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David Nail interview

Before he takes to the stage at C2C, the singer-songwriter talked to us about his new album Fighter.

David Nail
Credit: Humphead

David Nail is one of the brightest stars in Country music and he’s gone from strength-to-strength with every release.

With three albums under his belt, including 2014’s fantastic I’m a Fire, David is gearing up for the release of his new album Fighter later this year. In support of the record David is performing as part of C2C: Country to Country this weekend at The O2 Arena in London.

I caught up with David to talk about Fighter, discuss the rise of Country music in the UK, and to find out how becoming a father has influenced his musical output.

C2C kicks off this weekend and it’s the biggest Country music event we have. How important is it for you to be involved?

More than anything you’re always looking at trying to grow your fanbase, grow your music and introduce more and more people to what you do. For whatever reason in the last few years there have been several people that have tried to initiate coming over here and I think there’s probably a few reasons why I was hesitant to do it but mainly out of fear that who’s going to go and see someone they’ve never heard of and don’t know or take a chance. It’s something that I did a lot when I grew up and I thought ‘this person looks like they could be good or fun and entertaining’. You’re just kind of fearful that people aren’t going to dig what you do. The more people that came along and said ‘I think this could be really good for you’, the more confidence I got in the idea of it. We finally pulled the trigger this year and we’re crossing our fingers that it’s going to be a success.

If your C2C performances were a success, would you consider coming back for some headline shows?

Yeah. There have been a couple of people that have emailed me saying ‘I hope you enjoy yourself, really try and take advantage and see the city’ and hopefully we can come back in the fall or early next year.

I’m a big fan of New York City. I grew up in a very small town in Missouri and I’d never really travelled anywhere. When I went to New York and L.A. for the first times, I swore up and down that I was an L.A. guy y’know a laidback by the ocean guy. The more I’ve gotten older, the more New York City I’ve become. This morning I was having breakfast and watching the energy of the city (London) picking up and it definitely has that New York City type of vibe.

I could say that it’s working on me and it’s doing its thing. I’ve definitely become a fan so far and hopefully if this goes well, it’s something where we can come back again later on.

Country music is really beginning to pick up momentum here in the UK, in large part due to the success of C2C over the past few years. Is that something you’ve been aware of?

Yeah, I’ve heard bits and pieces. You see occasionally in Nashville and on social media sites that an artist is coming over here and having some success. You see more and more than artists are coming over here two or three times year. From that standpoint it’s been something that’s intriguing. You think ‘what if we went over there, what if people dig what we do?’ There’s been some growth and some buzz and hopefully we can continue that and ride the wave.

Your third album I’m a Fire came out in 2014. How important has that record been to your career?

It was really important from the standpoint that the first couple of records were very theme oriented. My first record was a long time coming and it took a long time to make. Being the first record I was passionate about it coming out and fearful that it wasn’t going to come out. There were songs on there that were very, very personal and I wanted to make sure that if this hypothetically was my only record that I made these statements.

The second record we made in such a rush, it was a little bit all over the place. With this record (I’m a Fire) I was at a point in my life where I’d gone through some issues personally and I think having dealt with that it allowed me the opportunity to think about recording the types of songs, and songs that years prior to dealing with those personal issues I would never have entertained recording. I think people gravitated towards the newfound positivity in the music and there was a new level of energy in the music. Whatever She’s Got was a huge song for us, and by far the biggest song we’ve had. I think if anything it lit the fire to want to make a better record. I feel like this new record (Fighter) that we’ve worked on for the past year is that; it’s hopefully better.

David Nail

Credit: Jim Wright

We’ve heard the first taster from the new album in lead single Night’s on Fire. Would you say that song is indicative of how the album is going to sound?

I think that it’s the perfect introduction. This record is really a continuation of the I’m a Fire record and we felt like this was the perfect song to introduce it with. There are bits and pieces of I’m a Fire on this record. I’ve learned to use our live shows as the perfect testing ground. You find out what songs work and what songs maybe don’t work, and just try to go with it. It’s more personal than I’m a Fire. There are songs on there that came from a very personal place and started the process of making the record. The rest of it was finding the best possible songs that I wanted to go out on the road and play.

