Interview: David Nail talks ‘Best Of Me’ EP, UK memories and 2023 plans

Originally from Kennett, Missouri, David Nail first broke through to the country music scene with the release of his major label debut album, ‘I’m About To Come Alive’, in 2007.

Since then he’s racked up a further three top 10 albums and five top 20 singles – including the Billboard Country Airplay number one hits – ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘Whatever She’s Got’ – before making the switch to become an independent artist in 2018 with ‘Only This And Nothing More’ as part of David Nail and the Well Ravens. He released his latest project, the four-track EP ‘Best Of Me’, in June this year.

I recently spoke to David about the new EP, how his approach to his music has changed over time, memories of his trip to the UK in 2016, the song he’s proudest of and his plans for the rest of the year – including whether he might make it back over here at some point…

Last time you spoke to us was at CMA Fest last year – what have you been doing since then?

Well, we’ve been busy writing, been recording, I put out three or four songs in the past 12 months. And we’ve been on the road pretty regularly, for the last 12 months. We’ve averaged about two to three weekends a month, which is good. I got three kids at home, and a wife who likes the help. And so we’ve been busy. It’s been a perfect amount of busy to keep me and the guys fresh and keep that burn inside of you. You know, I think a lot of times in the past, sometimes towards the end of the year, you get a little fried and a little tired, and so it’s been the perfect balance of work and home life the last 12 months.

You put out your latest EP ‘Best Of Me’ in June. What’s the reaction to that been like so far?

It’s been great. You know, I think as an independent artist, you’re always a little nervous. Obviously, you don’t have quite the oomph behind you, obviously, as you do when you when you’re with a major record label. But you know, I’ve got a really strong team of people around me who are passionate about it, who are a lot younger than me. So they kind of inject me with a little bit of that energy and that youthful enthusiasm, which has been, I think, really good for my career and really good for the mental side of things, just to kind of, you know, recreate that burning.

Like I said, you know, I’ve been doing this for a long time. And so I think a lot of times when you do anything for a long time, sometimes you can kind of get a little caught in your own ways. And so I’m sure they would tell you it’s taken a little bit more effort than they probably wished it would have. But you know, they’ve definitely injected some new life into me. And I think it’s been really good for me. So I’ve been really excited about the response. We’ve got some unexpected radio play that we were never obviously anticipating. That has obviously been very welcoming, and very humbling and flattered that some radio stations have decided to play it. And so it’s just been really great.

You know, I think I take every year as a new year, and last year when a lot of these songs were written and recorded, I really didn’t have any anticipation of doing anything that sounded quite like this sounded. It was very nostalgic, very much sounded like some of the stuff that I’ve done in the past. And so it was a welcome surprise. And I think that anytime that happens, you sort of have to adjust on the fly. Which is a little easier when you’re an independent artist, because you don’t have as many hurdles to cross. But I’ve been really happy with the response. The response has been great on the road. It’s been great. I think critically, I haven’t seen too many negative things, if any, so anytime that happens, obviously, we’re very, very glad for that. But I think overall, just very pleased with how everything’s gone so far.

Was it difficult to get the EP down to just four tracks? Or did you always have a clear idea what songs you wanted on there?

You know, it was. I think Robyn [Collins], Grant [Vogel] and I wrote about 18 or 19 songs. And, you know, not all of them were equal, not all of them sound the same. I think the one good thing about what we were doing is we were always trying to kind of push the envelope a little bit and try some different things. I think initially, when we first started writing, we were like, “wow”, you know. We wrote ‘Sunset Carousel’, the very first song we ever wrote, so that kind of lit a fire in us to kind of continually chase and see how far we could take it. And like I said, we wrote 18 or 19 songs. And then ‘Best Of Me’ is a song that I’d written the year before by myself that really didn’t know exactly when and if that song would ever come out.

But it’s funny, you know, I think that there comes a time in the case of specific songs where if we don’t release this, now, it’s probably never gonna get released. And I just think, after having lived with it for a year and a half or so, I sort of regained the passion that I had about it when I initially wrote it. And a lot of times, when you write songs, especially for me – I think all creative people are this way – we’re very passionate about it, we’re very protective of ’em. They’re almost like our children, you know, and if somebody makes fun of your child or somebody does anything to your child, you take that very personal, you’re very defensive. And so a lot of times I think with these songs, you know, if you don’t get the reaction or someone says something, and you maybe misunderstand or misinterpret it for something else, a lot of times you can take offence, and you kind of get your panties in a wad so to speak.

