Joe Nichols is trying to toe the line of being being a modern country artist who believes in traditional country music. The singer says that he thinks it's important to return to the genre's roots, and that also means remembering who country music is for.

"As a genre, we've forgotten who loves our music, and for the most part, that's middle America, just regular people," he tells the Phoenix New Times. "I think in an effort to be cool, the fashionable thing, the hip thing, we've kind of forgotten that that's our bread and butter. We're country music; we represent the common man and woman."

As country songs have started including more pop influences, Nichols' singles have also trended into easier-to-swallow territory for the masses. His 2013 song "Sunny and 75" was successful beyond middle America, but the singer says that it was "one of the hardest things I've had to sing and definitely out of my comfort zone." Last year, Nichols released "Yeah," which trends even more into the area of "bro-country."

But as the tide of country music shifts, Nichols says that he isn't totally comfortable with the way things have been changing, and he works hard to keep his music as traditional as possible while still maintaining relevance.

"To me, [country music has] gotten a little fickle," he explains. "The music has gotten a little bit redundant at times, which I can't really complain about because I try not to do what everybody else is doing and try to stick somewhat close to traditional country music because that's the kind of artist I am, so I can't really complain that much.

"There's hills and valleys in all genres," Nichols adds, "and I think we've kind of brought this on ourselves with not knowing what's going to happen next year, what's going to be popular."

In a time of such constant change in what is popular and what works for country radio, who can an artist look to as a icon of success in walking that fine like between relevance and roots? George Strait, whom Nichols calls the "prototypical country singer," has seen the top of the charts in four separate decades, and Nichols thinks it's all because Strait knows how to tell a good story.

"I think country was built on that kind of thing -- storytelling and what your average day is like, weekend is like -- and for me, I think the lyric has to be meaningful to be a country song," he says. "I think it needs to sound like a country song from a country singer, believable as a country song. If it can fit in other genres 100 percent of the time, then you should probably look at what that really is."