The BIG 99.9 Coyote Country Presents:
The BIG 99.9 Coyote Country Presents: The St. Jude Jam with Jerrod Niemann
While writing and recording his new album, Jerrod Niemann immersed himself in the history of country music. A student of music theory and production—he majored in Performance Art Technology at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas—Jerrod pondered a question that is heard more and more frequently these days: Just what exactly constitutes country?
His answer to that query can be found in the musically and technically groundbreaking Free The Music. “This album is my interpretation of how I feel about country right now,” Jerrod says.
The follow-up to his Sea Gayle Records/Arista Nashville debut Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury, which debuted at No. 1 and yielded the No. 1 hit “Lover, Lover” and the Top 5 single “What Do You Want,” Jerrod’s sophomore album emphasizes the early instruments that have shaped the genre: acoustic guitars and bass, fiddles, and even horns.
“The pedal steel guitar has come to define country music, but there were years and years of country being made before that instrument was even invented. Horns have been in country going back to the 1920s. And fiddles and other string instruments date back even further. I took all those things and put them on Free The Music,” Jerrod explains. “I made this record in an effort to try and mix 1927 with 2027, but I didn’t want to disregard 100 years of what people have already done musically. Instead, I wanted to take that and do it in a way that is also representative of the future.”
The result is an adventurous release that redefines the listening experience. A “headphones album” if ever there was one, Free The Music is a sonic journey through a multitude of styles, including country, rock, honky-tonk, Dixieland jazz and reggae.
While exploring these sounds, the Kansas native says he sought inspiration in the outside-the-lines approach of two seminal outlaws. “Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were very progressive in their day, and they were getting harassed by people who said, ‘Hey, that’s not country.’ But the mistake many artists make when they first come to Nashville is that they want to be those guys so badly that they get stuck in time. It’s our duty to have our own voice and come up with our own way of saying something,” Jerrod stresses. “Icons like Alabama and Ronnie Milsap did that by using pop melodies. But when you hear their songs today, they’ve become country classics. Those artists stepped out, and I hope fans will understand that that was my goal too. I want the album to push you out of any musical comfort zone.”
Jerrod took each of those big steps with great care, painstakingly fine-tuning every song on Free The Music with his visionary co-producer Dave Brainard. Together, the pair cut a new technological path in Dave’s studio, using a one-of-a-kind analog-to-digital recording process to give the record a rich, organic feel. “Knowing that analog was going to be our foundation—and that we’d have the ability to easily record and re-record digitally—gave us the confidence to take more chances. For instance, we used an acoustic bass on the entire record and put horns on every song. By doing so, we got a lot of organic sounds,” Jerrod shares. “I want people to realize the time and effort that we put into this album, from the beginning of the first song to the very last note.”
Such exquisite attention to detail is evident throughout the 12 songs that make up Free The Music, all of them written or co-written by Jerrod. From the funky opening title track to sun-drenched first single “Shinin’ on Me,” the songs represent an artist committed to stretching musical boundaries while simultaneously honoring country’s past.
The empowering “Get on Up” employs a unique ascending-and-descending guitar riff and a surprisingly well-fitting Mellotron. “Real Women Drink Beer,” cleverly combining elements of reggae with the Bakersfield Sound, would sit nicely on a Dwight Yoakam album. “Honky Tonk Fever” has prominent jazz horns and remarkably different tempos. And “I’m All About You,” featuring Grammy-winning vocalist Colbie Caillat, is a piano-driven, laid-back love song.
But it is the knockout ballad “Only God Could Love You More” that, for the first time, truly showcases Jerrod’s voice as the nuanced instrument it is.
“Some people sound the same on every song, but I like to be a chameleon, like an actor in a role. For ‘Only God Could Love You More,’ we didn’t put any harmonies on it and used my original tracking vocal. ‘Lover, Lover’ had a bunch of harmony parts, so I thought it’d be interesting to have zero here, especially with the French horns and the other orchestral things we have going on,” Jerrod says. “Some songs just work better with one vocal. If you listen to Garth Brooks’ ‘The Dance,’ that doesn’t have any harmonies on it either. Not that I’m comparing myself to Garth by any means.”
Still, the allusion to the 1990s superstar isn’t out of bounds. Jerrod co-wrote one of Garth’s biggest hits, “Good Ride Cowboy,” and penned two others for the Country Music Hall of Famer, along with songs for Blake Shelton, Lee Brice, John Anderson and Jamey Johnson.
“The most important thing to me is songwriting. But no one can ever hear a song without a vehicle, whether it’s me or somebody else singing it,” admits Jerrod, who, as a writer, has more than 10 million albums sold to his credit. “If someone told me I couldn’t write a song ever again, or had to choose between playing and writing, I don’t know what I’d choose.”
