Jerrod Niemann Interview: ‘Shinin’ on Me’ Singer Ready to ‘Free the Music’ With Release of Sophomore Album
Jerrod Niemann is releasing a sophomore album, the follow-up to his successful debut, ‘Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury.’ The new collection of tunes, ‘Free the Music,’ shows his growth and maturity as a man, singer and songwriter, but still has a fair share of personality and fun mixed in.
Like with his debut project, Niemann took part in writing every song on the 12-track album, including its lead single, ‘Shinin’ on Me.’ And the sun — and everything else — is definitely shining on the singer. Taste of Country caught up with Niemann recently to discuss the new project and the musical journey he plans on taking his fans through in order to ‘Free the Music’ in us all.
ToC: Compare the new album to your debut release, ‘Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury.’
Jerrod Niemann: There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences between this album and the last album. They’re both concept records, of course — the first one being a concept record because of the instrumentation, pretty much because it was a connected story with 20 tracks… 12 songs and then the rest being interludes with skits. This one I wanted to be a concept record, but rather than it being organized chaos, we focused more on instrumentation aspect. We wanted to have a very acoustic-sounding record. We stumbled upon this vision called ‘clasp’ that a guy named Chris Estes invented. It allows you to simultaneously record analog and digital at the same time. Other artists like Lenny Kravitz and the Rolling Stones have used this. It’s a cutting edge device using the signal flow. It’s actually in a signal flow before it hits your hard drive, so it captures the analog sound, giving you a whole other set of options. We laid the foundation of keeping it acoustic. The first thing we decided to do was use an acoustic bass on the entire record. We took all the heads off the bottom of the drums. We added horns to every song on the record and we also did a hybrid instrumentation. We just set a huge foundation for a nice organic sound that allowed us to add harmonies. It all sounded great.
The record is a lot more uptempo [than the last]. It has maybe three ballads on it. I got to write or co-write every song on the album, and that was just because I wanted to write to the style of the horns that we were trying to record with and the other instrumentation… to cater to those instruments, but also at the same time playing homage to all of those instruments, and also interpret them in their own way.
Did you feel any pressure going into the making of ‘Free the Music’ after having such a successful first album?
I wanted to just turn the page. Everything on the first album was sort of a happy accident. We did everything for fun and it was a huge learning experience. Having one album under our belts definitely helped us learn the second time around. We got to know each other in the studio better and how everybody collaborated together. We also probably had more of a maturity level due to that of musicianship. So, the pressure wasn’t really there — the excitement was. We wanted to challenge ourselves to try to do something creative and fun and exciting that was different, but also showed our versatility, but yet didn’t stray too far out of our comfort zone. Instead of being nervous or pressured, it was fun because we actually had people for the first time in our lives paying attention.
One of the standout tracks, for us, is ‘Only God Could Love You More,’ which you co-wrote with Lee Brice and Jon Stone. Tell us about how that song came about.
‘Only God Could Love You More’ is definitely one of my favorite songs. It was Jon Stone’s idea. I thought, ‘Man, what an amazing thought.’ It’s one of those ideas that just gives you chills when you think about it. I knew that we had to write it right. We actually wrote the song once, and then later, I had this other idea for a song that fit so perfectly with ‘Only God Could Love You More.’ I called Jon and Lee and said, ‘Flatter me for a second and listen to this idea.’ They were nice enough to roll with me on it, and we finished the current version. The song sounds like a movie to me. The arrangement on this song could almost be the brother or sister to ‘What Do You Want’ from the first record.
Which song on the album best describes you at this time in your life?
I think there are several, but I think the current single, ‘Shinin’ on Me,’ just because it was written in a moment of truth. That song was written with the sun shining on us when I was on tour in Texas. The figurative part of the song is that the sun’s shining on you, and that symbolizes having a good day. That’s the great thing about spending time with your friends and hanging out. Sometimes the world isn’t going in the direction that you want it, but there’s nothing wrong with putting those problems on hold and enjoying the people around you. That’s where I was, and that was the week ‘Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury’ came out. It was just a real grateful time in my life that I had the opportunity to experience all of this.
The album features a duet with Colbie Caillat on ‘I’m All About You.’ How did it come about to have her involved with the song?
This was the only song written on the piano on the record. I naturally and instantly want to go more jazzy influenced whenever I’m sitting at a piano. So when we got it done, we realized the song definitely catered itself to having a female vocal. We wanted to find somebody that the song spoke to as well. When they said, ‘Hey, who would you like to have on this album?’ I said Colbie Caillat, joking, because I really didn’t think there would be a chance [laughs]. They sent it to her, and she was gracious enough to lend her beautiful voice to the song. I’m probably guilty of one thing, and that’s turning her voice louder than mine on the track [laughs].
Have you been playing any of the new songs in your live shows yet?
We debuted several on the On Fire Tour with Miranda [Lambert], and she even borrowed the horns every once in a while in her encores, which was cool because it was like she put her stamp of approval on what we were doing. We definitely have some crowd favorites: ‘Only God Could Love You More,’ ‘Real Women Drink Beer,’ and obviously ‘Shinin’ on Me.’ ‘Guessing Games’ always gets a good response, same thing with ‘Get on Up’ and ‘Honky Tonk Fever.’
When you listen to the entire album through, the final song segues right back into the opening track. What made you decide to do that on this project?
We talked about doing many different kinds of intros. When me and [my producer] Dave were listening to the horn solos, it’s what the record sort of escalated into. So we both kind of said, ‘Oh my God, this needs to be on repeat so it starts up again, just like a record player.’ It set the tone for what we were trying to do, which was take something that has been done many times, and try to honor some of those textures from country music back in the ’20s and use those in our own way. Our music might not sound traditional as some people would like, but the recording process and the instrumentation is more in depth in history than most of us care to take in a song structure with like the feel or the lyrics. We sort of took a different turn.
The title track from the album is such a unique song, from the lyrics to the instrumentation to the song’s arrangement…
Since we didn’t use the skits on this album, we wanted to have one song that was just out of control. This one took a couple of years to write because every section turns a page and goes into a different sound. All I was doing was really showing a span of about 75 years of instrumentation. Since it was the title track, to me in the studio, I wanted to ‘free the music’ by using all these old sounds. The actual goal isn’t to be able to talk about all the bells and whistles; it’s all about the music. The real meaning of ‘Free the Music’ is hoping that someone will be able to buy the album and be able to do just that. On Twitter, I’ll see someone say, ‘Man, I was having a bad day until I heard ‘Shinin’ on Me’’… that song makes you feel good. That is why the song was written, because we had a great day. We pay attention to that. It does affect us, and probably our songwriting. All that interaction is very inspiring.
‘Free the Music’ also showcases nearly every instrument on the album. It was accused of being a rap song. Someone said, ‘Oh you have a rap song on your album?’ [laughs] It’s not a rap song because it has a melody, I just had a lot to say, but in a short amount of time. Also, I don’t think Compton would give me their thumbs up [laughs].