Through the years of country music trends, one thing that will never go out of style is Joe Nichols’ voice and the traditional country he sings.
On his latest 12-track album Never Gets Old, he mostly sings about love — making it (“Hostage” and “Breathless”), falling for it to the sounds of live music (“Girl in the Song”) and investing in it (“Diamonds Make Babies”).
But on the striking “We All Carry Something,” co-written by Westin Davis and Justin Weaver, Nichols sings about the imperfections that make people human. The verses sing of a woman who inherited alcoholism from her mother, a Chicago cop who cries over witnessing a world of crime on the job and a Purple Heart war veteran who lives with memories of his time in the service and shrapnel in his arm.
“We all kind of carry our junk from our past and so the being alone part doesn’t have to be part of the problem,” Nichols said during our CMT.com interview. “There’s a redeeming factor in the song that doesn’t make it such a sad song about pain. It’s sad song about everybody having pain and it’s alright. We’re all in it together. It’s a very powerful song that’s unique in the fact that it grips you from the very beginning, and it punches you at the very end.”
For our Q&A, Nichols kicked back on a couch at the Music Row headquarters of his home label Red Bow Records, an imprint of Broken Bow Music Group (Jason Aldean, Dustin Lynch, Chase Rice and others). The 13-minute conversation was mostly about Never Gets Old, including his updated honky-tonk version of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hit “Baby Got Back.” Nichols remembers there was no escaping the 1992 hit 25 years ago. It was everywhere.
“I always listened to country even when country wasn’t cool,” Nichols said. “But there are certain songs you can’t get away from. I remember it being huge when I was 15 or 16, and we did a lot of cruising back then. We’d just drive down the main strip in town and ride around in circles. That song was in every car about every night. You see four or five girls in the car, rapping ’I like big butts and I cannot lie.'”
CMT.com: That still happens whenever that song comes on.
Nichols: I met Sir Mix-a-Lot. He said it’s one of the top most-played songs at weddings. He said he does weddings, as well. It’s like the Chicken Dance: It gets everybody on the floor dancing. It’s that kind of brand on its own.
What are some perennial themes in country music that never get old to you?
I always love a good love song. Not your basic “let’s hook up tonight” love song or anything raunchy like that. But I like a good, sweet-sentiment song like “Never Gets Old,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” I always think those are good. I was talking with someone yesterday about the philosophy of old Don Williams and Merle Haggard songs like “The Way I Am,” and state-of-mind kind songs. I’ve always thought those are great and there aren’t enough of them. Plus, honestly the honky-tonk songs — the old Hank Jr. style honky-tonk songs — those never get old to me.
Is there a double meaning behind the title of the album?
Oh, yeah. It’s a perfect album title because it encapsulates the feeling of this album and what I feel the style of music this is. Traditional music never gets old to me. That’s something that’s always been a constant in my heart. This album being traditional country, it never gets old to me. And the song, it’s just one of those toe-tapping, feel good, love songs with no crazy instruments punching you in the face — no crazy gadgets and no big instrumentals. It’s just simple country songs, sung simply with simple little messages.
Because you’ve stuck to singing traditional country all this time, do you feel there’s a fan demand for the type of music you make and are you seeing that play out when you perform live?
Absolutely. The past couple years, we haven’t had much at radio while we were making this record, and I’ve seen the crowds grow bigger. I think there’s a portion of the fan base in country music who are seeking traditional country more than they have in a long time. It’s great for me, and it’s a huge sigh of relief that we have this album at this time when it was frustrating that it took so long to get it done. But then again, the timing feels better right now than it would have been a year ago.
Talk about the courage it takes to commit to your signature sound as trends change?
I think it’s a little less scary today than it has been in several years to have a traditional country album. I heard a great interview with Bobby Braddock one time. He used to talk about the coming technology and the age we’re living in. Everybody can sing. And if you can’t sing, then you can still sing because we can tune it, we can play it louder or we can push it wherever. But to have a distinctive sound, a distinctive voice is more valuable than anything. That’s one thing I’m grateful for, and I think it allows me to get away with a few things that are a little more traditional.