David Nail fans were recently treated to the welcome announcement of David Nail and The Well Ravens, a new project that is as much Oasis and Ryan Adams as it is modern country music. Their debut record Only This and Nothing More is slated for a Sept. 14 release.
When Nail announced in early 2017 that he parted ways with his longtime record label, he admits even he didn't know what was next. But a meet up at a bar with two of his best friends and collaborators ignited a spark.
Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Petroff and producer Jason Hall have been by Nail's side a while. "Me, Andrew and Jason have all been on the road together," Nail tells Wide Open Country. "It was a classic case of us always wanting to do a record but never following through with it. You spend so much time together and come up with all these ideas. But for a lot of people, that never ends up transpiring."
Having spent most of time making country music (or at least music marketed to country audiences), Nail saw an opportunity for a shift.
So in February 2017, Nail invited Petroff and Hall to happy hour. "I told them I'd been listening to a lot of different music," Nail says. "And that I didn't know if it was something they're into, but I'd love to get together and mess around."
They were, in Nail's words, "totally stoked" about it. And though nobody quite realized it at the time, that was the official birth of David Nail and The Well Ravens.
A Change Of Pace
David Nail spent 10 years with MCA Nashville, releasing four albums, two EPs and a handful of radio singles -- two of which reached No. 1 status ("Whatever She's Got" and "Let It Rain"). There's a certain way major labels like to do things. But David Nail and The Well Ravens project came about almost as an antithesis to a typical major project.
"We met for three days each in April, June and September," Nail says. "That's when the majority, if not all, of the writing and recording happened."
The trio had one rule: until they got together in person, nobody could come up with or discuss ideas. That alone is a massive shift from the typical writing room, where each writer usually comes in with a handful of either melodies, lyrics, tracks or song titles.
"We wanted everything to come spur of the moment," Nail says. "That way everybody was pulling in the same direction."
At times, Nail would stop the write to jump in and record a vocal line. "To borrow from a baseball term, sometimes I just had to grip it and rip it," Nail says. At the end of those sessions, the trio had seven songs and a new band.
Nail didn't tell any of his team about the new music until that second recording session in June, when it felt like the group was really working with something. "Nobody knew what the hell we were doing,"he says. "But as time went on it felt so natural and organic."
When he finally played some music for his manager and publisher, Nail knew he had something. While he originally thought they may go back and re-record the tracks with studio musicians, Nail realized the strength in the music was how organic it felt thanks to being written and recorded at the same time.
They opted to keep the originals and released the first song, "Heavy" at the end of June 2018. Staying true to the theme of the recordings, Nail says they're not planning on doing any big elaborate photo shoots, videos or promo stunts. "We want this to be grassroots," he says.
Throughout the seven tracks, Nail and company explore themes at times much darker than his previous work. Album opener "The Gun" is as subtly ominous as it is subtly hooky. "Cheating On Me" and "OVER" explore the opposite ends of the emotional pendulum in a tumultuous relationship.
"In My Head" finds Nail addressing depression head on, an important and often ignored subject coming from Nail's demographic. It's a welcome change for the chart-topping songwriter with country roots to explore such a deeply personal subject.
Then there's the first new song released, "Heavy," with its anthemic chorus, swirling, reverb-drenched guitars that perhaps sums up the overall theme of Only This and Nothing More.
"I know it's me, the reason why we've come unraveled too many times," Nail sings in the second verse. "I don't know the answer, I'd try anything to bring us back to how it used to be."
The new album Only This and Nothing More is undoubtedly different from everything else Nail has done, bringing a strong atmospheric rock undertone. You could call it a different direction or a new sound. But mostly, just call it very, very good.
Nail deliberately chose that title -- a line from the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem "The Raven"-- to put to bed any comparisons to his newfound label independence or previous works. "When I read that line, it just fit," Nail says. "I don't want people to overanalyze it. Let it stand on its own."
David Nail and The Well Ravens Only This and Nothing More Track Listing
- "The Gun"
- "Come Back Around"
- "White Trash Girl"
- "Cheating On Me"
- "In My Head"