Prior to his show before a raucous Long Island crowd at Mulcahy’s Pub, Broken Bow Records’ Joe Nichols chatted with us about “Baby Got Back,” Chris Stapleton, and the current state of country music.
During the show, which he summed up in three words as “funny, don’t leave”, Nichols played his biggest hits and some new favorites, including his current single “Freaks Like Me,” a song that was originally on hold for Justin Moore. However, when Nichols heard the track, it resonated with him so deeply that he asked to record it.
I think the song, message-wise, has a big meaning to it. I think old school people have a minority vote nowadays in country so there’s a very quiet voice that’s aching for a message like that, which is old school type values, old school type people. It’s pretty much somebody that doesn’t feel the need to be loud and obnoxious and as progressive as the world is today.
While Nichols is prepping a new single to be released in the very near future, he’s also readying an album to be released later this year, which he says will be a natural extension of his last release, Crickets.
It’s hard to sum up the album in a few words…There’s a lot of traditional stuff, there’s a lot of stuff that belongs on radio today but there’s also an element of a sexy-type song that my wife has been telling me for years that I need to do music that’s more sexy than what I’ve done. This album, I really made an effort to do that and the label actually agreed with her completely. We did a few songs on this record that were more driven to one on one relationships rather than the he said-she said or ‘i like you, you like me,” it’s more of a direct, intimate contact.
In addition to those sexy songs, there’s a cover on the album that fans may not expect that started out as a joke. Nichols began covering Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 classic “Baby Got Back” in jest but admits that the cover turned into so much more.
“It’s more country than anything I’ve done in the past five or six years which is kind of ironic, but it’s fun. It’s one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in the studio… We cut “Baby Got Back” as a country shuffle and the whole band was giggling through the whole thing. It started as a not-very-meaningful, smart-aleck kind of view on my life and it kinda turned into ‘We gotta cut it, it’s actually meaningful now. We had to cut it.
As Joe Nichols prepares to release his next album, he admits that it’s not always easy to succeed in today’s country climate, but he never waivers from staying true to himself.
I think for me it’s a matter of how we find balance…Stay country enough so people know it’s me doing what I do and meeting in the middle of what’s current at radio and what’s current at the ticket counters.
He also admits that it’s sometimes hard to be heart when a song isn’t played on radio “a couple hundred times a day,” but believes part of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the artists.
“It does strike me to note that if it’s not good, it shouldn’t be played on the radio anywhere. It shouldn’t matter if it’s country or hip hop or progressive or pop, it needs to be good, and if it’s good, it should be played on radio, whether it’s traditional or not. The responsibility doesn’t lie on radio for playing us, the responsibility lies on me to make a record that’s good enough to get played on radio, whether it’s traditional or not.”
And speaking of good music, Nichols is inspired by another artist who is finally getting his dues, Chris Stapleton.
I’ve been saying for maybe 12 or 14 years now that if there’s any justice in the world, Chris Stapleton would be a superstar and I’m glad that’s finally happening because I only thought that I was maybe viewing the world wrong, so I’m glad that he’s out there having huge success.”
As Joe Nichols looks both ahead and at this own legacy, he sums up his career within a cover of a Merle Haggard song called “Footlights,” admitting that the lyrics have a huge affect on him.
“…it’s about being an entertainer and going on stage and making sure that no one in the crowd that bought a ticket to see you knows exactly what you’re feeling inside other than what they expect to feel that you’re feeling, so I think ‘Footlights’ is a very important song in that it let’s me know that I’m not crazy thinking that sometimes there’s a disconnect with what I should be feeling versus what I think people need to feel me feeling when I go out on that stage. That’s a pretty profound kind of song for that kind of environment so yeah, I’d say ‘Footlights’.
And looking ahead, his bucket list item is simply to keep making music, and to be chatting with interviewers in 25 years about his recent #1 hit. Heck, it may even be a cover of “Baby Got Back.”