Grateful for his recent success, singer-songwriter Jerrod Niemann admitted he never thought Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury, his 2010 album for Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville, would see the light of day.
In fact, the first track features a booming narrative boasting “a story of one man, one band, on a journey of epic proportions.” This is followed by a song comparing his woman to cocaine, a Robert Earl Keen cover and a tune dedicated to the highly-concentrated alcoholic beverage, Everclear.
“I wanted all these offensive songs because I wanted the record labels to be like, ’We would never put that out,'” he laughed. “And then, it gets put out, of course, by Sony — which is so awesome. I can’t believe they put it out. I’m so thankful for that.”
His good-humored nature was evident from the moment he called CMT.com for a recent phone interview. In fact, he began by apologizing.
“I know I called two minutes early,” he said seriously. “Is that going to be an issue? It was an accident.”
But it’s by no gaffe this clever artist once reigned the country Billboard charts with his No. 1 album as well as his first single, the beat-infused, catchy cover of Sonia Dada’s “Lover, Lover.” Continuing this forward momentum, he is currently in the Top 10 with the heartbreakingly-tender “What Do You Want.”
“That song really means a lot to me for many reasons,” he revealed. In fact, it was this very song that helped him breathe new life and perspective into his Nashville dream.
Though Niemann did have whispers of success in Music City with his co-writing credits for several artists including Garth Brooks (“Good Ride Cowboy,” “That Girl Is a Cowboy,” “Midnight Sun”), he had become melancholic and discontent over his decade-long attempt for a record deal.
“You always hear about people hitting rock bottom and you hear them say, ’Oh, you’ve just got to let them hit rock bottom,’ instead of trying to help them. ’They’ll eventually, hopefully, come back out it it.’ That’s kind of how it was for me,” he recalled. “I hadn’t really written a song in probably a year or even been to a publishing company. I had run my girl clear off to India, gained 65 pounds … ”
Wait a minute. Did he say India?
“Yeah. That’s how bad I am at relationships,” he chuckled. “I ran her off — not just out of the state or the country — but the continent.”
Describing the breakup in full detail, he said his girlfriend had given him the marry-me-or-I’m-leaving ultimatum which ended in her jet-setting to South Asia. To make matters worse, upon return, she began calling him again. This left Niemann in a weakened state of questioning his heart and his head.
“It was just sort of the first time I ever musically picked up the guitar and tried to sound like myself, not even worrying about something I grew up listening to or wanting to be like,” he said. “That was a pivotal moment musically for me because that was the first song I recorded on my album. It was just, I guess, the snowball to getting back in shape and just becoming happy again.”
In fact, he had previously watched his buddy, Grammy winning singer-songwriter, Jamey Johnson, go through much of the same personal struggle.
“His album, That Lonesome Song, was the result of that, and he saw how it changed his life, so he just saw the position I was in, what I looked like , what I felt like …and he pulled me aside and just said, ’Man, I don’t know why you don’t go cut a record.'”
Listening to Johnson’s advice, Niemann’s music became his therapeutic outlet and a means of funneling his heartbreak.
“I’ve learned that music brings you together. And then real life. That’s what makes you brothers,” he noted of Johnson’s counsel.
Continuing writing and recording since the release of Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury, Niemann’s present-day impetus is now propelled by his fans.
“I’ve never had anybody listen to my music before,” he said. “I never knew what it felt like for people to love your music or at least support it. So, for me, that’s where all these songs have been coming from — just being excited to make more music for people that are actually listening.”
Currently finishing up a tour with fellow songwriter and friend Lee Brice in what Niemann likes to refer to as a “giant hangover,” he’ll be repacking and rejoining the reigning CMA entertainer of the year Brad Paisley for the second installment of his H2O II World Tour in June.
“When you go to a Brad Paisley concert, every split second he has thought of something to entertain and make the crowd have a great time,” he shared. “And from the animations that he does himself in the back, to the great show he puts onstage, to the great songs he plays — I mean, he just really, really has the passion. I feel like it seems to me that what separates the entertainers of the year to just being a great club act is not losing the passion you had when you were a kid — you know, playing guitar 12 hours a day, trying to figure out how to play a B-minor.”
What’s more, Niemann’s musical exposure has spanned ever further than sharing the stage with a pro like Paisley. His rowdy drinking tune, “How Can I Be So Thirsty,” was recently featured in an episode of the popular hit television series, Glee.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Just like with anybody, you see one of your songs performed on a TV show or anything like that, and it’s just so weird because for your whole life, you’ve thought about that.”
However, he admits he’s only caught a couple of episodes of Glee.
“I like cartoons,” he laughed, revealing his favorite to be an animated show concerning ill-behaved cephalopods.
“Squidbillies makes Family Guy look like The Flintstones,” he snickered. “It’s redneck squids — and there are no rules.”