Jerrod Niemann may not have decided on a title yet for his upcoming fourth album, the follow-up to last year's High Noon, but as he and producer Jimmie Lee Sloas were putting the project together, they had a clear sense of its vibe.
"We talked about music that is inspiring us now, or things we heard recently, old stuff, new stuff, and we decided there's a lot of rock sounds in country," says Niemann, whose new single "Blue Bandana" is equal parts classic rock and country.
Focused on the more rock & roll side of the genre, Niemann sought to remove the gloss from the tracks. "To get rid of some of the slickness, we took all the reverb and delays off the guitar amps and put blankets over them to make as dead as possible. We just tried to deaden almost everything, which when you get everything together, it just sounds normal," he says, offering a glimpse inside the studio. "You can do so much crazy stuff with recording, and once it's mixed, it's amazing how it works together. You just go with your instinct."
With songs like lead single "Blue Bandana," "Feelin'" and "Zero to Crazy," the album runs the gamut of Niemann's styles. Which, for the Kansas native, is actually a diverse melting pot, as his 2012 LP Free the Music, with its Dixieland Jazz and tropical rhythms, illustrated.
"[This album] ranges from 'Drink to That All Night' to 'Lover, Lover,'" he says. "'Zero to Crazy' is in the 'Drink to That All Night' world, while 'Blue Bandana' is kind of like 'One More Drinking Song.' We asked writers for songs that they think people have missed — not just the flavors of the month, but the perfect country songs."
Niemann says his desire to mix things up from album to album could be "considered a character flaw. I always want to do what everyone else isn't. If you have a bottle of ketchup, why do you want another bottle of ketchup? Get some mustard or relish or something," he says. In part, that plan of action comes from his reluctance to sing the same song twice, a topic that he and Garth Brooks (for whom Niemann co-wrote the hit "Good Ride Cowboy") once discussed.
"I had a conversation with him a long time ago, and he was saying he was looking for songs, and one would be great but it'd remind him of, say, 'If Tomorrow Never Comes' or a song he's already put out," Niemann recalls. "He said it's hard for him to want to tread the same water, when there are always other directions for him to go. People like George Strait can sing the same song a million times and it'll always be amazing, because he's George Strait and has that capability. But for me, it's kind of like, I've been there, done that and wanted to challenge myself."
Niemann is currently on the road and will perform at the Country Thunder festival this Thursday in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.