I think we’ve played more than half of the record live already at some point this year. It’s been exciting to get out there and test it out. There are some songs you think are going to go over great and they just go over. There are other songs you’re not as confident about and they go over great. Every night is a little bit of a testing ground but we’re excited about it. This is the most hectic record I’ve ever made but it’s the most fun record I’ve ever made.

Is it disappointing when you play new songs that you feel really good about and there’s no audience feedback?

The one thing I realised from that point is that you can’t base an opinion on a song on one reaction. I think you have to test it. I’ve had friends that we’ve been on the road with and they’ve had a setlist and after the first night they’ll change it all up because for whatever reason they didn’t think it worked. I thought, ‘that was just one night, what if tonight they went crazy’. You need to have more of a resume before you start changing things. There are sometimes where a song in the set is not in the best possible place.

We recently pulled out a song from the second record, Half Mile Hill, that we probably didn’t play for three years and just found a really good place for it in the set. I don’t know how many people, if any, are familiar with the song but it goes over amazing. It’s about finding that place where you’ve got people’s attention and you can keep them focused even though it’s a slower downer tune. Hopefully the song does justice. At the end of the day that’s what I’ve always said we want to be about. We want to be about the music. When you leave the show we want you to be talking about the music not talking the clothes we’re wearing or us jumping on the speakers or running around the stage crazy. We want it to be about the songs and hopefully we can continue to record songs that allow us to do that.

The new album is called Fighter. Where did that title come from?

It’s the title of a song I wrote with Troy Verges and Scooter Carusoe. I’m almost positive that Troy had an entirely different idea to write revolving around that title. There’s kind of this violent intensity to the word that comes to mind at first when you hear that title Fighter. I immediately started thinking of ways we could make this a positive song and, I hate to sound cheesy, a love song. Scooter’s known my story and everything that I and my wife have been through, so I knew I could really depend on him to know exactly what I was thinking and where my head was at. With Troy this was the first time we’ve written so there was a few times that he looked at me like I was an idiot.

It really turned into a song that’s an ode to my wife. In the show I try to explain the song just by saying that there were a lot of times where I expected my wife to be gone when we got home off the road. I would make that drive to the house and I was really nervous to see if her car was in the driveway and if she’d taken all her things. Not only was she there, she kind of had the gloves on and she was like ‘hey look, we’re going to get through this, we’re going to fix this and we’re going to deal with this head on’. That was a side of my wife that I never really knew. We’ve been married four or five years and she just dug her feet in the sand and just said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, you’re not going anywhere and we’re in this for the long haul’. That’s really what the song’s about; I thought I knew everything about you but I never knew that you were a fighter and so eager to deal with things, especially tough issues, so head on.

Congratulations on becoming a father to twins just before Christmas. That must be a challenge for you…

It’s definitely been a challenge. It’s amazing. It’s something we’ve waited for and worked for, for a long time. We were lucky to get pregnant around this time last year, and it’s just been an amazing experience. You listen to people talk and try to explain what you’re going to feel and what you’re going to think, what you’re going to experience and how difficult it’s going to be. I think you hear that so much that you just start tuning it out. It’s been unlike anything I ever imagined both from a difficulty standpoint and an exciting standpoint. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

It’s amazing when you get up at three or four in the morning to feed one of my kids, and you’re in a such a bad mood, then they can look at you one time and you laugh at yourself or want to hit yourself in the face for being so frustrated when you have this miracle in your arms. Especially when you see yourself in their face or my wife in their face. You look at them and go ‘wow I created this thing’ and it’s just a miracle from God. Hopefully the good Lord will bless me with being a halfway decent parent.

David Nail

Credit: MCA Nashville

Does it make doing what you do for a career harder now that you’ve got kids?

I was home for the first two months, and then I’ve been gone for most of the third month. You’re constantly battling the thought of ‘are they going to remember me? Who is this stranger holding me? Have they forgotten my voice and my face?’ You’re a little fearful of that and you miss a lot of moments. I’ve told my wife to send me just very general videos of them laughing and playing. If one of them happens to say ‘momma’ for the first time I don’t want to get that on a video and know that I missed it. I want to pretend that it didn’t happen so I can get home and hear it and pretend that’s the first time.

