NEWS - News: Joe Nichols Returns to Make 'Old Things New'

Posted by JoAnne on Sunday, January 03, 2010 @ 10:35:11 CST

In 2002, Joe Nichols released his first album for Universal South. 'Man with a Memory' was a resounding success with critics, and featured two smash hits, 'The Impossible' and 'Brokenheartsville,' a sweet, personal ballad and a humor- (and booze)- fueled honky-tonk tale, respectively. A string of hits, including Top 10s such as 'If Nobody Believed in You,' 'What's a Guy Gotta Do, and 'Size Matters (Someday)' followed, along with the chart-topping 'Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.'

The last time Joe Nichols released an album was in August 2007. 'Real Things' was the name of the record, but just a month later, real things -- like marriage to his long-time love Heather Singleton, and a stint in rehab -- began grabbing more headlines than Joe's music. While reviews for the album were strong, neither of the disc's singles notched any higher than No. 16.

With what marks his sixth album for Universal South, Joe has made 'Old Things New' quite literally. And being a true renaissance man, he sounds reborn, speaking openly about his past struggles and how he hopes to use those difficulties to help others still finding their way, just as he continues to do.

The Boot spoke to Joe about his new album, his ever-expanding world of possibilities, and about how someone who endured public scrutiny during his battle with alcohol can still manage to record some of the funniest drinking songs you've ever heard!

Did you have any specific idea about things you wanted to say with this record?

I wanted to satisfy my country soul, and at the same time I wanted to explore, to maybe do something nobody else is doing, or to try something I tried a little while back that was working. I wanted to make a traditional record that had a lot of art and showed my vulnerable side and showed things I'm passionate about.

The title track, 'Old Things New,' is very visual. Is that something you look for in songs to record?

Yeah. When you first hear ['Old Things New'] kick off, you automatically know it's not going to talk about current politics or my drive to high school! It's going to talk about something that's more country. It almost puts you in a rocking chair on a front porch of an old farmhouse, slow dancing with your woman. That's all [producer] Brent Rowan right there. I've got to give that guy all credit in the world for creating that kind of mood.

The first line of the song says, "I'm dustin' off Hank and I'm puttin' him on." Do you still have any of your old vinyl LPs?

I do actually. They're all in the closet because I don't have anything to play them on. I'm probably going to keep those for the rest of my life.

The current single from the new album is 'Gimme That Girl.' You are married to "that girl," Heather, whom you've known for a long time, but is there another girl from your past that you can't forget?

Sure. I think there were a lot of great people in my past that I'm very proud to know. And that's delicately as I can answer that question!

You've done some classic drinking songs of all types: sad, serious, and really funny. And 'Cheaper Than a Shrink' is a pretty funny one. Are you reluctant these days to do lighthearted songs about drinking, given your own battles with alcohol?

A little bit. Everybody that's involved in the production process, they are more reluctant than I am. They caution me about everything like that. [They say] "Are you sure you want to do that? Here are the do's and don'ts, the pros and cons of it." I'm OK with singing drinking songs. I've been singing drinking songs since I was two or three years old. I see the humor in drinking songs. When I was a little kid, I was singing [
Merle Haggard's] 'I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink.' It didn't mean I was going to go to the bar at seven years old. But it was fun to sing. I related. I had family members who were heavy drinkers. And I've been a heavy drinker before. I don't think there's anything wrong with singing a song and having fun with it. Of course, I don't have to live like that.

Is it tough for you to stay away from alcohol when you're on the road?

Everybody on the road with me is really cool. Nobody drinks on the road, and I think that's more out of respect for me than it is any kind of rule that I've set in place. In my business, of course, I'm going to be around alcohol. But in the program I'm involved in, and my recovery, I've got to be spiritually fit to go anywhere on the planet and I've got to be all right with it. It's not about seeing it and not being able to do it, it's about seeing it and being able to walk past it. Like being around a room full of drunk people and being OK. That's on me. It's not about everybody else having to clean out their locker and make sure that I'm not in the path of any alcohol. I got to be spiritually fit to walk in any place and deal with any situation and still be OK.

And on the more serious side of drinking songs is another on the record that even has its own Web site, How did that come about?

We weren't sure what we wanted to do with the
video, but we wanted to shoot a video that coincided with getting 'An Old Friend of Mine' out there. And one of the things we discussed was let's create a website where people can go watch the video, because the video is powerful and emotional. It talks about something that is not pretty, but it's real. So not only will we show the video on the website, we'll offer help to anybody that is dealing with an addiction or dealing with somebody with an addiction. And we'll make it available for them to get help, right here. And that's part of my [recovery] program, is to do that kind of service for people. To give back what was given to me, which was sobriety, and to have gratitude for it.

Are there any current trends in country music that you find particularly disturbing?

When I see people who don't think country music is special, or abuse it, or use it as a springboard for something else. it gets offensive a little bit. Because I know how passionate I am about it. The biggest question I have is if you're a rock singer or a rock 'n' roll band, or if you're a pop singer ... if you've made your way in another genre of music and now you want to make a country record, why? That's my question. Why? Country fans are very smart, they earned their money fair and square and pay for things that they think are good. To watch rock 'n roll artists come into country music, it almost feels like a rape, a raping of country fans and of country radio, for a quick buck.

And with your upcoming gig starring in 'Pure Country' on Broadway, you must be pretty aware of how people's perception of country music can be skewed?

I would never do anything that makes the perception of country music worse. With mainstream media in New York, and especially in L.A., I think the perception of Nashville and country music is thumbs in the belt loop, jeans stuck into the boots and big ol' 10-gallon hats, and everybody saying "aw shucks" and "howdy, partner." I think that's kind of the stereotype they put on us -- and that's why they call it country-western music instead of country music. I think the show itself with the writers and the music is going to have to come a long way. It's going to have to be about what country music is today, and not what country music was in 1982, or 1978, when a lot of people were doing "country" movies and creating that stereotype. It's going to a challenge, but it's certainly a great opportunity to represent country music to people that normally wouldn't see a country music show.

When you were growing up, were there any Broadway shows or stars that made an impression on you?

Big fan of 'Grease.' And there is a Broadway singer that I thought was incredible. His name was Gordon MacRae. I don't know how many people know who that is, but he played the lead character in 'Carousel.' He's one of the best singers of all time, period. When I was a teenager, I saw the movie and thought, "Who is this guy?" Then I got some music that he had done and it was just over the top. The guy is just an incredible singer. And of course, later on, I found out his reputation and what other people thought of him, and certainly they agreed that he was probably one of the best -- if not the best -- singers of our time.

In September you very likely became the first country artist to have sent out a
tweet after being blessed by the Dalai Lama. What was your impression of him?

He's a really sweet man. It was an opportunity that was totally off the wall, but it was really something special. I'm not a Buddhist, but I can tell you that that guy was a really kind person that I know I would like to be around. And whatever your spiritual beliefs, I know that people like that have something special about them. So just to go get to perform for him was an honor.

-excerpt from the Boot by Stephen L Betts

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