Interview With Joe Nichols:

"The Sky's The Limit!"

Joe Nichols is back with a brand new album, and if his success so far this year is anything to go by, the talented 36-year-old should get quite a bit of mileage out of it. He discusses his positive state-of-mind and Crickets (the title of the record) with Adrian Peel.

As is often the way in life, a lot has happened to Joe Nichols since he released his last musical offering, All In Good Time, in November 2011. Not only did the long-haired star, active in the industry now for nearly 20 years, switch labels in late 2012, but in April of that same year his wife Heather gave birth to a baby girl named Dylan River Nichols.

“Absolutely, yeah” replies Joe, a four-time Grammy nominee, responding to the question of whether these life-changing events are addressed in the new CD. “It’s a very positive-feeling record and a very accurate reflection of where I’m at in my life… having a new baby and a new relationship with the record label and a new start, so to speak. It’s all kind of reflected in the record being a positive record.”

“Well there’s a song on the album called Crickets…” continues the native of Rogers, Arkansas – poised to release what will be his eighth LP – explaining the origins of the curious title. “There’s also a few other songs that reference crickets in the middle and in parts of the chorus… and for the overall feel of the record, we wanted the setting to be in the country, up by the creekside, out in the hay bales and that kind of thing. Crickets made sense.”

As highlighted in the first paragraph, Crickets marks Joe Nichols’s return to recorded music after almost two years away. How does the sound differ this time around from what this well-respected artist, whose major hits include "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," "Brokenheartsville," "Gimme That Girl"  and "What’s A Guy Gotta Do," has put out before?

“I think it sounds much more progressive overall,” he replies, “but there is still a traditional feel to a large portion of the record – I mean it’s still a traditional-feeling album, but there are plenty more singles and songs that can compete with today’s radio.”

“We’re pretty positive,” states Joe, evidently still a neo-traditionalist at heart, in answer to the question of whether he thinks the songs on the album, penned by such esteemed Nashville writers as Brett Beavers, Neal Coty, Chris Dubois, Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson etc., could get played on mainstream country radio. 

“We’re rocking right now in the Top 20 and things look really good… The music on the record is kind of built for eight to ten singles, along with six or eight really strong moments, not just album cuts. So we feel like we do have singles that are very current, very competitive and very… I’d say just unique strong singles.

“I think we’ve just scratched the surface with "Sunny And 75" — I think if there’s one criticism of my career so far, it’s the inconsistency and I think with this album we may have solved that problem by having several strong singles to choose from.” 

A clear indication of what has so far been an "annus mirabilis" for Joe comes in the form of the above-mentioned "Sunny And 75," a song written by Michael Dulaney, Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins and the first track off Crickets to hit the airwaves. The singer-guitarist, who signed his first record deal at the age of 19, is currently riding high in the country charts (“rocking in the Top 20”) with this energetic anthem and it is his second high-profile single of the year, following a heartfelt duet with Randy Travis – a tribute to George Jones entitled "Tonight, I’m Playin’ Possum."

If the highly-accomplished and enduringly-popular artist, who released his first (self-titled) album back in 1996, was looking for another three-minute gem to carry on this impressive momentum (Joe informs me that the second single will probably be track four, a tune called "Yeah"), then he certainly has plenty to choose from as Crickets contains a whopping 16 tracks.

“A lot of them stand out,” says the man himself, referring to the songs. “My favorite moment on the record is a song called Footlights and it’s an old personal favourite of mine of Merle Haggard – and of my father’s too for a long time… I’ve done it for years and years in the show and always wanted to cut it and finally I got a chance to on this record…Crickets, I love "Crickets" – fun song, and "Yeah," "Sunny And 75,": "Let Me Fall In Love With You" … those are all some of my favorites, and I love the message of "Old School Country Song.”

Talking about the aforementioned "Tonight, I’m Playin’ Possum," a clearly very contented Nichols remarks, “Man, it was a huge honor for Randy Travis to reach out to me to sing a song with him. First of all I’ve been a Randy Travis fan all my life, and the song itself is written exactly how a George Jones fan felt the moment they heard that he had passed away. Keith Gattis wrote an incredible song and so I was honored that I got to pay tribute to one of my heroes with one of my heroes.”

Finally, I asked the forward-thinking musician with a new lease-of-life what his plans are for the future and whether he still has any ambitions he would like to achieve.

“My plans for the future are kind of wide open right now…” comes the slightly delayed response. “I don’t want to set any goals or limits or anything like that. I want to basically just see where this song leads to next, and the album… I think acting is something I’ve always thought about doing and if the right part came along, and it was something I could do without seeming totally lost – or if I could have plenty of time to prepare for it – I think that’s a good avenue to go down… 

“But number one is music and I think the sky’s the limit with this album. I think certainly the first single taking off as strongly as it has… and like I said, we feel we have some more to back it up. I think right now it’s in our hands – the sky’s the limit.”

— Adrian Peel