CMT Insider Interview: Joe Nichols on His New Outlook Toward Music and Life

Track From New Album, Old Things New, Reflects His Battles With Substance Abuse

“The song is about the struggle with addiction — the pain it causes and how it wreaks havoc in lives,” Joe Nichols says, referring to “An Old Friend of Mine,” a track from his new album, Old Things New.

The song gained attention weeks ago in Nashville when advance copies of Nichols’ CD began circulating around Music Row. Like the best country songs, the lyrics rang especially true when they were sung by Nichols, who entered a substance abuse rehab program in 2007.

“This song is about giving it up, moving on and finding something worth fighting for — somebody worth fighting for — and saying goodbye to something that can be like an old friend. Something that you shared a lot of times with,” Nichols said in a recent interview with CMT Insider.

Ironically, “An Old Friend of Mine” is not Nichols’ current single. That distinction goes to “Gimmie That Girl,” a more lighthearted track that’s continuing to climb Billboard‘s country chart during its third week of release. Still, Nichols recently shot a video for “An Old Friend of Mine.”

During his conversation with CMT Insider, Nichols talked about the song’s significance and the struggles he deals with daily.

How does this song reflect your life over the past couple of years?

The song feels like it’s, verbatim, my life. That’s what drew me to it so much. It just tells a story that I want to tell, exactly how I want to tell it. It’s been quite a struggle with me. … It’s a struggle everyday. To have something like this — a song like this — come along, it’s kind of an outlet to be able to talk about it and to tell people about the pain and, for whoever else is out there, that they’re not alone.

Do you think some people have been wondering what happened a couple of years ago?

My life has been real difficult over the past couple of years. I’ve had to deal with addiction and the struggle that comes along with that. I’ve had to get treatment. I’ve had to take that walk of shame that nobody likes to take. But, in the end, it saved my life. It’s why I’m here right now. And I’m thankful I was able to get my head right — thankful there were people around that wanted to take the time to help me out.

Why did you want to shoot this video even though this song is not the current single?

If we could have 10 singles out at the same time, I’d love that. We’d shoot 10 videos for all of them. I think there’s great material on this album, but I think a lot of it is going to have to be uniquely marketed. Some stuff might be a challenge at radio. But still, we think fans need to hear things like “An Old Friend of Mine.” It’s just special. It’s who I am, and we’re looking for all avenues that we can to bring the music to the people. … We’re not playing by the same old standard rules. We want to get our music out there. Especially with a brand new album, we want to hit as many avenues as possible.

When you put this song on the album, were you thinking the message might help other people?

Honestly, I’ve got to say I wasn’t thinking about anybody else when I cut this song. I wish I could sit here and say I was thinking about the world of addiction and how I could help. Honestly, I wasn’t that farsighted. I was thinking about myself and how I’d like to share my story for me first because I think it’s therapy for me. Helping people is obviously high on my priority list, but just at the time, it was what I needed to do for me. And if it helps people, that’s a bonus. But I hate to sound so selfish. I hate to sound like all I care about is me, but that’s what I cut the song for — because it shared my story the way I wanted it shared.

Did you have a moment of epiphany similar to the one in the song?

Yeah. I’ve had to have that moment several times … like I’ve got to get up and walk away from a moment like that. I’ve got to leave it behind me. I’ve got to walk, run towards life. And so it’s a daily struggle. Not only is it difficult on me, it’s difficult on my wife. The people around me have got to deal with this addiction, too, and it’s unfair to them. But it’s painful, and it’s prevalent every day. And it’s sad, but that’s the way it is. So I’m thankful that the song is ugly about being clear about it. Brutally honest, I guess, is the way to describe it.

What’s behind the title of the new album?

“Old Things New” is an amazing song that’s one of the anchor songs on the album, along with “An Old Friend of Mine.” But the other meaning is my passion for music, my passion for life, my attitude, my love for country music. All these things are new again. They’re brand new to me. It’s almost like I’m experiencing them again not for the first time, but as if this is what I got into it for. I think that’s the meaning behind Old Things New.

Did you have any anxiety about coming out with a new album because of the things that have happened during the past two years?

Scared to death through the whole process of making this album. Clearheaded, sober thinking can be scary. It can be very challenging — a lot more challenging than being not so clearheaded — but I love that because I’m experiencing things on life’s terms. I think that’s the way to live. So, yeah, there’s been moments where I’ve been scared to death. There still are moments all the time where I’m scared to death, especially about singing a song about “goodbye to an old friend of mine” because it’s a song about quitting drinking. If I fall off the wagon, I’m not gonna sell that song so much. We’re talking about a different guy. We’re talking about what a fraud that guy is. You know — “Look at him, back on the wagon.” So I’ve got to live up to a lot after saying something like this, but I plan to live like this my whole life.

This interview was conducted by CMT Insider producer William Weigman.