NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Going into the recording studio for his third album, country singer-songwriter David Nail was ready to move beyond his reputation for emotionally heavy, slow ballads that painted him professionally into a box.
So when he heard the song that would eventually become the first single from "I'm a Fire," he realized it was a turnaround for both his career and his attitude.
"When we found the song, 'Whatever She's Got,' it was kind of like the perfect storm, the perfect song to kind of set us in motion, so to speak," Nail, 34, said of the hooky upbeat love song that hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. "I definitely got to a point personally, where I was just tired of being somewhat of a gloomy guy and I would hear people reference me as a moody."
The Missouri-born singer's naturally smooth voice was a perfect match for sentimental songs like "Turning Home," which earned him a Grammy nomination for male vocal performance. "I think that having a large part of my life being somewhat in a down spiral, you've got a lot of material to draw from," he said.
Darius Rucker, who invited Nail to open for him this year on his True Believers Tour, called Nail one of the best singers in country music currently and said that those emotional performances are what draws fans to him.
"You can tell that he is trying to broaden his horizons, but he's still great at that sad song," Rucker said. "You believe that he is feeling what he is singing. That's a huge thing. That's what makes your songs viable."
But in this new album, Nail pumped up the tempo and relied less on the piano and more on the guitar. Little Big Town and Lee Ann Womack provided backup on some of the tracks, and he pushed himself vocally to expand his register.
"Sometimes I think all too often people can reference good singing by showing how technically great you are on every song," Nail said. "A lot of these songs were in registers that quite frankly I had never really embarked on. So it was tough kind of challenging myself to really get lost in the words and sing it from a part of my voice that I wasn't used to."
More importantly, Nail wanted songs that would help even out the energy in his live show by giving fans a balance between the melancholy songs and the fun songs.
"Much like I try to sequence the records, I want to take you on a journey and let it have ebbs and flows," he said of his shows. "I definitely feel like our show has been taken to another level and a lot of it has to do with a lot of this new material."