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David Nail Feature-Limewire Music Blog
LimeWire Music Blog
It’s not uncommon for an artist to not find commercial success with their first record deal, only to grab the spotlight down the road with another label. That happens more often than you might think. Take Kenny Chesney, for instance. He recorded for southern rock label Capricorn back in the early ’90s, but it was his signing with BNA in 1995 that led to him become the superstar that he is today. While that scenario happens sometimes in the music business, it’s rare that you find an artist be signed to a label, fail to catch on with radio, and be dropped from the label—only to find success six years later with the same company.
Such is the case of David Nail. The singer was on Mercury Records’ roster in the early 2000s, and developed quite a following inside Music City thanks to his vocal approach. In spite of that, changes at Mercury resulted in him getting lost in the corporate shuffle, and he was dropped from the label. Flash forward six years later, and Nail can be heard on the airwaves as of late with his first top ten single, “Red Light,” from his 2009 album I’m About To Come Alive, which has been heralded by many as one of the best country albums of the year. If you look at the label imprint on the disc, you will see the album credited to MCA Nashville. However, MCA and Mercury—while different labels with different promotional and publicity teams—all flow from the same business stream at Universal, and the label head, Luke Lewis, is the same exec that signed (and dropped) Nail from the Mercury roster years earlier. LimeWire Music Blog had a chance to talk with Nail as he was driving through Iowa recently about returning to the same company he was with—albeit with much more success.
“I kept a lot of relationships there throughout the years,” Nail says, admitting that his not connecting with the public earlier might not have been all the label’s fault. “The first deal I got there when I was 20 or 21 years old, I definitely made some mistakes back then, and probably went about some things the wrong way. But, there were some things that to a large deal, were out of my control. I think that seven years down the road—where I had matured, and maybe some people had some time, and space to look back and see that there wasn’t any hard core reason as to why something didn’t work out.”
At the end of the day, Lewis’s faith in Nail’s ability was still there. “Obviously, they still felt that I was talented and had something to offer.”
Getting another chance with Universal was as important to Nail as finding another label. “To be honest with you, I don’t know if I had even pursued this if I had not gone back there. I always reference it with this analogy,” he says. “Going to another label and having any kind of success whatsoever would be like going to the grocery store with your stepmom, and you’re in the cereal aisle. You look down it, and there’s your real mom. You’re kind of caught in between. You want to run down, and jump into your real mom’s arms, but you can’t. You don’t want to offend your stepmom, and you don’t want her to think you’re unappreciative of her efforts and her time and her love. You can’t really react the way you want to. I definitely wanted to be back there, and I can’t fathom it. I have several friends at other labels, and not to say that they would want to sign me to a record deal, but I can’t even fathom it. Universal is a family, and it was that way when I was younger, and it remains that way today.”
The label released the title track of the album to mediocre success, but it was the second single, “Red Light,” that finally gave him his first top 10 on the country singles chart. It was something that Nail had long waited for, even though with the slow climb that most singles take up the charts these days, it was a case of taking it week-by-week.
“It was one of those things that definitely took forever, but at the same time, it got to a point that I could sense that it was breaking through because it seemed like we were getting busier and busier. A wise person told me when I first moved to town that you’re only as successful as your schedule. If you are busy, then chances are that you’re doing well, and if you’re not—you ought to start looking around.” Fortunately for Nail, the schedule was piling up.
“I noticed that we were starting to get busy, and it’s impossible not to notice the more familiar the crowd is, and I had always heard when you find that one song, that you can tell by the people in the crowd.” Social networking also tipped him off to the song’s success. “It’s also entertaining and flattering when someone e-mails me a new link of someone on YouTube. You get on there, and I can’t look at them because there’s so many. I think that when someone takes enough time to turn on a camera, and put it on the web for all the world to see. I think your song has made an impact.”
While there are many factors in Nail’s surge as an artist, one that he considers to be very important is his development as a songwriter. He had a hand in writing five of the songs on I’m About To Come Alive, and he said that his writing helped him through a great deal of personal and professional strife that he had endured the past few years. “There’s no way to sugar-coat it. I was in a bad way. I had a lot of things unravel, and had been in denial for a couple of years on how exactly it came to be, and so it seemed like one day I woke up, and I had all of these issues. I wasn’t quite sure exactly of how it got to that point.”
