Jerrod Niemann was trying to figure out how to convey a storyline in his breakthrough “Lover, Lover” video — not an easy task, considering there isn’t much of a plot to begin with. Plus, it’s a breakup tune with an upbeat, happy melody and repetitive lyrics. He also didn’t want to look like a bad guy, even though the video does show him giving away all of his ex-girlfriend’s stuff when she’s not home. Finally, he was sold on a small solution.
“I was wondering, ’How are we going to make me still look like a nice person leaving this girl and ditching all of her junk?’ Of course, what you do is you utilize children,” Niemann says with an easy laugh. “If you use children to your advantage, no one can be mad at someone who’s been nice to kids.”
It’s that irreverent humor that sets Niemann apart from the rest of country’s newcomers. His debut album, Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury, is sprinkled with skits and zany dialogue while many of the songs are odes to alcohol. But getting to this point hasn’t been all wine and roses. After a second record deal failed, Niemann broke up with his girlfriend, gained 60 pounds and dealt with a serious bout of depression. However, he ultimately bounced back by focusing on Judge Jerrod, which he recorded without a label. Upon completion, his publishing company shopped it to Arista Nashville, which released it fully intact.
In this interview, the Liberal, Kan., native talks about loyal friends, upcoming tour dates and his surprising agility in parking garages.
Niemann: Yes. If a girl hurt my country-and-western feelings and I needed to feel better about that, those would be the two guys who would come and pick me up.
What’s it like when you see friends get their career started and you’re really close — but not quite to that point yet?
I’ve always been happy for those guys because I know how hard they work and how talented they are. Also they never once made me feel like I was left out. They were always like, “Come on. You can come, too.”
For example, when I met Jamey and we first became buddies, we used to play these acoustic shows before either of us had written anything for anybody or had record deals. Literally the only people in the place would be me and him and a bartender. We hung out a lot, and we built up this weekly gig we had. Last year, I got a text at 1:20 in the morning that said, “Hey, man. I just booked us a show at the Ryman if you’re in.” So I fell asleep, woke up and thought I’d dreamed it. I looked and it was there, and I thought, “Man, well-played!” (laughs) From an acoustic gig on Demonbreun (a street near Music Row) to the Ryman! They’ve always let me be a part of everything, and I appreciate that.
“What Do You Want” is a very candid song. Did you approach the writing of it differently than the others?
I describe that song as the first song that I ever wrote from my heart, as opposed to my liver. That’s obviously a joke, but it’s sort of true. When you move to town, you’re sort of a melting pot of all your musical influences. You want to try to sound like them and write songs like them. And when life happens and you live a little and go through some personal things, you’re left with nothing but you and your guitar. You’re not worried about trying to sound like Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings. You’ve just got to get a song out of your system.
You’re going on tour with Gary Allan and Randy Houser. Why is that a good fit?
Hopefully, this doesn’t offend [Gary Allan] and what he’d want someone to say about his music. He’s always been himself and very consistent throughout his career. He’s done his own thing. When you go to a Gary Allan show, the crowd is very diverse, and you can tell they’re into all types of music. So this album being so unique and all over the board musically, I thought it might be cool to get in front of an open-minded crowd like that.
Also, we just talked about Randy and Jamey. You know, we sat around for years complaining about the music industry and staring at each other, getting tired of looking at one another. Then when your friends have some success and the world recognizes how talented they are, you never get to see them except two or three times a year. So it’ll be great to see Randy for about four months and, hopefully, get to know Gary Allan better and definitely listen to their great music every night.
You have lots of funny bits on here. How will you translate that into your live show?
Our live show definitely isn’t a comedy show, but I come from a family that likes to laugh and smile. It’s an interesting and good sense of humor that we all share genetically. I was hoping that our project could translate that. When I started making the project, just the state of mind I was in wasn’t very happy, so the only time I could escape from my personal issues was when I was recording the album. At the end of it, I thought if there’s any way we could translate some of the stuff we captured and make it work on the album, maybe people could have a 45-minute vacation from their problems.
Are you in a good frame of mind now?
Yeah. In fact, if you had seen me in the parking garage, I was doing cartwheels. And a round-off! My round-off is getting pretty smooth, I must say. But I ended up in the splits, unfortunately.