles of both of those things. It was very themed in that so we took our time looking for songs that would help support that and gave new pieces to it. I love the reflection songs that talk about growing up and stuff. It kind of wrote itself and we just kind of went with it, I guess.
KMJ- I know you’re in active promotion mode on “Red Light,” but what do you anticipate the next single being?
DN- It’s hard. You get so close to a song. It’s one of those things that you hope people and radio can get behind and support. If it had to be one song, I guess it would be a song called “Turning Home.” It’s been the song that fired everybody up and everybody re-fired back up.
KMJ- What is country music to David Nail?
DN- I hate to regurgitate a quote from someone we talked about earlier, but Ray Charles always said it was the stories. I think unlike any other genre, it’s about keeping it simple. It’s not a lot of rocket science involved. It’s not about being cute. It’s about real emotion. You don’t have to bang your head trying to figure out what they mean or what they’re trying to say. I think that when I first began singing and entertained the idea of performing, I wrote songs that fell in those parameters. It’s real music that anybody can identify with. They’re emotional lyrics that you can feel. I’m a big fan of every kind of music genre. But I think country music, more than any genre, has a number one goal is to try to move somebody. I think of all the genres, they’re the most successful at that.