July 21, 2010 at 11:14 am , by Ron Kelly
He may have scored big with the success of his chart-topping country single “Gimmie That Girl,” but Joe Nichols certainly knows what we here at Ladies’ Home Journal have been touting on our cover for years: “Never underestimate the power of a woman.”
“Absolutely! I agree with that motto because I’ve seen it first-hand,” Nichols told me when we met during this year’s CMA Music Festival down in Nashville. The deep-voiced singer was gearing up to perform at his official fan club party at the Country Music Hall of Fame when he revealed that the most powerful lady in his eyes is his wife, Heather Singleton. “She’s a very strong woman. She’s tough as nails,” says the Arkansas-born singer, who’s been open about his past substance abuse treatment and Heather’s role in helping him to face his demons. “I’ve seen her take a very impossible situation—me—and work with it. She’s actually tough enough to look me in the face and say, ‘No, you’re not going to get away with that.’ So intestinal fortitude—she’s got a lot of it. And I think a lot of my success, especially my latter success, is because of her.”
If that’s true, Heather just might be Nichols’ lucky charm. “Gimmie That Girl,” off his Old Things New CD, dominated the top position on country radio earlier this year for three consecutive weeks, helping to land him guest appearances on The Tonight Show and The View. And Nichols’ gut tells him that his new brand new single, “The Shape I’m In,” is ready to climb the charts as well. “It feels like a good song,” he says. “I listen to it and think, I would buy a record because of this song. The lyric is a very likable lyric that doesn’t offend anybody. It’s about a guy that comes out of a breakup and says, you know, I’m hanging in there, I’m doing alright and getting better.” It doesn’t hurt that the single is written by the same team—Rhett Atkins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip—that penned its chart-topping predecessor. “The combination is there again for more success,” says Nichols. “Hopefully the fans react the same way.”
Have you heard “The Shape I’m In” yet? Think it’ll be as big as “Gimmie That Girl”? Either way, read on after the jump to find out Nichols’ takes on LHJ’s Can This Marriage Be Saved? column, fellow country artist David Nail’s baseball skills, his fertility-treatment hijinks and his message to anyone that couldn’t make it down to see him at CMA’s Music Festival.
The CMA Music Festival is such a great way for artists to interact with their fans. Obviously you’ll be meeting a lot later on, but do you have any message for any that couldn’t make it down here for this event?
We like to create the same kind of environment out there on the road every night we play, much like at the fan club party. We like to do extended meet-and-greets after the show. We’ll sign for hours and meet anybody who cares to come up and say hello. So if you didn’t make it to town or if we didn’t get to see you while you were here, hopefully you’ll come out on the road somewhere and check out one of my shows. See us play. Have a little fun with us! And we’ve had some very enthusiastic and devoted fans show up. We’ll make a trip 500 miles overnight to the next show, and we’ll see some of the same fans that were there the night before. So that’s a good testament to the fans and their devotion.
Any poignant fan moments that stick out in your mind?
One year at the fan club party a group got together and bought me a brick in the new Busch stadium. My dad was a security guard at Busch stadium in St. Louis when I was a kid and we used to go to Cardinals games together. I grew up a Cardinal fan and my fans knew that. When they were building the brand new Busch stadium, these fans bought me a brick and had it inscribed and dedicated to my dad. It’s really cool and a very thoughtful gift.
Very cool. Now, were you jealous when David Nail got to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals team [on the CMT web series, Making the Team]?
I’m hoping to get my shot now. Apparently I didn’t make myself very clear. [laughs] I need to [get my own CMT series]. I’ve been a Cardinals fan since 1982 and I’d love to get my opportunity to play for the Cardinals. I’ve been a baseball player, too, my whole life.
So, you better than Nail?
I would say I’m much better. For all the scouts listening, I’m much better. [laughs] No, I haven’t seen any of them. But [David’s] a classy guy. It would scare the crap out of me, but I’d still like my shot!
