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David Nail Feature in Huffington Post
A Conversation with David Nail
Mike Ragogna: David, you've been on tour with Taylor Swift, you've had top ten country singles, and you have a new album, The Sound Of A Million Dreams. Do you feel the momentum?
David Nail: Yeah, I think that there's a combination of a lot of things. Just spending a few years out on the road and really huffing it...I think we played one hundred-seventy shows last year and we're probably going to have that many again this year. It's just about having a record out and then going on the road to more or less try to build it, and we've done that. We've had six or seven really strong spots throughout the country where we've gone in as a complete unknown, and then slowly, over time, we're now almost on the verge of outgrowing some of the venues. Take, for example, in Carbondale, Illinois, where we'd actually never played before, and we darn near sold the place out. I really think this record is going to enhance that growth, you know what I mean? It's a better record than the last record. I think it's more intriguing on the ears. It's bigger and hopefully, it will entice people to want to come out and see us live, which I think is our strongest asset.
MR: As far as the songwriting, you've got Keith Urban, Scooter Carusoe, and Billy Montana. Actually, before we get too much further here, I want to congratulate you on your World Series performance.
DN: Thank you so much. It was definitely a blur. I was telling someone earlier that it seems like that was a month ago, and it was only about five days ago. We flew in--it was kind of a blur of two days--and then the next day, we were back out on the road, so there was not really a lot of time to digest it all but it definitely felt good.
MR: Nice. Did you get to visit with either of the teams while you were there?
DN: I have several people that I'm friends with and in touch with on the Cardinals--I don't really know any of the Rangers. But I saw a few guys at a couple of parties after the game. For the most part, they were obviously running a mile a minute too. It was nice and it was very satisfying to see them accomplish such an amazing thing.
MR: David, what's the story behind "Let It Rain" on The Sound Of A Million Dreams? It was written by you and Jonathan Singleton, but what else have you got?
DN: This is the first time we'd ever written together. If you know anything about Jon, he's a a phenomenal guitar player, a great singer and right away, he just started playing that guitar riff. In a weird way, my excitement level went from really excited to just extremely fired up because I'm not a great guitar player, so to have someone sitting across from me playing something so unique made me know that it was really special. It really came together rather easily. As he began mumbling words and singing some of the melody, a lot of what he was saying was really good, so we tried to just take it. It's obviously a very unflattering subject matter, but we were trying to just showcase a guy that truly acknowledges the significance of what he had just done and is willing to do whatever it takes to make up for this mistake, if that is even possible. It was really, really easy, and some of it just sort of fell out and actually Jonathan and I have gotten together a couple times since. We're always kind of dumbfounded by why we can't recreate that same kind of chemistry.
MR: I love how in the song, you see that that just one night of infidelity upsets the whole trust that you've built up, in this case, over seven years.
DN: You can have the most amazing relationship--five years, ten years, fifty years--and all it really takes is just that one moment to throw a wrecking ball into all of that.
MR: Now, I don't know if this is ever going to be a single, but my favorite song on the album is "She Rides Away." What an emotional recording.
DN: Thank you so much. That's definitely one of my favorites. That's a song where we got the demo and it was really different than anything we'd heard before, and really different than anything I had ever really entertained recording. The more I listened to it--I don't want to say that I knew it had potential because the demo was great, but I just felt like this was something we could elaborate on and really make cool even more so than it already was. So, we went in, and to be honest with you, in a weird way, we really struggled with it. It was a tough one to get down. We couldn't, for whatever reason, figure it out. We were all kind of sitting in the studio and one of the guitar players had remained in the actual studio itself and began messing with this guitar effect. We all just kind of looked at each other and said, "Wow, that's it." We went back in, and all of a sudden, there was just this new found energy. I can remember listening to the first few mixes that we got and emailing my producer to say, "Man, I think this is the coolest thing we've ever done." It's just really unique and really different from anything we've ever done before.
MR: I love the concept that she tells you right from the start that she's going.
DN: That's one of my favorite lines that I've ever recorded, "She told me when I met her she would leave me, like it was written in red letters." It's just such a genius line. It's that classic case of that one you know is probably bad from the start, but for whatever reason...you know it's bad, but you just can't keep from chasing after it.
MR: Yeah, I know what you mean. I want to ask you something about your history here. This is officially your second album, but technically it's your third, right? You had one that was self-titled that never came out that you worked on with Keith Stegall.