Fortunately, no one is forcing him to. Jerrod is free to pursue both of his passions on stage and in the writing room, using his gift with a lyric and melody to free the music, expand people’s minds, and deliver an album that, while occasionally unconventional, is undeniably country.
“For me, it’s all about the song. You can put all the bells and whistles on an album that you want, but if the songs aren’t there, it’s not going to work,” Jerrod says, discussing the versatility of country music. “You can take all of these songs, go into a studio and record them with Nashville’s amazing studio musicians, and Free The Music would sound just like a modern-country record. And that’s fine. But I like to experiment.”
Jerrod cracks a wry grin at this admission. Clearly, he’s comfortable with his role as a musical scientist--an artist who absorbs all styles and sounds, and forms them into his own creation.
“When your ears are always on, everything seeps into your brain,” he says with a laugh. “And my ears are always on.”
Growing up in a family that excelled at both music and sports — his father is a hit songwriter; his brothers, star quarterbacks — Big Machine Label Group recording artist Tucker Beathard has an unrelenting competitive spirit: He wakes up every day trying to write the perfect song. For Tucker, a self-taught guitarist and drummer, there's no such thing as "good enough." "I love anything with great melodies and I'm drawn to the little things," Tucker says, rattling off his influences with an artist's attention to detail. "When I listen to Led Zeppelin, I focus on John Bonham's drums. Or Joe Walsh's guitar licks in the Eagles. And Hank Williams Jr.'s 'Family Tradition' is as country songwriting as it gets." Tucker certainly knows something about family tradition, taking cues from dad Casey Beathard, who wrote Kenny Chesney's "Don't Blink" and Eric Church's "Homeboy." The latter, in fact, was inspired by Tucker, who admits to going through his own rebellious phase. Giving up a college baseball scholarship to dive headlong into songwriting, Tucker came out better for his diverse experiences and documented those wild times in the wise-beyond-its-years "Momma and Jesus." The track is one of many in contention for his debut album, being overseen by producer Angelo Petraglia (Kings Of Leon). With a rhythmic way of playing guitar, influenced by his innate drumming ability, Tucker has created some of contemporary country music's most progressive songs. "Rock On," a song about regretting the girl that got away, is taut in its delivery, with clever turns of phrase. Likewise, "20-10 Tennessee," a standout, uses a football game as metaphor for a relationship and “Better Than Me” puts a unique spin on an arena-ready breakup anthem, ultimately wishing the best for someone after parting ways. "I've always been a huge fan of deep songs, and I've always liked poems," he says. "I'm an introvert, but writing songs that go beneath the surface allows me the chance to open up a piece of myself." As does his engaging live show. Having played with artists like Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, Tucker regularly bares his soul in front of a crowd. Despite his reserved demeanor, the stage is where he is most free — it's his canvas to paint an honest picture of who he is, as both a songwriter and an artist. "Expressing yourself onstage and putting your emotion into each song is a feeling that is tough to match. It's your way of letting the world know who you are," says Tucker, who has one main goal when performing. "Whether it's 'My heart is broken' or 'Let's party tonight,' I want people to feel this is a real dude who knows who he is — and who says it like it is."
Adam Craig is one of the good guys, and it’s about time he showed up.
It started in a car in Tenino, Washington, just south of Seattle. The windows were down, Martina McBride and Heart were blaring on the radio and his mother was wondering what had just possessed her young son to match those mercurial vocalists note for note.
“She was like ‘Holy crap kid, you can sing!’” he says with an infectious, disarming chuckle.
From that moment forward, Adam knew he had a special gift – a vocal presence that transcends the typical bounds of a male country singer to touch the stratosphere, and an ability to pull listeners inside a story.
Standing out early in life as a Tim McGraw and Travis Tritt lover in a sea of flannel-clad grunge rockers, Adam is no stranger to going against the grain. He honed his vocal chops in soggy bars and talent shows all over Washington State, then made the cross-country drive to Nashville and discovered another gift – a knack for writing modern country songs with sensitive, meaningful lyrics, a touch of good humor and breathtaking hooks in a time when machismo and bluster were the order of the day.
Working as an in-demand Music Row songwriter, Adam has co-penned hits like Parmalee’s “Close Your Eyes” and scored cuts by Jason Aldean (“Church Pew or Bar Stool”), Dustin Lynch (“World to Me”), Love & Theft (“Whiskey on My Breath”) and more, but his own style is something different – it’s the next step in country’s continuing evolution, and the antidote for the bro-country hangover.
Now signed to BBR Music Group’s Stoney Creek Records, Adam has made the leap from songwriter to artist with a style that’s rooted in the ‘90s yet sounds just ahead of the curve. It combines the down-home themes of artists like McGraw and Tritt, the soul-bearing honesty and pure-intentioned romance of Keith Urban with otherworldly vocals that land somewhere between Vince Gill and Keith Urban.