And so, you know, I think with ‘Best Of Me’, it was a song that I’d written and I was super excited about, and I don’t think that I got the response initially that I had hoped for. And so maybe that sort of caused me to question it a little bit. But, you know, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I think at the end of the day, I’m pretty confident that I know what a great song is. And I felt like it had a place on this EP. And I sort of wanted it to be all Robyn and Grant songs, because that was kind of the consistent theme of last year, but just when it came time to release this third song, I wanted it to be something a little different than ‘Silverado’. And I felt like ‘Silverado’ was much more of a spring and summer song. And so we sort of rushed ‘Best Of Me’ out there. But you know, it was a fun, creative process. Like I said, I think in the beginning of each year, you never really know what is gonna happen. And you sort of just have to kind of run with it. And we definitely did that.

We’ve touched on this a bit already, but how do you think your music and your approach to it has changed over your career?

Well, I mean, I think obviously, it has to change when you’re not on a major record label. When you have a major record label, you have so many, there’s so many irons in the fire, so many chefs in the kitchen, so to speak, and you know, everybody is an expert in their field, and you sort of have to trust their judgement. And I definitely did that. I definitely felt like I was at a place where I really respected the job that everybody did, and their area of expertise. And so I really deferred to that. And then when you’re an independent and you’re sort of running the ship, it’s your boat. You know, you obviously confide in some people and you ask people’s opinions and you have to hire some people to do different things that I have absolutely zero clue how to do.

But for the most part, I feel like I’ve always approached the music the same. It’s always been, you know, “what are the best songs possible? What do I feel fits me, what do I feel like I can represent the best?” And I feel like [with] the new stuff… I feel like every song that I’ve ever recorded, with the exception of maybe the Well Ravens EP, which was something that was sort of born out of nowhere very organically, I don’t think I’ve thrown too many curveballs. I think I’ve pretty much stayed in the lane I’ve always been and that’s just somebody who’s very passionate about the song, and the art of the lyric. And I’ve tried to stay true to that as much as possible. And hopefully I’ve done that.

Is there a typical way you approach your songwriting process?

Well, a lot of it starts here in this very room and this chair. But you know, when I co-write, a lot of the time – I think after the initial song that I wrote with Grant and Robyn, we started going to his home studio pretty consistently, which was super fun. Grant has so many instruments, and he’s so talented. And so it was sort of like we had the ability to just sit there against a blank screen and just throw blotches of paint on the wall and see what looked good and what didn’t. And it just was such a thrill to be around somebody who was that talented, who could pretty much do or come up with whatever you had in mind, and just gave us a lot of freedom to chase whatever it was that that we needed to chase or felt like chasing that particular day.

But when I write alone, like I said, a lot of times, especially the last two and a half years that I’ve had this office, I come here. I try to start every morning here and I try to end every night here, and just kind of see if there’s anything weighing on me or something that is stirring inside. And that’s how ‘Best Of Me’ was born. About nine o’clock, my wife was in the bath, we’d finally got the kids to bed, I was exhausted. But I sort of just felt that urge to come in here and see what would possibly come. I’d say 75% of the time you end up sidetracked and you end up not coming up with anything or whatever you come up with, it’s terrible. But that other 25% of the time, you know, you really have to chase those and embrace those moments, and sort of pursue ’em until the well runs dry.

We’ve talked a bit about you going out on tour and I know you’ve got some more dates coming up in the US next month. Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying playing live at the moment?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that I’ve always been somebody who really embraces the creative process, and I feel like the core of who I am, that’s sort of where I lie. Just the the art of the song being the the primary focus. But at the end of the day, you know, these songs, you want people to hear them. You want as many people to hear them and to enjoy them as possible. And so eventually, you have to get out there and play them and see what people think [chuckles]. Which is, you know, it’s always a little hard to get out there, once you’ve written a song and put yourself out there, but the end of the day, it has to be done. And you know, I think that the last couple of years, especially coming out of the pandemic, I don’t think that we needed any sort of reminder of how blessed and how grateful we were to do what we do, but that certainly reminded us for sure. So it’s something that I certainly don’t take lightly now.

And I think probably more so now than ever, I’m very much more attuned to how the setlist looks, how the show’s going to come across, how the songs are going to flow. And I just take probably a little bit more pride in the pre-show stuff. You know, I think I perform hopefully the same that I always have. And hopefully I sing the same as I always have. But, you know, from the standpoint of just taking pride in how much effort we put pre-show in so, you know, hopefully the show sounding as best as possible, that probably has changed a little bit in the last couple of years, just because you cherish it, you know. I think anytime something’s taken away from you, you’re gonna cherish it, you know, more than ever, and that certainly is the case now.

I also wanted to ask you about your last trip to the UK in 2016 when you played at C2C. Have you got any particular standout memories or highlights from that trip?

