Joe Nichols is seeking his field of dreams, one in which everyone can go home to see their family and friends. The new single, “Home Run,” immediately brings the game of baseball to mind, but that is not quite what the meaning of the song is.
Nichols, one of country music’s finest vocalists, tells Sounds Like Nashville the song caught his attention right away. “The first thing you think of is baseball and getting into the baseball mode this time of year, so it was very clever of the writers to throw in something we need right now, which is to go back to home, whatever that home is — old friends or whatever you think that is. To me that is what sticks out most about the song.
“It’s more than a great hook; it’s a great message, too,” Nichols continues. “After the year we’ve had, we could all use a little bit of a break, just to step away from the rat race for a while and get back to our roots. We could all use a reminder of what home feels like.”
Even though the lyrics to the song, written by award-winning songwriters Ashley Gorley, Dallas Davidson and Ross Copperman, do relate well to today’s world, it was actually written several years ago.
“Benny Brown, head of my new label Quartz Hill Records, sent the song to me a couple years ago. I was looking for a label and I was looking for songs to record. I told him I thought the song sounded like a hit and he told me to go in the studio and see how it comes out. I demoed it to see what it would feel like and it felt good. About the time we got comfortable with it, Benny called and said he was opening new label, and offered me a record deal.”
Nichols said “Home Run” also reminded him of being in a position where you feel like you can’t stop and take a break because you are working so hard on your career. “When I first heard it, it reminded me of being in the music rat race, always available to do anything I could possibly do to stretch as far as I could go. It takes the spirituality or emotional stamina and drains you a little bit. So what it meant to me was, it’s ok to to take a break and hug your kids and wife. It just happened that moving into the phase of the last year or so, it took on another meaning.”
It doesn’t hurt that baseball season is getting underway, Nichols admits. “It’s pretty good timing with some natural extra crossover potential because it will energize the audience that baseball is back. Whatever gets them to listen to the music is great. Once you get that little bit of baseball, once you hear that and then they get the meaning of the song, you’re reaching everybody.”
The song will be on Nichols upcoming album for Quartz Hill. The last time he was on one of Brown’s labels, he had two RIAA Gold-certified hits, “Yeah” and “Sunny and 75.” He has had major hits from his first, “The Impossible,” to “Brokenheartsville,” “Gimme That Girl,” “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,””Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and his slow, shuffling cover of Six Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Nichols says he is extremely excited about finishing it in the next month or so. While he is always thankful for his hits, he believes the entire album as a piece of work is very important. “I only think there is real value in the depth of an album. I think to have quality music start to finish on a project that gets people to buy more into the artist and not the songs.
“I think the world evolves around hits and I think that gets people excited. I also think there is real value in the depth of an album. I think to have quality music start to finish on a project is what gets people to buy more into the artist and not just the songs. There is a lot of that on the new album. There are songs we hope radio will play but there are also songs that people will listen to and get to the depth of the record, the meat of the record. That’s important to be involved in the whole collection of work.”
Nichols agreed to give Sounds Like Nashville a preview of some of the songs on the new album. His first comment was to assure his fans that it is a pretty traditional record. The first song he mentions was written by Chris Janson and Will Nance. “’Go to the Light’ is a pretty serious song,” he admits, but adds, “it’s more about being sad but urges you not to do the funeral thing, but go to the light and have a good time and celebrate.
“Then there is ‘One Two Step Closer,’ an early 90s country song made for dancing. It makes you feel like you want to get out and dance a little bit, it’s very country. I love it, there’s some great steel guitar on it.”
Nichols has been known to say that keeping his music traditional country has been a lifelong mission. He grew up listening to singers like George Strait, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Buck Owens and he’s always tried to honor their legacy.
“I think several people will talk about some of my later hits, which were not so traditional. But what I’ve done, the music is pretty much on the up and up and that goes back to what I was saying about looking at the whole body of work. Just radio is not the whole scope, you just hear part of an album and what you hear on radio doesn’t always speak to the whole record. I put some traditional songs on all my records. I do hear people who say, ‘He doesn’t sing country anymore,’ but it’s still there if you take time to listen to the album.”
The pandemic may have shut things down, but it also gave him a chance to be with his family. “The biggest blessing of all is that I got to back and see day for a while,” he says. “Then I got to do things with the girls I had not done in years, like be there for Easter and their birthdays and the Fourth of July celebration. These were things I really appreciated this year and I know they did too. When we get back to rolling everything will be pretty heavy again. They have gotten used to Dad being around and they will wonder what’s going on. When I’m gone they are going to wonder what happened to the bedtime stories.”