In a way, David Nail’s been ready to front a band since high school.
Now that he’s starting to release music and details about his band the Well Ravens, it’s all starting to make sense. After about a decade as a successful solo artist, Nail is switching gears and getting his official band together. But it’s not his first rodeo.
“Every year in high school, there was a talent show called the Mod Assembly,” Nail told me. “We’d get a band together. We had a drummer, then we’d recruit a guitar player, and I’d ask my dad to play bass or piano. And I’d sing most of the time. I remember doing ’God Blessed Texas’ one year, and ’Mustang Sally’ one year, and even ’Every Rose Has Its Thorn.’ If a song had more than three chords, we had to move on. But I always genuinely looked forward to the show, and I took it very seriously. When it came time to get onstage, I was all business. I was up there with purpose.
“I pray to the good Lord that that footage never comes out.”
The Well Ravens band might have never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for the inevitable call Nail took from his record label about a year ago.
“It was like your first really significant relationship when you kind of know that the end is coming, and you’re both trying to avoid it. It was just really sad because it was the only life I knew. And it was tough for both sides,” he said. “There was never any animosity, never any bitterness.”
After asking himself all kinds of post-split questions — What the hell do I do now? Should I find a new label home? Do I even want that? — he spent some time with friends and collaborators and started heading in a different direction.
“This started in such a pure place. When you first start in this business, you talk about doing this all the time: recording an album with your band. That’s how this took shape. All those things we’d played around with on the road, and stuff that was much different than the music I’d been making. It feels like this sharp turn is a good progression for us.
“Once we started this,” Nail said, “we knew this was the ‘What’s Next.’”
Looking back at all his time in Nashville, Nail recalled that he’s always been a team guy. “Even back when I first moved here, and was trying to start my solo career, I always used the word ‘we.’ Because so many people are part of the process. My name alone is on the marquee, and I felt uncomfortable with it being just my name,” he said, adding that there is no ‘I’ in team.
The Well Ravens’ first song “Heavy” may be a departure from his earlier albums, and it may not be as country as his older cuts, but it’s still Nail’s distinctive voice. The one that his fans have been waiting to hear since his last album was released two years ago.
Nail credits his father with teaching him to be a part of something bigger than himself. He said he started following his dad — the local high school band director in his hometown of Kennett, Mo. — around when he was just five years old.
It’s his father’s quiet and unwavering love of music that led Nail to pen “Old Man’s Symphony” and record it for his last studio album Fighter.
“I just followed in his footsteps. I learned by watching him. My dad played a huge role without ever being vocal about it. It’s a huge moment to let your kid go chase a crazy dream,” he said, “to turn your kid loose.”
Nail’s next tour stop is July 20 in Ohio.