Looking inside himself, he began to write some of more personal work. “When you start writing things, and you’re forced to read them back, and ask yourself, ‘Wow, this just came out of me. I’m obviously dealing with this. There’s something on my mind.’ You know, short of going to a psychiatrist….that’s what counsels you because you’re able to deal with what you’re feeling. It’s not only ‘Let me get this off my chest, but I don’t like the sound of this. How can I make some changes and go about trying to find a new me, or going back to the old me. So I did, man. I can’t tell you how many songs I played for people, or people got hold of songs and they would come up and just hug me and say ‘I love you man, Be happy. Write something happy.’ Those songs might very well see the light of day at some point. I always say that someday I’m going to come out with a record of all that stuff. I may start a whole new grunge area of country—that Seattle sound with all that depressing stuff. That definitely got me through it!”
The album is a perfect showcase for his soulful yet raw singing voice. One of the standout tracks is “Mississippi,” which was written for the late Ray Charles. “One of the guys who wrote the song, Scooter Carusoe, is a publisher as well, and he had caught wind that Ray Charles was either in town, or coming to town to make a record, and he had been writing on the side, but no one ever knew that he wrote. I think that one afternoon, he just kind of stayed and tried to create something Ray Charles-esque.” Nail says he heard the song at the right time. “The ironic thing about it when I found that song, it was coming off the heels of Ray the movie coming out, so it was fresh in my mind. I think with that movie, I realized my love of the piano. My dad was a band director, and he played piano a ton, and it was always one of my favorite instruments. When Frank Liddell and I sat down, and he asked me ‘How do you want to go about making this record?’ I said I really wanted piano to be a key and for it to be built around that. When we went to find songs, ‘Mississippi’ was kind of right in that wheel house.”
Another highlight on the album is the infectious “Summer Job Days.” For Nail, the song brings to mind one of his more recent job—being a baseball coach. In 2005 and 2006, the singer helped out coaching the Twitty City Knights, a group of Nashville’s best young baseball talent. That period also helped him through the rough patches.
“I was in that bad time of my life, and one of my buddies, who’s a high school coach—I think jokingly said something about working out with these kids. I’ve got a group of 17-year-old kids that are really good. You can just come out and take batting practice. The competitor in me heard the term ‘batting practice,’ and I was about 27-years-old, and I said, ‘You know, I’m going to go out there and see just how much I have lost as an athlete. So I went out there, and I think some of the kids had googled me and found my MySpace page, and knew I sang, and knew I had a record out. They were interested in the fact that I sang, and I think they kind of dug what I was doing. I’ve always said that all athletes want to be entertainers, and entertainers want to be athletes. It’s kind of ironic that I have gotten to do both. I played in college for a semester, and could have continued in college if I hadn’t wanted to have gone the music route. It’s definitely a blessing to have done the coaching thing. It really did change my life. To be around those kids, I’ve told people…I was a coach, but they coached me. I was the one who definitely got more out of it.”
So, how much had he lost athletically?
“Well, let’s just say it took a lot longer to get everything back than I had hoped,” he says with a laugh. “I worked out with a group of kids last year, and I swung and missed on the first six. I had to remind myself that I was 30-years-old. My mind knew what to do, but my body was a little bit slower. I had to speed things up a little bit.”
Whether it be uptempo crowd-pleasers or romantic love ballads, his batting average is perfect on I’m About To Come Alive. Of the slower tunes, the shining moment is the moody “Strangers On A Train,” which features some sizzling harmony from Miranda Lambert. While listening to the song, you have your own idea of the characters in this song, and their chance encounter, Nail has done his job. “The imagery of this song is so vivid that you can just picture what it would look and feel like as a video.”
While he probably wouldn’t have included the bumps in the road as part of his musical story, Nail knows that he wouldn’t be as grateful for his success today had he not gone through them, and he’s aware that everything he has gone through has made him the artist he is today. “They’re all aspects of my life,” he says, adding that the story is far from finished. “I’m still growing as both a person and artist, and hopefully will continue getting better in regards to both.”