DN: Yeah, back in '01, I made a record for Mercury Records. We had a single out and it didn't do very well--barely charted I think. To be honest with you, that was a huge heartbreaking moment, but looking back, it was so necessary. I had moved to town at twenty years old and got a record deal very quickly, then the next thing you know, you're making a record, doing a photo shoot in LA, and it's all this craziness. As a young kid, I just thought, "Wow, this is easy." I made some choices that I definitely wouldn't make now at thirty-two years old. I think it was a classic case of not being ready and being extremely young. So, I spent the next seven or eight years kind of figuring out my way, and lo and behold, I ended up back at Universal, this time on MCA, with a lot of the same people, and it was just an amazing opportunity. They've been like family to me for a long time.
MR: Well, at that point, you had Luke Lewis overseeing everything, and I think that changed the vibe of how the creative teams and promotional teams are working records these days.
DN: Yeah, Luke's an amazing boss, and I told him the other night, "The freedom that you allow your artist's to just go and do their own thing is truly an amazing thing."
MR: Yeah, in the old days, the truly good A&R guys were the ones who used to leave the artists alone and just sort of facilitated. The nasty A&R guys were the ones who always seemed to need to manipulate things and become back seat producers.
MR: Let's continue with your history. What got you into country music?
DN: My father was a band director and listened to all kinds of music. He had a very extensive record collection, and really, country music wasn't a part of that. So, I grew up listening to everything. I was in my late teens before I realized that all my friends weren't listening to Elton John, The Beatles, The Stones, The Commodores, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Lionel Ritchie. I was astonished to know that that wasn't the current music. Then, in the '90s, I found country music with everybody else, and just enthralled myself with it. I really began to research the history of the genre, and that's when I found a guy by the name of Glen Campbell who really just completely changed my life as far as singing. Even today, I try to emulate the strength and power of his voice, both from a range standpoint and also a communication standpoint.
MR: When I was a kid, Glen Campbell was the first country artist that I came to love. There are a lot of people that are really sad right now that Glen has recorded and released his last album.
DN: I think that he just has that cool factor. There are certain people who have that aura of, "It doesn't really matter what I'm dealing with right now, I'm just cool." There's a degree of kind of a James Dean-esque quality to his persona. If you talk to people who've known him for years, they'll tell you, "Oh, he's just a regular guy. He's so down to Earth." I think there are only a few people that have that aura--you think of like a Tom Brady or Michael Jordan, where there's just this pristine film around them, and Glen has just always been one of those guys to me.
MR: Getting further into your history, you were a Pi Kappa Alpha over at Arkansas State.
DN: In my childhood, I was kind of the classic case of, "Okay, I can say that I've done that now." Even now, I guess there's a degree of that in how I live my life. I went to junior college, I played baseball, and I was like, "Okay, I can say I've done that now." While I was doing that, all my friends were in other schools, joining fraternities and sororities, and I'm hearing all these stories about how fun it is, and I wanted to be able to say that I did that. So, I moved back home and went to college at Arkansas State, about forty-five minutes from where I grew up. I joined a fraternity and I learned how to party. I formed some great friendships, and after being there for a year and a half, I could say, "Well, I can say I did that. Now, I need to figure out how I'm going to do this music thing, which is what I want to do for the rest of my life."
MR: Right. Now, we talked about your unreleased first album, but you did put out I'm About To Come Alive. You're first single off that was the title track, "I'm About To Come Alive," which, of course, is the Train song from their My Private Nation album. What turned you onto Train and especially to do that song?
DN: Well, in my mid-twenties, I started singing at a place called The Tin Roof in Nashville--it was really the first and only time I had performed regularly around town. I was going through a rough stretch personally, and I was a huge Train fan already. I've always been a huge fan, and I think Pat is the best singer I've ever heard, male or female. The My Private Nation album came out, and a buddy of mine got the record early, so we were driving around and he played me that song. I can remember exactly where we were when I first heard it and I don't think I got through the whole song before I began starting it over. I immediately started playing the song live. Obviously, it wasn't a single for them, and still so many people had never heard it, so most of them would never have known that it was a Train song. I think people that would come see me play would always talk about it and assume that it was one of mine. I've always said that that's one of the true un-enjoyable moments, to have to break the news that, "No, that's not, in fact, one of my songs. I just think it's brilliantly written." When it came time to make that first record, Frank, my producer, had caught wind of this acoustic version of the song that I'd done and he just said, "Hey, it's obvious this song is extremely close to you and means a lot to you. I just think we should do it." It just was the perfect title of the record too. Here I am at twenty-eight years old, making my introduction to the music world out there after eight years of ups and downs. It was very ironic that it served as the title too.
