Jerrod Niemann walks a wonderfully unconventional musical path, and as he embarked on his third album for Sea Gayle Records/Arista Nashville, working for the first time with Jimmie Lee Sloas as co-producer, Sloas was already on board that “different” is definitely the Niemann mojo.
Indeed, Niemann had already set the pace on 2012’s acclaimed, musically adventurous Free the Music collection – a richly layered concept record of horn sections and organic recording – and 2010’s chart-topping Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury, which put Niemann on the map as a recording artist, with interstitial skits woven throughout an album that featured the Platinum-certified #1 single, “Lover, Lover,” as well as the Gold-certified smash, “What Do You Want.”
Now, with his yet-to-be-titled third album in the works, Niemann has kicked things off with the weekend feel of the first single, the Derek George/Lance Miller/Brad Warren/Brett Warren-penned “Drink to That All Night.” Miller e-mailed the song to him, and Niemann smiles as he recalls seeing the title and thinking, “‘Man, come on! Just ‘cause it’s a drinkin’ song doesn’t mean you have to send it to me! I mean, how different can it be?’ Then I listened to it and thought, ‘Whoa! This is somethin’ else!’ What I love is the drum beat. It just gives this driving feel, somethin’ to knock you out of your chair.”
All the more fitting, Niemann says, because one thing that fans can anticipate from his latest music is an amped-up level of energy.
“The last couple albums have been very acoustic. I love acoustic music, I love acoustic instruments, but inside of every country boy’s a little rock & roll, and so we brought it out! We plugged in the guitars, and I had a lot of fun in the studio just spending hours doing harmony. So it’s gonna be really harmony driven, kind of like ‘Lover, Lover,’ but it’s gonna be really electric and rockin’ and thumpin’.”
Working with GRAMMY® winner and ACM Bass Player of the Year Sloas as his co-producer also brought a fresh excitement into the studio for Niemann.
“He’s not only an amazing bass player, but he’s an amazing musical mind. His first gig ever was playing piano for John Conlee. When I met him, he was fillin’ in guitar for Megadeth, so he’s very versatile, and man, he just gets it. I can just say like half a sentence, and he already knows where my head is.”
Enlisting Sloas also appealed to Niemann’s desire to surround himself with collaborators who are every bit as excited about stretching, exploring, and having fun with the studio process.
“Bein’ in the studio, man, it’s like when you were a kid playin’ with toys: you just were waitin’ for your mom to tell you to come in, take a shower, and go to bed. It’s that much fun. You’re in there doin’ what you want with your friends and, ‘Hey, let’s try this and try that.’”
And while the proud Kansas native’s first claim to fame came as a songwriter (penning Garth Brooks’ “Good Ride Cowboy,” among others), Niemann decided to take a different approach after writing or co-writing the entirety of Free the Music and all but two songs on Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury.
“When I say ‘songwriting is most important to me,’ that doesn’t mean me writing the songs. I mean, we all move to Nashville because of great singers and songwriters. So when I say songwriting is so important, it’s because you have to have the song before you can sing it. I’d be a fool to think that I’m the only person in town who could write a song ‘worthy’ of recording. I’m on the road so much, I honestly wasn’t gonna write any song on the album. I just kind of wanted to sing other people’s heartfelt messages, but I just happened to get together with a bunch of friends, and we eventually wrote a little over half the record.”
As for the other tunes on the new project, Niemann says that he “lucked out” a bit with the songs that his friends sent to him – and how easily and naturally the tracks came together into a cohesive whole.
“What’s great about having people send you songs is you get to hear where everybody else’s minds are at. It was just such an enjoyment to actually sit through songs and put myself in the situation of the songwriters, what they were thinking. My friends trusted me with their music, and that means a lot to me.”
And for friends like Lance Miller, the co-writer who sent Niemann “Drink to That All Night,” that trust is already being rewarded, with Niemann’s 200+ concerts a year introducing fans to his latest single.
“There’s nothing that means more to anybody on stage than to see a crowd gettin’ into a song, especially the first time they’ve heard it. That’s how you know that hopefully,” Niemann says, “it will be fun to play forever."