In terms of “Gimmie That Girl” being such a hit, how much of your current fan base, do you think, has been brought in by that song?
Our fan numbers have grown significantly. “Gimmie That Girl” is a large part of that, but the overall body of work, I think, has a lot to do with that. I think people actually are going back and listening to the first record on and people are signing up and writing letters and commenting on the music from years past.
What was the magic of “Gimmie That Girl”? What made it so huge?
The elements of the song that made it a hit song to me was a very female-friendly lyric that didn’t offend anybody. It wasn’t a man-hating song and it wasn’t a woman-hating song. Really catchy melody. The first time I heard it, I was singing it later on. When you put a good production on that kind of combination—a great lyric and a catchy melody—as a singer all you gotta do is just get out of the way and sing the song as it was intended.
Are you feeling any pressure with “The Shape I’m In” to duplicate the success that “Gimmie That Girl” had?
There’s always pressure on the next single whether you’ve succeeded or failed with the last one. I look back at successes and we’ve always said, “Oh, God, we gotta make sure this works” with the next one. And then I look back at things we haven’t done so well on, and we say the same thing. “Oh, God, we gotta make this work!” So the pressure is going to be there, no matter what. The thing for us is to listen to our gut. Our gut is usually right. And what my gut is telling me about “The Shape I’m In” as a follow-up is that it’s written by the same writers and it feels like a good song. I listen to it and I think, man, I would like this. I would like this on the radio.
Now, at LHJ we have a column called Can This Marriage Be Saved? Obviously I hope things are still going great with you and your wife but there are always little quirks. What’s one of those quirks for you guys? What do you find yourselves disagreeing about the most?
I think for the most part, I have things that I do that I get super involved in. When she sees me get super involved—not obsessed, but very heavily involved and very focused on one thing—she’ll actually guard me against that. Like, “Hey, you’re putting way too much stock in this,” or, “You’re being a little aggressive or compulsive with that. You should probably check that.” I think we kind of rub when I get very passionate about something. I do a lot of my thinking on emotion and what my gut says, and just, boom—I want to handle it right now. She’s much more the “Hey, just give it a second, let’s think about it” type. So our biggest rub is probably our two personalities.
And who usually wins your disagreements?
She does. [laughs] I think that’s just the immature part of me is that I want to act on emotion rather than sitting, stopping, and thinking about it. Letting the game come to me, so to speak. Like I said, I’m clearly in the wrong, but that’s what we rub the most about probably.
When you did The View you talked about some pretty private stuff [providing samples for fertility testing, in particular—and then joking about leaving the TV in his private room on a gardening show when he was done, just to have some fun with the nurses].
Yeah, we’d talked about that subject matter beforehand and they asked if I had a funny anecdote I could talk about. I was, like, I can talk about this, and they said, “That’d be great! That’d be funny! [Heather] was, like, “Mmmm, I don’t know. Let’s think about that.” Before we went on I said to her, “If you don’t want me to talk about it, I won’t. But I think it’d be funny,” and she kind of said, “If you must talk about it, fine.” It still embarrassed her a little bit. But you know, you’ve gotta poke fun at that kind of thing because it’s such an uptight situation. Everybody’s already so uncomfortable. You gotta laugh it off.
I definitely give you points because it was clear on the show that you had made a conscious effort to get clearance to tell the story. I believed that you’d done your homework!
[laughs] Here’s the thing. It was more embarrassing to me! But she definitely takes it a lot harder than I do sometimes.
And then Whoopi’s quip [about the gardening show/seed connection]—did it catch you off-guard?
That was pretty awesome. I thought it was hilarious. Yeah, it did catch me off guard for a second. I was, like—wow!
Well, how is everything going in that department now?
It’s going good. It’s a process. We take baby steps to try to make sure every little thing is done according to plan and we don’t get surprised by anything, so that kind of makes it a little slower of a process. But we just want to make sure we’re both healthy and able to do everything right. So all things look good and we’re just waiting on God to do the rest.
Photos courtesy of Scott Wade.
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