MR: And you also had the hit "Red Light" off of that album, and "Turning Home," another biggie from that album.
DN: Yeah, I've always said that "Turning Home" was the most important song of my career. It's brilliantly written, and it's the first song I ever felt like, "Man, here's a song that I can really sing." I just gravitated towards the emotion in it. It got nominated for a Grammy, and I think it's kind of been my signature song.
MR: Can you go into the songs "Half Mile Hill" and "That's How I'll Remember You"?
DN: "Half Mile Hill" was the last song that we cut and kind of the last song that came in the picture. It's a very reflective song of your youth. I really wanted to stay away from those songs because they were so much a part of my first record, but when I heard this song, it just killed me, and it was really just a matter of it being an amazing song. We really thought it would be just a bonus track, but it turned out so great. Every time I'd sing it in the studio, I just felt like it was an extremely important part of the record. "That's How I'll Remember You" is one of the first songs we cut. I'm a huge baseball fan, so the fact that it references baseball in the second verse was really cool for me. I think we've all been there when you break up with somebody and you kind of refuse to acknowledge the bad. You just want to focus on the good and leave everything pleasant.
MR: And sometimes because there is so much passion involved, you just can't do the right thing in those situations.
DN: Yeah, for sure.
MR: I wanted to ask you about your GAC appearance on the show Day Jobs. How did it go?
DN: It was great, man. It was an awesome opportunity to kind of go back there and relive that summer of my life.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
DN: Get your college education first. I moved to town at twenty years old because I'd dropped out of three colleges, and there have been a whole lot of sleepless nights where I wonder if I made the right decision. You look when my first record came out, and hell, I could have been a doctor. I could have stayed in school for eight years or ten years. I was so fixated on moving over here and getting in the business at an early age, and I just think that having that background in education is a really important part. I'd also just tell them to write and to sing as much as possible. I made a record--and thank God hardly anybody heard it--when I was twenty years old. I didn't know how to sing then, and I didn't know who I was, I was just singing. There was nothing unique or different about me, and I hadn't lived enough to really tell the sort of stories that are at least interesting. I think that life experience is extremely important and I think that you have to have a little of that out before you start telling stories every night.
MR: Looking back at David Nail from when you first started 'til now, what is the biggest growth?
DN: Well, it's definitely harder to stay in shape. I could eat whatever I wanted to back then, but now, my metabolism is slower. I think that the biggest thing is just finding my voice. There was probably about three or four years there where all I did was sit in my bedroom with a twelve pack of beer, a guitar, and just sing for five or six hours straight. Those nights, I learned how to not only sing, but I kind of developed my voice, and hopefully, some sort of unique niche that there is a place for out there.
MR: Very nice. Now, you're going to be picking up touring again for this album, right?
DN: Oh yeah. We're working 'til the end of the year, and then we'll take off for the holidays. I'm not exactly sure where we'll start for the New Year, but we'll be working hard, man. The road is kind of, in a weird way, my mistress. I'll complain and want to go home, but then when I get home, I complain and want to get back out on the road. It's one of those things that my wife probably doesn't enjoy, but it's what I do now.
MR: Well, everybody's got their thing to do, as you pointed out in "Songs For Sale."
DN: Yeah, exactly. That song more or less just kind of says my philosophy. I'm no different than you, I just sing for a living. My job is no more important than yours, and in fact, in the grand scheme of things, it's probably the least important.
MR: But your job does give a lot of people joy.
DN: Well, this is what I was born to do, so the fact that people pay money for a record or to come see us play is icing on the cake and definitely makes all the travel and stuff worth it.
MR: What song haven't we talked about on this album that you feel a special connection to?
DN: Probably the song that was the most fun to record, and one that I just enjoy playing every night would be "Grandpa's Farm." This is a song that I heard one day. There's a guy by the name of Adam Hood who is a great singer-songwriter in town, and I had gotten a compilation of about forty of his songs. "Grandpa's Farm" was the first song on it, and it just blew my mind. It was really different, and it kind of reminded me of some old school kind of Elton John, Black Crows in it. It's just been a blast to play.
MR: Yeah, it rocks nicely. Thank you very much, David, for taking the time to talk with me today.
DN: My pleasure. I appreciate it. Any time.
1. Grandpa's Farm
2. Songs For Sale
4. She Rides Away
5. Let It Rain
6. I Thought You Knew
7. Catch You While I Can
8. Half Mile Hill
9. That's How I'll Remember You
10. The Sound Of A Million Dreams