It might have been a rainy morning in Nashville, but Jennifer Nettles' mood was quite the opposite on Monday morning. The singer played five tracks from her forthcoming debut solo album for an invite only crowd at HOB Studios. She says the album touches on the very diverse list of her musical influences.
"I think this album plays to my roots," she told the crowd. "There's country, gospel, 70s music, singer-songwriter stuff, as well. It has been a joy to get to explore those parts of myself. I'm excited and nervous at the same time – all of those things you are when something is important to you."
Nettles recorded the album at Shangri La Studios in Malibu. "That was not a bad way to go into the office everyday," she quipped, saying that the ambiance was great – both inside and out. "It was just beautiful being there at the beach, and then the history of the studio. It was owned by Bob Dylan, and went through different hands over the past few years."
Producing the album was Rick Rubin, whom Nettles had nothing but the highest amount of praise for. "He was super-active in the recording. He's very much a rhythm track guy, and I think that's a big part of his background. Frankly, one of the two most important major elements of music is the rhythm and the melody. He's really focused on all these things."
Nettles said that making the record was a very special experience. "When we first started our dialogue, I sent him over some songs – really sparse, just one accompaniment instrument and the vocals. He likes to hear it that way, and he wanted to hear it that way too. He could get attached to the song that way in those elements, and not have thoughts about how someone else might think they should be produced."
If nothing else, Nettles said the aim they took in the studio was to make an album that was personal and intimate. "Technology is so great that you can make things perfect. You can Pro Tools it, auto-tune it, and sometimes technology the human part out of it. I didn't want that for this record – for it to be one big wall of sound with double guitars playing the same part. I wanted there to be space, nuances, emotion, and spirit. The songs all breathe as they should," she said, noting that there's nothing wrong with those elements. "They are great tools to have when you need to use them, but I didn't want that for this record."
The first single from the project will be "That Girl," which she penned with an old friend. "I wrote that with Butch Walker. He's out of Atlanta, and used to be in a band called Marvelous 3. He's such a talented musician, and we've known each other for years – since I started out in the Atlanta scene. Everybody kind of runs the same circuit, so there's definitely a songwriting community there like there is in Nashville. But, we had never worked together, so I reached out to him and said 'Hey, I'm doing this new record. Do you want to get together and try to write?"
Nettles says the song could also be the flip side of one of Dolly Parton's classic records. "This song has kind of ended up being ‘The Ballad of Jolene.' It wasn't intended that way, as the concept was saying ‘I don't want to end up being that girl.' This woman has obviously been bamboozled, and it wasn't her plan going in. When she found out there was somebody else, she called and told her that it wasn't really her fault."
However, as the two continued to write the song, it took on a different feel. "That idea presented itself of 'What if it was Jolene calling and saying 'I really don't want your man. This is not who I want to be. I want to let you know I'm not that girl, but he's being that guy.' It was really fun, and I love the rhythm track. The claps you hear on it, we were listening to references of 'Cecilia' by Simon & Garfunkel and have that clap with a delay on there. It was fun and rhythmic, but you also hear that Johnny Cash pickin' style. That track was super Rick Rubin."
"That Girl" will be released on August 19.