But the defining trait of his music is more than an intriguing sound and passionate writing: it’s an appreciation for just how complicated the real world truly is. Some country singers would have you believe there are two speeds to life – happy and sad – but nothing is that black and white. The toughest, most successful among us are sometimes plagued by doubt and regret, and even when we hurt those we love, a second chance will often come – if we can just rise to the challenge.
“Somebody said something to me the other day and it made me feel really good,” he explains. “He said ‘Man, I don’t know how you do it, but you write a heartbreaker like a man would really have his heart broke.’ That’s what I want.”
Songs like “Why Can’t She” live in that gray area of real life, the one where guilt collides with grace and ultimately, leads to a transformation. Sung in the form of a quiet prayer, artists all over Nashville have had the song on hold, but it’s never been released – a testament to the need for a country star who’s not afraid of his sensitive side. “My heart’s full of regret, that’s why I’m down here on my knees / So if you can forgive me … why can’t she?”goes the unforgettable chorus.
“When you can hear the air go out of people when you get to the hook, that’s the hammer hook,” he says.
Capable of turning his real life into a hit song, even Adam’s drinking tunes come with emotional nuance. In “Remember This,” you can’t help feeling sympathy for the guy who’s stuck in the corner booth of a dive bar, watching what he thought was the love of his life crumble before him.
“I just found out the girl was on the way out of the relationship, and I knew what was coming,” he explains. “So it’s like ‘I’m gonna get so smashed right now, because I don’t want to remember what’s about to happen.’”
Meanwhile, the young artist is no stranger to dirt-road anthems and the fluttering flush of new romance, but his party tunes are full of refreshing, nice-guy generosity. He’s not the guy who treats his girlfriend as a trophy in cut-off jeans, he’s the guy who says “I’m On It” when she asks to crank up the radio, and tells her “It’s All Good” no matter what they end up doing, as long as they get to spend time together.
This is the product of a different kind of country artist – one who’s more about substance and shared experience than showing off. One who knows what hard work means and is thankful for what he’s earned. One who’s going to signal another shift in the genre, and bring the good guys back.
“My guitar player has it written on his pedal board, and I stare at it every night,” he says. “Five words that mean everything: ‘I Get To Do This.’
Growing up in Jackson, Tennessee, Brandon Lay lived out the songs of John Mellencamp, Alan Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. He played sports during the day, fixed up cars after school and eventually wrote down his experiences in song, telling not only his story, but the story of other kids raised in small town America.
Now signed to EMI Records Nashville, he's able to share those songs on a grand scale, beginning with his autobiographical debut single "Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers." Inspired directly by Brandon's life, the song spells out right in its title the three chief influences that shaped him. There was always country music on the radio, he played basketball, football and baseball, and his dad spread the gospel on Sundays as a minister.
"Between going to church and playing sports, there was always a lesson to be learned," says Brandon. "And country music lyrics are all about life lessons. All of that helped me figure out who I am in the world and what I wanted to do."
At first, he thought his path would lead him to sports, but music won out, thanks in part to a guitar teacher who inspired him in college and the luck of where he was born – halfway between Memphis and Nashville. "Growing up in Jackson, you were hearing out of each ear: rock & roll and R&B to the west in Memphis, and country to the east in Nashville," he says. "But country is the only genre I wanted to be a part of. Being where I'm from, I understand it, and I think most Americans can relate because it is so specific. The most satisfying feeling as a songwriter is when people come up and say, 'I know exactly what you meant in that line.' Country does that like no other genre."
Brandon's commitment to music was cemented, however, when he performed at his first open-mic night – at a cinder-block roadhouse near the Tennessee River. He sang jukebox staples "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" and "Brown Eyed Girl," and despite an initial crowd of only eight people looking on, he returned every week and discovered he had a knack for commanding an audience's attention, just like his father.
"There are parallels between what I watched my dad do every Sunday morning and being onstage as a country singer," Brandon says. "He was able to tell stories and relate to people, and seeing him connect with people had a lot to do with my songwriting."
Brandon is expert at detailing the small-town existence in his songwriting. He wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks on his debut album, a project he'll unveil somewhere down the road – for the time-being, he's building an audience by releasing a series of two-song EPs, beginning with the one-two punch of "Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers" and the thumping cruising jam "Let It."
"Songwriting comes from every direction for me. I always have titles and melodies in my phone," he says. One new song, called "Yada Yada Yada," was half-written while Brandon was singing the wordless melody into his phone while traveling. "But," he adds, "I love writing in the studio."
