When Jerrod Niemann burst onto the mainstream country scene with his fetching cover of Sonia Dada’s “You Don’t Treat Me No Good” in 2010, it was the culmination of a decade of struggle that saw a few hard-won cuts (including Garth Brooks’ “Good Ride Cowboy”) and a couple of aborted record deals. Now, the singer-songwriter is looking to lock down his spot on radio playlists with a still-rising Top 20 single in “Shinin’ on Me” and a sophomore Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville release called Free the Music, out October 2.
We managed to corner Niemann for a quick round of questions as he prepares for a swing through California this week.
Best use of horns in a country song? To level the playing field, let’s rule out “Ring of Fire” and, ahem, “Shinin’ on Me.”
“New San Antonio Rose” by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys or “Women I’ve Never Had” by Hank Williams, Jr.
Your first Arista/Sea Gayle album was recorded in the midst of a personal/creative renaissance, then picked up by the label after the fact. Free the Music is the first time you’re working with the label, trying to follow up major radio success. Given the different circumstances, was it a challenge to find your way back to that creative space?
No, actually the opposite. Having a real team and a real group of music fans paying attention to our music for the first time generated more inspiration to try more creative things in the studio than ever before.
Your singles are unlike anything else on the country charts, in that they tend to be a lot more groove-based and earwormy. To what do you attribute your strong rhythmic sense?
As a songwriter in Nashville, I had boxed myself into a limited amount of grooves and chord progressions. After my second record deal, due to lack of finances and resources, I had to home in on becoming a producer as well. It opened my mind to an entirely different realm of thoughts and ideas. Everything in my mind immediately changed and a newfound passion for producing ignited. Stepping outside my comfort zone became my favorite challenge. Now, it’s allowed me to write in layers. Melodies on top of melodies.
Some of the folks who discovered you with “Lover, Lover” probably aren’t aware that Judge Jerrod… wasn’t technically your first album. Let’s say, hypothetically, someone digs up one of your early albums [1999's Long Hard Road or 2004's Jukebox of Hard Knocks] in a used record bin somewhere. What would you want them to know before popping it in the player?
Well, I guess that each album is a snapshot in time for me. I am and will always be a student of music, with a desire to be better. Probably, they would walk away hearing more of my traditional country roots shining through, but definitely less original.
Your last album included a song titled after a California town ["Bakersfield"], but I notice that’s not the case on Free the Music. Have we done something to offend you?
Haha! I adore California and I imagine you’ll hear many more references down the line…
I’ve always loved California music, whether it’s the Bakersfield Sound or great rock bands like Sublime. I can’t help but hope that it’s influenced my music today. That being said, I feel an extra connection to music fans in California and hopefully they feel the same way.