Joe Nichols Reflects on Love, New Music, Sobriety and Dysfunction
Joe Nichols says his albums are always a reflection of where he's at in life. This can be dangerous, and the singer admits projects like 2004's 'Revelation' may not have been the best thing to happen commercially for him but "for where I was in my life mentally, I think it was necessary."
Where he was at then leads to a natural conversation about where he's headed. Nichols battled drug and alcohol addiction for years following the unexpected death of his father in 2002. He's been open about the struggle, even admitting to setbacks since entering rehab in 2007.
That's mostly behind him now, but Nichols tells Taste of Country there are still good and bad days that he's able to funnel into his music. 'It's All Good' is an appropriate name for his new album, which hit stores last week. The 10 songs find Nichols relaxed, content and in love with his wife Heather, his fans and his 13-year-old daughter Ashelyn. He says he's lived longer than he'd ever imagined.
As you lay in bed at night, what scares you the most about having a teenage daughter?
Oh, God. What scares me the most are little boys. Little boys with the same damn things on their mind that I had when I was a teenage boy. I told my daughter here recently in a conversation ... we had kind of a father daughter talk, and it was very serious and I said, "Honey, I want you to know one thing. I want this to stick in your mind. Just remember this always, no matter what you do." I said, "If there's anything I've ever said in my life that's ever a fact, it's this right here. Boys are liars" [laughs]. "Liars. Period. If they say the sky is blue, bull crap. Run outside and check if it's orange, I'm telling you. They are full of crap and they will always be until you're graduated out of college and off being a doctor somewhere. Boys are liars.'
Has she started with the teenage attitude?
You know, she's a great kid, first of all. She's a really good, down-to-earth, level headed kid. But I am noticing every question answered by her to me begins with the rolling of the eyes. "Honey, what do you think about this?" [Impersonating daughter sighing] "Well..." [laughs] It's the standard rolling of the eyes and then answering the question. But she's a really smart little girl, and she's got an amazing sense of innocence that I find really cool.
She's 13 now and I remember when I was 13, you know some things were great, some things were new to me and some things weren't. I knew a lot for a 13-year-old boy. So I find it really cool that she's got a really cool, healthy dose of innocence, and at the same time she's really bright. Does well in school and can kind of keep an intellectual conversation.
Does she like country music?
Loves country music. She likes a little bit of Dad's stuff, but not all of Dad's stuff [laughs]. The really country stuff, she's like, "This is boring, Dad. I'm going to put on some Lady Antebellum or something." She likes 'Gimmie That Girl' and she likes 'Take It Off' and stuff like that. She likes the funny stuff.
There is a lot of love on this new album. Was that a goal going in?
A little bit. I think everyone pretty much agrees that throughout my career, that's the one thing there has probably not been a whole lot of. Especially on the albums I've done, you look back you can probably point to one, maybe two love songs each album. [There's] a lot of songs about dying or God or drinking or cheating or any of that other stuff, but with love it's kind of been something that's been kind of a rarity. So with making this album I think we did have a conscious effort to kind of make the tone of the record a lot happier.
What is one song on the album that you couldn't live without?
That's 'How I Wanna Go,' the last song on the album. To me it's kind of one of those songs that provides the meat of the record. It's another song about, of course, the bigger picture. You know, "One day I'm gonna die, and this is the way I thought my life would go before I met you, before I met her." And it's been very similar to how my life has gone. I've lived wide open and kind of thought I would go out guns-a-blazin' and probably too soon and happy for it. And nowadays, I live a different way because of a certain person that kind of changed the way I think.
As time goes by, does staying sober get easier or more difficult?
Man, it's different every day. I don't know how to describe it other than it's different every day. Some days I don't even think about it. It's just easier. I don't even think about it, talk about it or pray. And then some days you're like, "Good God! This is huge, this is heavy, this is hard." But I guess it's one day at a time and it will be all right.
Who keeps you on track?
[laughs] I think Heather does a good job of bringing me back. If I ever get kind of out of line or kind of get a little squirley or do stupid things, I think Heather's got a good beat on …. How should I say this? I think she knows what to say to bring me right back around.
She can give you a kick in the butt when you need it?
That's exactly right [laughs]. That's exactly what she does, gives me a kick in the pants right when I need it.
In music and in art, there's this romanticized vision of a struggling artist or the artist with demons. Did you ever buy into that?
I got to be honest with you. That's one of those things that I struggle with the most, is what kind of person am I? What kind of artist am I without having this inner battle that's going crazy? Without this dysfunction in my mind that brings out this stuff, this ability to do some stuff well? What am I without that dysfunction? What am I as a healthy person? I don't have near the angst, anxiety, grief and sadness that it takes to be always performing [laughs]. So when I start becoming comfortable with myself and happy, then what kind of an artist does that make me? Does that make me a happy, boring type singer? That doesn't get happy at sad songs? Or does it make me just a more interesting person that has to work harder at being likable? I don't know. But I do have that thought that reoccurs in my mind quite a bit, and that is: Without dysfunction, who am I?
Watch the Joe Nicols 'Take It Off' Video