Other than perhaps the basketball court, there's nowhere Brandon feels more at home than in the recording studio. Upon signing a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in 2013, he absorbed all he could about studio production, and when it came time to cut his own music, teamed up with producer Paul DiGiovanni to co-produce all of his songs, a rare feat for a "new" artist.
"It was important for me to have a thumbprint on my music as an extension of the songwriting process. Working with Paul, we were able to bridge that gap, and it
personalizes the project for me," he says. "We cover a lot of ground in the songs, but I’m somewhere between Eighties country and Nineties rock. I like big guitars and big drums and it has to translate on the stage."
The empowering "Back on the Wagon" contains both, balancing bombast with some plucky strings. The tale of getting over a failed romance, it's a fresh look at heartbreak, with the hurt narrator regaining his confidence through nights out riding around with friends.
"Wilder Horses" marries synth with acoustic guitar to create the most cinematic of Brandon's songs. Written with Ross Copperman and Jon Nite, the track embodies the musical halfway point where Brandon grew up. "The verses are bluesy like Memphis, and the chorus is very Nashville," he says.
And "Break Down on Me," the oldest song on the album, draws directly from his hobby of tinkering with trucks and cars. "In high school I had a '92 F-150 that would always seem to break down on a two-lane road on the way to school, and there was no way getting around it. Everybody would see me. That's what gave me the title," he says of the track, about offering a caring shoulder to a girl. "It's me saying, 'I know things are bad for you now, but I'm good at fixing things. Lay it on me.'"
With his album already finished, Brandon – who cites Class of '89 alums like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as country heroes – is focusing on taking the songs on the road. He's already opened for artists like Dierks Bentley and Old Dominion, and is playing fairs and festivals around the country, bringing his story of "Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers" to fans who may have grown up the same way.
"I knew coming out of the gate as a new artist that my first single had to say a lot about who I am and where I come from. Hopefully, people will hear it and fill in their own blanks," Brandon says. "That's my goal: for listeners to know that every line I'm singing, I've lived, and for them to find their own story in my songs."
Born and raised in the small town of Litchfield, England, Fiona Culley grew up listening to her fathers’ radio blasting female singers including Linda Ronstadt, Alison Krauss and Trisha Yearwood. Although it was not the music of choice in the UK, Fiona’s love for country music quickly grew into what would become her career.
Drawing inspiration from the beautiful countryside and wandering landscapes of her home, Fiona began penning her own songs and performing them across Europe. She landed a regular gig playing the historic Troubadour in London, which led to an opening slot on a UK arena tour.
It wasn’t until after a show at the Troubadour, that Fiona decided to take a huge step in furthering her career. “I was singing ‘Strangers and Angels’ and when the song was over, a man in the back of the room shouted, “sing it again, but acapella this time,” said Fiona. This man happened to be the former head of A&R at Sony New York. “He told me I needed to get myself to Nashville,” Fiona continues. “Three months later, my bags were packed and I was on a one way flight.”
Following her move to Nashville, Fiona buckled down and began writing and playing out as much as she could. While rehearsing one day with her band, Fiona decided to record and post a cover video of Ed Sheeran’s smash hit “Thinking Out Loud.” To her surprise, the next morning she woke up and the YouTube video had garnered over two million views and was named a VH1 ‘Top 5 Cover Video to Watch.’
Still focused on honing in on her music and brand, Fiona continued to co-write and eventually was introduced to legendary producer, Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks).
“Paul and I had instant ‘creative chemistry,” Fiona recalls. “He understood my vision immediately and we soon began collaborating on a debut album.”
Blending a collection of old and new influences from the likes of Fleetwood Mac to Alison Krauss, Fiona’s new project will take listeners through a sea of emotions. From songs such as 'What Whiskey Does' written by Brandy Clark & Bob Dipiero that is guaranteed to make you chuckle from its lyrical content and bob your head, to 'Better Alone' written by Fiona that cuts straight to the heart, to the lead-off single “Act Like A Lady” that is sure to be every females anthem, the new album will touch on every sentiment.
“The recording process for this project has been amazing,” said Fiona. “Paul is not only my producer but also my mentor in Nashville. He puts up with my British sass and is brutally honest about every note and word recorded. Together, we have made a record that I am very proud of and can’t wait to share.”
Fiona also checked off another item on her bucket list when she had the opportunity to record a duet with superstar and Grammy award-winning artist, Darius Rucker, entitled “Life on the Line.” The duet, co-written by Fiona, Rucker, Meghan Linsey (The Voice, Steel Magnolia) and Tyler Cain, is the theme song for a Lionsgate Film of the same name starring John Travolta, Kate Bosworth and Sharon Stone. The music video for the heart-wrenching collaboration exclusively premiered on Rolling Stone.
Fiona’s debut single “Act Like A Lady” is due out this summer.