During the making of his fourth MCA Nashville album, David Nail underwent a transformation – and so did his music. Fighter is the most vulnerable, personal record the Missouri native has ever made, and it signals the beginning of a new phase in his career.”
“Six months ago, people would ask me about the record and I would jokingly say ‘It’s my love-making record,’” Nail explains. “But what it meant to me then and what it means to me now are completely different. … Having been a father for about five months, it definitely changes the dynamic of things.”
Following the birth of he and wife Catherine’s long-hoped-for children (twins born in December 2015), the singer-songwriter found his world turned upside down. The mark he wanted to leave and things he wanted to say had changed, and despite an early version of Fighter being already finished, he decided to record four new songs, completely changing the project’s tone.
In short, Nail decided to get real in a way he never would have allowed himself before. Already known for powerful, emotionally-charged vocals, he took the same approach to choosing Fighter’s 11 tracks (seven of which were written or co-written by Nail himself), celebrating life’s victories but also exposing the knock-downs he’s endured – and it wasn’t always flattering.
“[I was] like, ‘Am I ready to sing this? Am I ready to tell this story?” Nail says. “[But] they come from a genuine place that you can kind of say, ‘Okay, I’ve said that. I’m at peace with that.’ I think that’s what this record is.”
Writing and singing in courageous personal detail, Nail confronted some of his deepest troubles, revealing the clarity he’s achieved about his hometown, the true struggle depression caused in his marriage, the answered-prayer of his children’s birth and the things he never told his own father.
Meanwhile, producer Frank Liddell (who also guided Nail’s first three albums, I’m About to Come Alive, The Sound of a Million Dreams and I’m a Fire) made sure Fighter’s musical tone was just as authentic, backing Nail’s volcanic vocals with a melting pot of Mississippi-delta sounds — a mix of classic-country balladry and sweaty Memphis soul, with touches of in-the-moment modernity sprinkled throughout.
“I grew up listening to all this music that my father listened to,” says Nail. “A lot of it was classic, huge songs and artists from the ‘60s and ‘70s – and even the ‘80s – so I think there’s always part of me that just falls toward that type of sound, rather than fighting it and trying to say ‘Whoa! No-no-no, we need to stay 2016.”
Big-name collaborations abound, with Nail inviting Vince Gill, Brothers Osborne, Lori McKenna and Logan Brill to help tell his story, as well as Bear and Bo Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATE.
“When I’m making a record I selfishly want to push my buttons so I try to approach it as my swan song, it could be the last piece of music I make. I want to fulfill some life goals in the process and one of my biggest influences in the word is Vince Gill so I’m thankful he said yes”
Brothers Osborne kick the project off in star-crossed revelry on “Good at Tonight,” McKenna joins “Home” to quietly uncover Nail’s love/hate relationship with his hometown, Gill adds stunning harmony vocals to the country-soul “I Won’t Let You Go” – a promise to David’s wife Catherine – and the Rineharts help close the album in tender admiration with “Old Man’s Symphony,” an overdue thank-you note to Nail’s dad.
Along the way, he toasts to the passion of youth in the upbeat hit “Night’s On Fire,” pledges romantic relief in the raw Chris Stapleton co-write “Ease Your Pain,” delivers a desperate double entendre in the indie-rocking “Lie With Me” and crafts a loving, rock-a-bye origin story for his new family in “Babies” – an instant classic.
Then there’s the project’s title track, “Fighter,” a heartfelt ‘80s-country throwback ripped from Nail’s real life that holds his wife up as an unshakable supporter – even when he was at his worst.
“’Fighter’ is about as honest as I’ve ever been in a song,” Nail admits. “I mean, when you’re quoting your wife saying things that are not pleasant [about you], you know it was our story. … But it also, I think, tells the story of me.”
Nail and Catherine have had to fight their whole lives, he explains – for his career, for their marriage, to battle back inner demons and to conceive their beautiful kids – but their ultimate success in those battles has led them to a better place. And it also gave the album a mission.
Fighter is more than a bookmark in Nail’s life and career – it’s a period on the final sentence of a difficult chapter. Penned during dark times that have given way to a new sunrise, these are some of the most meaningful and personal songs he’s ever recorded. And now that they exist for all to hear, he can finally move on.
“I feel like I’ve told the main aspects of my career, and my life, up to this point,” he explains. “So I really think whatever we do in the future, we’ll be able to start just completely fresh. It’ll be a new story, a new part of my life.”