Interview: Jerrod Niemann’s ‘This Ride’ Is a Reflection of His Life
Jerrod Niemann has been on quite the journey the last three years. After releasing High Noon in 2014 on Sea Gayle / Arista Nashville, Niemann parted ways with his longtime label and began the path to finding a way to make the music he wanted to make, with creative freedom to explore and try new things.
The result became This Ride, Niemann’s first album on Curb Records. It’s a 13-track collection of what Niemann says is less a snapshot of his life and more an overview of how he see his life playing out.
“This is more like a reflection of past and present, and maybe the future,” Niemann tells The Boot. “I’m not a soothsayer; however, I don’t feel like I took every sound and put them all into one or anything like that. It’s just a reflection of all the great opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have in Nashville, and other things that didn’t go as well and things that have. It’s a broad stroke”
From the rocking “Zero to Crazy” and “The Regulars,” to the melancholy “But I Do” and “Leavin’ a Trail,” to the pensive “Comeback” and the sexy “God Made a Woman,” Niemann says he made sure each track fit into the overall sound he wanted to create with This Ride.
“I listened to a lot of songs, but they kind of spoke to me before I could speak to them,” explains Niemann. “’It’s also interesting because it had to be cohesive. You can do a lot of that in the studio, but also you’re listening for a sound — could this be a good roommate with this song? — and that also gets in your head. So really, these songs just kind of fell together in a special way.”
Thanks to both Niemann’s vocals and its polished production, This Ride proves the 38-year-old isn’t afraid to take chances, both in the studio and with his own voice.
"This is more like a reflection of past and present, and maybe the future."
“When “Lover Lover” came out, that was just a couple acoustic guitars,” Niemann says. “There’s certain artists, like Jamey Johnson, who can sing in front of a train wreck and you can still hear his voice, because he’s got such a distinct sound. My voice, if there is anything unique to it, it’s masked pretty easily inside a broad production. So when we did this, I said, ‘Let’s use half the instruments and get twice the sound.’
“I wanted to be able to put songs on there that I could enjoy singing and really focus on that. We went in there and I said, ‘Hey, we’ll start with an acoustic version and then build around it until it’s just right,'” he adds. “And so the singing was the main focus. When we were looking for songs or writing songs, I was trying to find songs that would show off a little some sort of vocal capacity.”
This Ride also includes collaborations, with both Niemann’s good friend Lee Brice, on “A Little More Love,” and with Diamond Rio on “I Ain’t All There.” Instead of trying to emulate the latter’s tight harmonies, Niemann boldly asked them to join him on the track.
“It had this cool particular country feel I really liked,” recalls Niemann of the song. “The lyrics, they had enough space you could stack some harmonies. So I recorded them that way, and I was telling [producer] Jimmy Sloas and [manager] LeAnn Phelan at dinner, ‘When we get in the studio, I want to take the approach of singing like Diamond Rio. No one can sing like them.’ They’re like, ‘Why don’t we just ask them?’ I was like, ‘Well, I guess we could. If they said no, that would hurt, but you gotta ask.’ So I reached out to them, and they came in.
“They’re so good. And that’s the thing: Their vocal abilities were ahead of their time,” he continues. “So now, when I listen … their voices sound so fresh that I wanted to tip my hat to them — just because they’re Grand Ole Opry members, they’re legendary, they’re musicians; they play on all their albums, every note — but also to a new generation. I know there’s a lot of people out there that feel like ‘90s country is what they love and don’t like where country music’s at right now. I want them to see that we pay attention to those who go before us, but also this new generation, I think, hopefully, we’ll hear this when we go back and dig through our music, because it deserves to stick around.”
"No one wants to play music in a basement by themselves … So when someone says, ‘This is my song,’ … that feels so good."
Niemann poured his heart and soul into This Ride. Although he hopes fans like it as much as he does, he already had a sense of accomplishment even before the record was released.
“There’s some fulfillment in, especially, having the opportunity to record with the best of the best in Nashville. Jimmy Lee Sloas is one of the great musicians in the great studios with these great engineers on a historical label like Curb. Just to say that you were a piece of that, for me, is fulfilling,” says Niemann. “But no one wants to play music in a basement by themselves. They want people to hear it. So when someone says, ‘This is my song,’ or, ‘This is my jam,’ or whatever it may be, that feels so good.”
Of course, Niemann will be watching the charts as well. With the music industry much different than it was even seven years ago, when Niemann’s freshman album, Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury, debuted at No. 1, the Kansas native finds more success in how others respond to his music than whether it finds a place on the charts.
“The sales thing, streaming and all that — we’re in such a weird gray area,” he concedes. “I don’t even know what’s successful anymore when it comes to that. I think there’s a lot of people reacting to something you worked hard for — I feel like that’s a success. Obviously [to] have a No. 1 song, that kind of hits all of the above, but for me, I’ve always kind of created music for esoteric people, and sometimes people gravitate, sometimes they don’t. But I do feel like there’s a nucleus of individuals out there that like to follow the craziness.”
All of the other music Niemann has made up to this point, in many ways, has led to This Ride. After putting all of his time, energy and resources into making sure every detail of the album was exactly the way he wanted it, Niemann says This Ride is a starting point for whatever comes next in his life.
“Maybe when I turned the page it was a new chapter just in life, so why not do the same in music? I think part of life is going out there trying to find something new, experiencing something new yourself,” he reflects. “All these great artists throughout time, the songs are what made us want to move to Nashville.
“I wanted to make sure that I record music in hopes that there would be someone out there listening that maybe would inspire them,” he concludes. “This Ride is where am I headed, where am I at and where have I been. I really feel like the selection on this is why I wanted to have good songs you could sing, songs you could hopefully be a part of your life other than crank it up on a sunny afternoon.”
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