Women in Music 2016

Joe Nichols Talks New Single 'Freaks Like Me': 'I'm Cool With Being a Little Bit of a Weirdo'

Ford Fairchild
Joe Nichols

After 13 years of continued chart success, Joe Nichols discusses the longevity of his career, his upcoming album & his live "Baby Got Back" cover.

RED BOW recording artist Joe Nichols continues to be a presence in the country format after 13 years. The singer -- known for his traditional vocal style -- has notched hit after hit on radio since 2002’s “The Impossible” kicked down the doors for the Arkansas native.

The singer has just released a new single -- “Freaks Like Me” -- which is the lead track from his second album for the label. Nichols recently took time out to chat with Billboard about the new single -- and how it applies to him.

I know you’re excited about the new single, which was co-written by Josh Thompson. Tell us about it.

It’s about being who you are, and maybe not being as mainstream as you used to be...or maybe as cool -- and being all right with that. I’m kind of that way myself. A lot of things are different now than they were 20 years or so ago. I’m cool with being a little bit of a weirdo.

In what ways did the lyrics of the song speak to you personally?

For me, I tend to cling to old-school values, and I like the country I live in. I like being proud of stuff like that. It might not be as popular as it used to be, but it’s still the way I like to live.

George Strait Announces New Album, Will Play Las Vegas in 2016

Obviously, you still feel at home in the country format.

I don’t think I could fit in anywhere else. I’m always going to be a country singer -- whether it’s popular or whether it’s working or not, I really don’t have a choice. I try as hard as I can to be relevant, and stay on the radio, but at the same time, there’s only so much I can do within the limits of my voice and who I am.

That’s an interesting point. Waylon Jennings once remarked to a writer that “I couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers,” because his voice was so country-oriented. I also think of those classic records that Billy Sherrill cut with George Jones where the strings that he put on them only seemed to make Jones’ voice even stand out more.

I couldn’t agree more. That’s very well-put. You think about those strings that Billy Sherrill used on George and the arrangements, it’s like he was cutting jazz and pop records and he had this big country voice on there. It really accentuated his vocals.

Is it hard to believe that you’ve been having hits since 2002? Thirteen years is a long time -- particularly in this business.

First of all, I’ve never had a job this long. It seems like I’ve lived about four different lives sometimes, but there are times where it seems like it was yesterday. I think the business has changed quite a bit, and I know the music has changed. I don’t know what it is. I wish I could give you a more cerebral or smart answer. I don’t feel like I am getting older, but I am. Sometimes I feel 20 years in, and there are times I feel two years into it. As long as it feels fresh, and like I’m contributing, I feel all right.

You really seem to have been able to stay true to yourself on a musical level.

If everybody is chasing something in the format and trying to be what the last guy is, I think it gives me the perfect opportunity to stay true to myself and be who I am. I think that sets me apart from the next guy in line. I think there are times when that’s given me the benefit of the doubt at radio -- maybe more than I deserve. A lot of people are trying to make something that sounds exactly like the last hit that was on the radio, and there are times when we try to outsmart the genre. I just try to be myself, and hopefully that works. If it doesn’t, I’m fine with that. Just like the single, I’m a little bit of weirdo. That relates to the song.

I know you’re just about done with the whole album. Any chance of that infamous live cover of “Baby Got Back” making the record?

We thought about that. [Laughs.] You never know, we still might -- maybe as a bonus track. I don’t know. We’ve got a little bit of time left. We might kick that idea around. It’s a funny moment in our shows. We do it as a country shuffle, and it’s one of the more country things we do in the show. I don’t know whether to be proud of that…or be embarrassed. But the fans love it.

When we talked last year, you had just taught your youngest daughter the Arkansas Razorback “Hog Call.” Have you gotten her interested in sports at all yet?

Not really. She loves things like the hog call, because it’s gimmicky and funny. Now, my 17-year-old is coming around and getting into the Razorbacks. She makes Daddy proud. I’m blessed with girls. If I had a little boy, we’d be all in it together. I’m happy I’ve got girls. They balance me out. I don’t get near as crazy about it as I once did.

So…what’s the craziest thing you’ve done as an Arkansas fan?

You’re talking to a Razorbacks fan. Football-wise, favorite memories are hard to come by. I remember when we won the NCAA basketball championship in 1994, I jumped so high that I hit my head in the ceiling fan. It almost knocked me out, but I broke it. That was a little bit much. I was about 17 at the time, so I guess that was to be expected.