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David Nail feature in Examiner.com New York
David Nail is ‘not your granddaddy’s country music’
Manhattan experienced a rarity late last month with two consecutive nights of top country music concerts, starting with Lady Antebellum, with David Nail opening, at the Beacon Theatre, and followed by Miranda Lambert, with Eric Church opening (Josh Kelley, older brother of Lady A’s Charles Kelley, took a brief turn prior to Church’s full set).
Both shows were SRO and superb, each young artist demonstrating total connection with their crowd. Lady A, who sold out the Nokia theatre here just a few months ago, seems surely on its way to Madison Square Garden, same with Lambert. Church with his hard rock/redneck country sound, is no doubt well on his way to bigger venues as well.
Nail put it best, though “This is not your granddaddy’s country music!,” he said at the start of his set. Nope, old Granddad would never have covered Rick Derringer’s 1974 hit “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” as did Lambert. He would have run screaming from Church and would barely recognize the two-man, one-woman format of Lady A.
He might well have liked singer-songwriter Nail, though. Or at least appreciate where he was coming from.
“’I’m not your granddaddy’s country’…I never said that before and haven’t since!” Nail said when queried about the comment a couple weeks after. “I don’t really have that kind of shtick. And it’s ironic that I said it when we were doing Waylon’s ‘Are Your Sure Hank Done It This Way.’”
Yes, the 1975 Waylon Jennings country chart-topper is a rather resigned acknowledgement that the singer is stuck in the same old country music grind (“’It’s been the same way for years,” the lyricist observes), and asks—and doubts—whether Hank Williams had to go through it, too. Nail, a small-town Missourian who cites Elton John and Glen Campbell among his many influences, explains that he consequently had to contend with the question of why he chose to move to Nashville “300 million times.”
“I started to get offended!” said Nail, who is now 31. “It’s kind of coming at you like you don’t necessarily fit in. But when I’d play L.A. or New York, or sing other genres of music, id get ‘Yeah, that sounds great—but it sounds really country.’ So I think in my mid-20s I gave up trying to fit in any sort of box, and knew in my heart that the way I crafted songs fit most comfortably and naturally in country music. So I just put my hands over my ears and do what I do and hope people recognize good music at the end of the day instead of wondering which room to put it in.”
He compares his plight with Jennings’ in “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”
“In the song, he was on the road singing his kind of country music and essentially saying, ‘Hey! I know this not Hank Williams’ kind of music,’ but at the same time showing appreciation for it,” said Nail. “How weird is it that I’m doing it? I know I don’t sound like George Strait—or Waylon, for that matter—but that doesn’t mean I don’t own every George Strait album or been to 15 George Strait shows! But I know when I open my mouth that it doesn’t sound like George Strait.”
By the same token Nail acknowledges criticism for singing on stage with his eyes closed.
“Yes, I close my eyes when I sing and get flack for not engaging the audience,” he said. “But if I open them and ‘play eyes’ with the audience, that’s just playing games, then—and that not me, either, and doesn’t engage honestly with the audience. When I close my eyes I actually go back to where I was when I wrote the song and re-experience the true emotion.”
Nail is nothing if not honest, and he expressed his artistic vision honestly even in the New York City subway CD artwork—and imagery on related merchandise—of his debut album from last year, I’m About to Come Alive (MCA Nashville).
“I felt like my record had a lot of nostalgia feel to it, and wanted to go somewhere where that was represented [visually],” said Nail. “Nashville was one of the biggest cities I’d ever been at the time—but now it feels small. So I wanted to get across the theme of the record—of a guy moving to a city that was such a huge, extreme difference from what he grew up in and was used to.”
The subway setting proved a perfect fit.
“Here’s this kid waiting on a train with no concept of what to do or where that train is going, but hoping that someone leads him in the right direction,” he said.
I’m About to Come Alive would seem to be a first step in the right one. The album was last year’s third highest new artist debut on the country charts, its single “Red Light” set a record for longest charted single in the Mediabase radio monitoring service’s history at 42 weeks—and was nominated for Single Record of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.
Meanwhile, Nail has become a big supporter of pediatric cancer research in memory of Payton Wright, a five year-old girl who died from brain cancer in 2007.
“It was a rare form that starts with an ‘m’ [medulloepithelioma] that I still can’t pronounce, as many times as I’ve heard it,” he said. “I heard about it when I was in the midst of looking for something I could be passionate about. I spent several hours reading on the family’s website and got in touch with Payton’s father and now I’m extremely close to the family.”
Opening for Lady Antebellum, Nail had a large “PW” emblazoned on his guitar. He’ll stay on the road with Lady A now through early November, then commence work on his next album.
“It’s an exciting and nerve wracking time,” he concluded.Waylon Jennings couldn’t have said it any better.