Singer-songwriter David Nail is taking a left turn as the frontman of a new band, the Well Ravens. Trading in the slick production of his Number One country hits “Whatever She’s Got” and “Let It Rain” for more atmospheric rock sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-Nineties Oasis album, Nail makes his return with the new single “Heavy,” premiering on Rolling Stone today.
After parting ways with his longtime record label, Universal Music Group, Nail began writing and recording in earnest. He teamed up with his longtime sound engineer Jason Hall and band member Andrew Petroff with no expectations other than writing a few songs and exploring new sounds. They soon realized they had created something a bit more substantial than a few demos, and a larger project began to take shape. The new project, titled Only This and Nothing More, will be released September 14th.
Nail talks about expanding his approach to music making, the new song “Heavy” and why he’s opening up about his battle with depression like never before in another new track, “In My Head.”
Only This and Nothing More track listing:
1. “The Gun”
2. “Come Back Around”
3. “White Trash Girl”
4. “Cheating on Me”
7. “In My Head”
First things first, where did the band name the Well Ravens come from?
From the moment I first started as a touring musician, that’s what I called my band. The name comes from hanging out at my publishing company, and [hit songwriter] Scooter Carusoe and another writer there, Rick Brantley, would just sit around, drink beers and just brainstorm band names. I remember Scooter always said, “I always wanted to name my band the Well Ravens.” I remember the first few times he’d talk about it, I just kept my mouth shut hoping and praying that Rick wouldn’t gravitate towards that [for his own band]. One day I just told them, “Hey, if you don’t like that, I’m going to stake claim to it.”
Your worked on new music with Jason Hall and Andrew Petroff, both of whom spent time on the road with you. What was the vibe like for your first writing and recording session with them?
When I left Universal, it took me some time to figure out what I wanted the next step to be. I think subconsciously I just kind of leaned on them and said, “Hey, I don’t know what in the hell I’m going to do next. I don’t know if I’m going to do anything, but I think we should get together and drink some beer and just make some music.” If it’s totally whack, then it is what it is. We should go into it with no expectations, but at the same time don’t shy away from something good if something good comes of it.
So, you set out to maybe write a few songs and explore some new sounds with no expectations. What did that freedom allow you to do creatively?
The music triggered everything. We didn’t have time to sit there and edit ourselves. We just started and trusted our instincts and tried not to lose any time on trying to be cute or trying to come up with something we thought was going to be hooky. We were just in there trying to keep up with everybody else’s pace and trying to make something that we all dug.
Eventually we realized over the course of listening to what we were doing that this stuff sounds really good and it’s different. Those guys had played so much of my music before, it was probably hard for them, initially, to imagine where this was going and what kind of place it would have.
It seems like the process of writing the lyrics was pretty free-flowing and brought up some buried emotions as well.
I can’t stress this enough. Literally, there’s no time to sit there and ponder, “Hey, do I really want to say this? Where’s this coming from?” You’re just having to keep up with everybody else. So, it really wouldn’t be until that night when I would listen to the rough mixes of what we’d written that day that I would acknowledge, “OK, still haven’t buried that one yet” or “Still gotta talk about that, I guess.”
Why is “Heavy” the song you wanted to put out first to introduce people to the new sound?
In thinking about how to introduce this new music, I thought, “If this is something that is different from anything I’ve ever done, should we go with the song that’s the most different? Should we go with the song that would have the biggest impact, and what would that impact even be?”
“Heavy” is over a year old. When you listen to everything with a clear head trying to be objective as possible, I just felt like it was the one song that always seemed to sustain itself. Every time I heard it, I thought, “Maybe I underestimate how good that is.”
When your new project comes out, people will hear “In My Head,” which is an honest portrayal of living with depression. You’ve talked about having depression in interviews, but this is such an honest look at what it’s like to actually experience it firsthand.
“In My Head” is a conversation I’ve had with my wife probably a thousand times. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, and it usually is not very quiet and cordial. I just remember my wife was always supportive. I think it’s human nature for anybody in her position. She wanted to figure it out. She wanted to understand it completely and she read books and she went and saw people and she was hell bent on figuring out what I was dealing with and how I was feeling. I remember I would get so frustrated and saying, “I don’t know why I’m like this.”
That was one of the biggest things that helped me was realizing I was just born this way. It’s the way my brain is and it wasn’t anything that I was doing. It wasn’t anything that happened, and there was nobody to blame. It’s just who I am. I remember telling my wife, “I understand, and if you don’t want to be a part of this journey, I completely understand, but this is how I’m going to be. There are going to be ups and downs. There is no cure. You can read all the books in the world, but no one wrote the book on me yet.”
You’ve written and recorded several songs about your upbringing and starting your own family. Why was it important for you to now write about your life on such a personal level as you did with “In My Head”?
I think I’ve had this yearning to just say this. I want people to know that is something I’ve dealt with my entire life. For 33 years, I had no clue how in the hell to deal with it. Now, I know that the bad days are hopefully temporary, but this is who I am. I’m not going to apologize for it, because it’s the way God made me. I’m sure the good Lord probably wondered what he’d done with me for many years, but it was a message that was really important for me to share and get off my chest.