Interview: David Nail on No. 1 country hit ‘ Whatever She’s Got’ and new album

Often, an artist can feel like he”s stumbling around while making an album. Then he”ll find just the right song that brings all the pieces of the puzzle together. So it was for David Nail with “Whatever She”s Got.”

The lead single from the country singer's  third album, “I”m A Fire,” which came out Tuesday, soared to No. 1 on Billboard”s Hot Country Airplay chart, but Nail knew it was a winner long before it hit the top spot.

“If we hadn”t had ‘Whatever She”s Got” in our bag, we might still be searching for songs and still in the process of making that record,” he says. “When that song came into the picture, I think it gave everyone involved a bit of excitement, a bit of a kick in the butt. People said, ‘This is the song you”re been missing.” I think I felt that way too and it just allowed us, I don”t want to say less pressure, but I felt it allowed us the freedom to explore  some new territory.”

Indeed, while “Whatever She”s Got” reveals an upbeat, peppier tone than the Grammy-nominated Nail usually adopts, the song”s not the only switch up on “I”m A Fire.” The album veers from his piano-based sound, relying much more heavily on guitars.   The result is a grittier sound than fans have heard on past hits like “Let It Rain,” or “Red Light.” “It was a conscious decision to be guitar driven, but it was more from the stand point of ‘Let”s try to simplify the actual tracking by removing the piano”,” Nail says. “Instead of having one more instrument that had to find its nooks and crannies, it allowed for more space. We knew we were going to add piano later, but wanted to simplify the process.”

Standouts on the strong set include “When They”re Gone (Lyle Country)” featuring Little Big Town, the regretful, wistful “The Secret,” new single, “Kiss You Tonight,” and a remake of the Jimmy Webb-penned “Galveston,” featuring Lee Ann Womack, that captures the yearning of Glen Campbell”s 1969 hit.

For Nail, part of the album”s confidence and upbeat tone comes from his finally conquering the depression that he had suffered from for years. He told HitFix his reasons for going public about his depression were for himself, but he”s been bolstered by the support he”s gotten since revealing the news a few weeks ago. “The most important part was just being open with myself,” he says. “I think there may have been some people along the way that may have misunderstood me and I think once I was able to get a handle on it and look back, I wanted not to say, ‘Here”s an excuse as to why you may have thought this about me or thought I was this way,” but ‘I recognize now I was dealing with some inner demons and I didn”t exactly know how to deal with them.”

“When I finally realized that I didn”t have to do it all by myself, it”s when I came out on the other side,” continues Nail, who credits therapy and medication with helping him turn the corner. “It was important from me to say, ‘Here”s why I recorded the songs I recorded,”  or ‘Here”s why you thought I was a little adrift.” And it”s funny,  now it seems so foreign to me because I have a handle on it. The outpouring of support  has been incredible, you realize how many people are affected by it. I grew up in a small town where it was ‘don”t ask and don”t tell” and you don”t talk about those thing and keep it to yourself.”  It was not ‘Oh, it”s just a funk that I”m in.” It was a funk that lasted 10 years.”

As he notes, Nail”s path to success hasn”t been linear and it certainly hasn”t been overnight -he released his first single in 2002 from an album that was never released.  His first major label set didn”t come out until 2009. The path has been fine with Nail: “I felt like all the songs that I”ve released have been very important,” he says. “They all haven”t done what I hoped they would do, but it was important to me to release them when I released them.”  

But he admits that he wouldn”t mind continuing on his upward trajectory in a steadier fashion going forward, as he adds with a chuckle: “I feel like the good Lord has a plan, but I”ve been talking to him a lot more lately about how I”d like to have a little consistency in my career.”

Nail is on tour with Darius Rucker and Eli Young Band.