Oh, man, I mean, I loved it. You know, I grew up in a small town in Southeast Missouri and I gotta tell you, man, when I when I moved to Nashville to be a country music singer, I never in a million years thought that that decision was going to allow me to go over there and play music for an entirely different country. And you know, I remember landing and just really wanting to take the city by storm. I wanted to see and do as much as possible. I think we were there for three days. And I sort of went back to when I went to New York City for the first time and I just wanted to see as much as I possibly could and sleep as little as I possibly could and cram as much as I possibly could into that little bit of time. And we must have walked probably 20 miles. I probably had – I certainly tried to have a beer or a drink in every little pub or whatever that I came across. I remember, I found a little local barber shop there in London and bought some stuff, and I was just really trying to embrace being over there and sort of becoming, you know, somebody from England for at least three days that I was gonna be there. And I was a total tourist, I probably looked ridiculous, but I mean, it was such a dream come true. And it was so surreal.

And, you know, my wife has never been to London or England or anywhere but Italy, I guess, overseas, and she keeps trying to get me to go to Italy and I keep trying to get her to go to London. And so we’re probably going to have to meet in the middle and maybe do both in the same trip. But it was so surreal. And it was just, you know, it was something that you read about in textbooks growing up. And you never think, like I said, that being a country music singer was gonna allow me the opportunity to go there for the first time. But it did and it’s something that I’m forever grateful for.

I remember going to one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. I had the best, randomly the best cheeseburger. You think of cheeseburgers, I feel like you think of America, but we had the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had in one of his restaurants, I think it was the Bread Street Kitchen maybe. And I remember just calling my wife and, you know, obviously it was early in the morning, and I’d probably had a few drinks and I was eating this cheeseburger. I was like, “You’re not gonna believe this. But this is the greatest cheeseburger I’ve ever had and I’m in London, like, who would have ever thought.” But hopefully, you know, it would be a dream come true to go back. And I pray that hopefully the music allows us to do that again in the future.

What’s still on the bucket list for you in terms of places you’d want to play, people you’d want to work with etc?

Well, there’s really only two venues that I haven’t played. And there’s some big really important ones. I haven’t played Madison Square Garden in New York, and I haven’t played Red Rocks outside of Denver. Those are really the two venues that I’ve never played that I really, really would like to play, sort of bucket list places. But I’ve been really blessed. You know, I’ve done this for a long time, I’ve toured with some great people. Obviously, if I hadn’t gone on tour with some of the acts that I have, I wouldn’t have gotten to play the places I have. But I’m just very thankful for the places that have played. And you know, it’s crazy. I told my dad the other day, I said, “you know, we’re getting ready to go out west, I hadn’t been to Montana in a few years. And we’ve played every state in the United States, even Hawaii and Alaska. But with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska, I think we played every state multiple times, sometimes two or three times.” And that’s a pretty significant accomplishment. And something that I’m very proud of. And I look forward to going back out west here in a week or so and starting a month long tour out on the West Coast and up through Oregon and Montana. So I’ve been very, very blessed. And I’m very thankful and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity and like I said, it’s been a blessing from the good Lord for sure.

Which song from your career are you the proudest of?

Oh, wow. You know, I think it’s a song that didn’t really do anything commercially as a song called ‘The Sound Of A Million Dreams’ that I felt like was the most important. I feel like it’s still the most important song I’ve ever recorded, you know, the fact that I got to record it. You know, I think it’s one of those career changing songs and had somebody maybe a little bit more popular than I released it, it probably would have been a big ol’ hit, but little ol me did. And it sort of just kind of meandered in the 40s there for a while. But I just feel like it’s such a once in a lifetime song. I feel like it’s one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. One of the greatest songs ever written. And the fact that I get to sing it every night is such a thrill. And there was a bit of time after that sort of became unsuccessful that I was unable to sing it because it was I was a little bitter and I was a little emotional about the fact that it wasn’t a success. And I remember my wife telling me one time, she said, “you know, the fact that you don’t play that song is a disgrace to the crowd,” and she goes, “If someone gives you a microphone, that should be the first song that you sang, if you can only sing one song, you should sing that song.” And, you know, leave it to her to put me in my place and sort of remind me of what I needed to be doing. But I think I think probably 90% of shows that we’ve played since that conversation, I played it. So I would definitely say that song for sure.

What does the rest of the year look like for you? We’ve mentioned the tour and obviously the EP’s just come out – will those be the main focus?

Yeah, I think that definitely, there’s some creative stuff. I think once we get home from the West Coast, at the end of August, our schedule slows down a little bit. And I think I’ve done it long enough to know when something’s on the horizon, and I definitely kind of feel that nudge to sort of pull out the guitar, pull out the computer and see what happens. And definitely been talking about getting back together with some people that I’ve written with. And exploring, you know, like I said, what’s next. So much of last year was creating the music that people have heard this year, and this year has been so much of promoting it. And hopefully next year, I’ll determine really, or probably the back half of this year, will really determine what 2024 looks like.

And lastly – have you got plans to come back to the UK at any point soon?

Not anytime soon, that I’m aware of. But like I said, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm. All somebody has to do is tell me where to play and I’ll and I’ll show up and play there and hope that some people show up.

David Nail’s new EP, ‘Best Of Me’, is out now on One Five Sound.

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