News Column

Jerrod Niemann performs Saturday at Bootfest

October 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 04--On the heels of a new single, Jerrod Niemann is taking after some of country music's most progressive artists to keep the traditional genre fresh.

Even when incorporating obscure instruments, Neimann's latest album pays homage to the past by looking toward the future.

Before a show in Tulsa, Niemann took time to talk about his latest album's instrumentation, his first taste of whiskey and what it was like working with Garth Brooks.

How do you feel about being called a "sensitive bro"?

I don't know. Maybe I cry a lot. Maybe I'm sensitive to other people's feelings, but I can be pretty mean.

I mean, I'm rabid at night. I'm sensitive during the day, insensitive at night.

That's hard to believe, but I won't push it. Changing gears, tell me about using the mellotron in "Get On Up."

It's just flutes on tape. We actually used real flutes; it's not actually electronic. Of course, The Beatles made it famous with "Strawberry Fields Forever." We're doing the album with horns, so basically it would be the mellotron, but we emulated a mellotron with real flutes.

Can you see yourself ever incorporating a theremin or other off-the-wall instruments?

Already used it in the first album on "They Should have Named You Cocaine." We just used a sitar on this album.

A lot of folks don't realize that all of the stuff we use today -- the fiddle, steel guitar, anything we consider the epitome of country music -- has been derived from other instruments. You look at the steel guitar, it started out in Hawaii as the resonator. ...

We just think, 'That's country music,' or 'That's rock music.' A lot of people don't realize the influences. I look at country music as America's music. I don't see any issue in bringing other elements when they're all derived from those historic influences.

On "Drink to That All Night," there are elements of bluegrass, rock, hip hop and electronica. What was your goal with that song?

I think, once again, I like to add different elements.

I've already been accused of using auto-tune. It sounds like auto-tune, which it's not.

If you look at 2001, George Strait used auto-tune on "Stars on the Water."

It's just like in politics: People lash out before they realize what they're talking about.

When Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings came out, a lot of people don't realize that traditional country fans despised it. They even wrote a song about it with the lyric, "Hey, Mr. Traditional Country Guy, if you don't like my songs, write your own damn songs."

People went out on a limb, they had their own voice, and they ended up standing out in the long run.

Your rider for Bootfest listed a bottle of Jack Daniels or Crown Royal. What was your first experience with whiskey?

I don't know when that would have been.

I can tell you that my mom's brother, who was a lot younger than her, got in trouble and came to live with us when we were real young. I guess he gave some of us kids some alcohol when my parents were at work. My mom came home from work and was so upset. ... He ended up apologizing and coming back later. I was probably too young to remember.

You have one bottle of Jack Daniels for 20 people, that's two shots a piece.

All that stuff on the rider, what they basically did was take somebody else's from William Morris, and it just became our rider. I didn't even make that.

So you were too young to remember? People might think you were drinking in diapers.

My folks live in Fort Worth. You can drink underage with your parents as long as you have your ID.

I never really had to sneak into their liquor cabinet. It was a situation that they'd rather I drink around them than go out and get hurt. If I was with them, they were cool about it if we were at a bar. I figured I'd learn how to drink responsibly from my parents before being on a tour bus.

You've said this album is an interpretation of how you feel about country. What direction do you see country music heading?

That's quoted ambiguously. I meant my country music.

Where country music is heading collectively: What sells, people will try to copy. The public is going to decide where country music goes.

I think it's going in a direction that will keep expanding and branching out. With iTunes and technology, people can hear so many types of music; not only does it influence the artist and songwriter, it also influences the listener.

When I first moved to Nashville, I was so gung ho about everything being traditional because I love traditional country so much. I love it clear back to the 20s.

Nobody realizes when George Jones was coming out, it was fresh; it wasn't traditional. If you just go out and record the same stuff as 50 or 60 years ago, sure, some people will appreciate it, but most would rather listen to George Jones, who actually did it.

Everyone has their own role in country music, since I've spent my whole life basically worshipping country music, I know that I can talk about nearly any artist that has been. It's fun to defend and represent, but it is an evolving thing whether we want it to be or not. People are wanting to hear about current events and current things, and somebody's got to do it.

How do you connect with your instrument when you're trying to write songs?

It's changed for me how I write songs on the road.

I'm around so many people. I just start writing in my head. If you play piano or guitar, you can write some songs that way. I've learned it's easy to get boxed in with musical theory.

If you're writing in your head, the melody can go anywhere. You just have to make it tangible.

You can hear the melody, the drums, the guitar. It's like a song on the radio getting stuck in your head. I just let it ferment a little bit.

If you could collaborate with any artist on a song, who would it be and what song?

I think probably the most exciting moment of my career was writing with Garth Brooks. I learned a lot from his unbelievable talent.

He's Garth Brooks for a reason.

At the same time, there's people you respect so much. You're like "Wayne's World" : "I'm not worthy!"

Lefty Frizzell died in the late 70s. I can't explain what I'd do to have a chance to meet him and make music with him.

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