Illustration: Jonathan Fehr

C&I chats with the “traditional country artist,” who once got Sir Mix-A-Lot to cameo in a music video.

Cowboys & Indians: You’re often described as a “traditional country artist,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Joe Nichols: Different things to different people, I guess.

C&I: Most of the songs on your new album, Never Gets Old, fit that “traditional country” description. But there are certainly a couple of exceptions — “Tall Boys,” for example.
Joe: [Laughs.] Yeah, I agree. But the funny thing is “Tall Boys” is one of the first things we cut. And I think we liked it because it sounds cool, it sounds fun, and it goes over great live. I think in shaping the album, that was one of the tough calls to make. “Tall Boys” kinda skirts the edge, you know? But at the end of the day, everybody just thought, “Well, I hate to see it not on this record, because it sounds good.” And why throw away something that actually is viable to listeners, to people that buy the album?

C&I: What was your overall vision for “Never Gets Old”?
Joe: It’s kinda hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. When we started the record, we started with a couple of songs like “Tall Boys” and a couple of songs like “I’d Sing About You.” We kinda started in a few different directions. And so, after finishing all those songs — and this is kinda what took so long in making this album — we became aware that, well, I don’t want to cut a, quote-unquote, progressive album. I don’t want to follow the guys that are having a lot of success doing more progressive pop stuff. And so we had to cut those away, and kinda shave off things that we had already finished, and maybe even took a long time making. I said to myself, “I want to make a country album. So let’s make a country album. And let’s forget about what everybody else is popular with.” Some of the things we cut were actually pretty good. But people will never hear them, because they were nothing like the way I wanted to go with this record.

C&I: Of course, you do slip in a countrified version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Joe: [Laughs.] Well, I started doing that song in the show several years ago. One night, I don’t know, I got a wild hair on stage, and I said, “I like big butts, and I cannot lie.” And the guys in the band said, “The brother can’t deny.” So I was like, “Oh my God, we have to do this song now.” The crowd went crazy, and the band was playing it. I didn’t know all the words. It was like, the joke was on me. But the crowd loved it. And every night since, it’s one of those parts in the show that people tell their friends about. Like, “Oh, you gotta see when he does this.”

C&I: On the other hand, the title track of the album finds you back in, well, more familiar territory.
Joe: The song “Never Gets Old” is like me singing to my wife. There’s so much history there, so much love there, so much of a bond, that no matter how much you wear me out, I’m just never gonna get tired of loving you. That’s kinda how the song goes. But the bigger meaning of the album title was this life, this style of music, this traditional country never gets old to me. This is what I fell in love with when I was a kid. Those are my earliest memories. When I was 4, 5 years old, when I first wanted to be a singer, I listened to Conway Twitty. [Laughs.] I guess I was a very odd 5-year-old. But I didn’t much care for a lot of the stuff that other 5- or 7-year-olds were listening to. Even into my high school years, I was a traditional country fan. I loved Tracy Lawrence, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and those guys. And my friends were listening to Metallica and Mötley Crüe. Not to say anything derogatory about that, but it just didn’t fit me. And so to me, as far as the album title goes, the bigger meaning is this has never gotten old. Being a country singer — this never gets old to me.

Video Star

Joe Nichols actually got Sir Mix-A-Lot to appear in the music video he shot for “Baby Got Back.” “My manager had the idea to borrow from one of the opening scenes in Back to the Future, where Huey Lewis was judging a talent show, and he said, ‘I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud, fellas.’ My manager said to Mix, ‘What if you were judging a talent contest, and he got up there and did your song?’ And Mix was like, ‘Let’s do it. That sounds great. Absolutely.’ He was game for anything. And he was so funny. I really enjoyed my time around him.”

From the January 2018 issue.