It’s something that you battle with and feel guilty about but at the same time this is what I do for a living and it’s how I provide for my family. I can remember a month ago or so when my manager asked ‘do you want to stay in Europe for a couple of extra days so you can vacation and see the country?’ and I said ‘we need to get back home and get to work. We’ve been off for too long.’ I’ve got two mouths I’ve got to feed and two sets of diapers I’ve got to buy, and I’ve got a wife that still likes to shop herself. It’s rewarding and exciting to know that when you get home you’ve got them to look forward to.

Has becoming a parent inspired you creatively in your music?

It hadn’t until a couple of weeks ago and it came on like a freight train. I was lying in bed and just thought of this title. I never usually think of song titles, I start with the very first line and work as it goes along. I thought of this title and started thinking about lines, things you can say and parts to the song, and I just started bawling. I remember turning my head and the pillow sheet was just soaking wet. That was the first time that I had a moment to take a deep breath and think about all these emotions about being a father and all the experiences my wife and I went through to be parents…all these raw emotions. I immediately began to look back on songs that I recorded and the work I’ve done, and I hope that when they hear them they think it’s cool and they’re not 18 and their friends are making fun of them for songs their dad recorded 20 years ago.

I think that when it comes the time to make a new record, listen to and write new music, there’ll probably be a sub-conscious side of me that will come out. We don’t know until then. I’m a little bit anxious about what will come out then (laughs) but I’m excited. Hopefully it’ll be good.

Do you have any collaborations of Fighter?

I do. We have Vince Gill sing on the record – he’s a huge hero of mine! Brothers Osborne sing on the opening track. Sarah Buxton, who has sung on several of my records, sings on a song. I’ve got a buddy of mine, who’s a new pop artist sings background on a couple of songs. That’s always something that I’ve taken a lot of pride in and wanted to showcase my friends. More than anything if you know that someone is a great singer and they’re going to make the song better, why not ask them to be a part of it. It’s something I’ve always done and will always continue to.

Some of your collaborations, such as When They’re Gone (Lyle County) with Little Big Town, are quite subtle with the guest artist supporting you rather than taking over. Is that something that you do consciously?

Actually quite the opposite. I always want people to know that’s them. I don’t want people to have to read it in the liner notes, turn the music up and listen really closely to know it’s them. We’ve had Lee Ann Womack singing on two of my songs before and I’ve always said I don’t want it to be a subtle featuring part. I want it to be a duet and people to know from the moment they hear it, who it is. I’ve always felt that if you’re going to have someone like that sing on your record, you might as well let them be heard. I think it really encourages them and lets them look at the part differently than if they were just trying to support you and blend into the background.

I know in the case of Lee Ann, she’s really gone after it like ‘hey I’m just as important as this lead vocal and I’m going to sing it that way, and approach it that way’. I treat every record like if it’s my last record, then this is what I want to accomplish. One of the consistent things from record to record is that if it is my last record I can say I had so and so sing on this record or on this song. Selfishly I’m kinda just trying to manipulate my legacy and my song selection by having all these people sing on it. I think it ends up causing the record to be better.

When you’re not performing at C2C this weekend, are you going to get chance to see any of the other acts performing?

One thing I’ve tried to do in regards to this week is try and keep my head down, and do what people tell me to do. We are quite busy. Last night I wanted to walk into some place and hear somebody locally. A lot of these acts I see throughout the year, five or ten times. It’ll be exciting to see a whole new country’s reaction to them but at the same time I think the most exciting thing is having a new country be exposed to your music, hearing it for the first time and hopefully be coming fans.

I’m really behind the times when it comes to music in the US and so obviously I’m completely clueless about what’s popular over here. 15 years ago I was introduced to Robbie Williams and I was the biggest Robbie fan in the US. I walk into here (Universal Records) and his picture is on the wall. Hopefully I can find the next young artist to follow like that, like I have him the last decade. I look forward to discovering that and being able to hopefully find somebody I can take home to the US and say ‘this is going to be the next big thing’.

David will be performing at C2C: Country to Country, which takes place at The O2 Arena in London from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th March. His single Night’s on Fire is available now and his new album Fighter will be released later this year. Watch the music video for Night’s on Fire below:

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