Joe Nichols Is in Great ‘Shape’
Joe Nichols has put his distinctive vocal stamp on some of the most memorable songs in country music over the past few years, from ‘Brokenheartsville’ and ‘The Impossible’ to ‘Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,’ ‘Gimmie That Girl,’ and his latest single, ‘The Shape I’m In.’
We caught up with the country traditionalist at his home in Texas recently to talk about a wide range of subjects, including his new and future music, his wife’s role as a stepmom and Willie Nelson‘s latest marijuana woes.
‘The Shape I’m In,’ had a website dedicated to the song, where fans could write “postcards” to talk about their ups and downs. How did you come up with that idea?
What we tried to do in the past few singles is get interactive with the fans and involve them in some way that relates to the song. With ‘Believers,’ it was “send us up a little clip of why you’re a believer and what you believe in,” and with ‘Gimmie That Girl,’ it [was] more of like “tell us why your girl is special, send in a video of why your girl is that girl.” With ‘The Shape I’m In,’ it’s more of the same. The song is about a guy that’s coming out of a bad breakup and he’s doing all right for the shape he’s in. “What kind of shape are you in and why?”
Have you received any particular responses that touched you?
We got a lot of good stuff from all the singles. From ‘Believers,’ we had some really inspiring stories, and from ‘Gimmie That Girl,’ we had some really cute little love videos, like love-letter type of things. For ‘The Shape I’m In,’ it’s the same thing. People are creative, and if you ask them to get involved, they sure get there. The one that sticks out to me is the woman who lost her father. It was a pretty touching situation. She was doing well considering the situation she was in. It was really nice to see somebody who was in a pretty bad situation and has her head up saying, ‘I’ve got a job, I’m doing this … and I’m doing alright.’ Things like that are really cool. It makes music worth it.
‘The Shape I’m In’ is about losing a “hell of a woman.” Have you ever had a woman break your heart where you thought you’d never get over the hurt?
Just about every woman I’ve ever broke up with or who broke up with me! I’ve had several relationships that didn’t work out that I thought would end me, but I knew there was only [really] one relationship that I’ve ever had that I thought was over and I thought that would be the end of me. That was the one with my wife, but fortunately that wasn’t over, and we were able to reunite and eventually be married. That’s one thing I escaped, is the devastating end to that one. My wife and I dated when we were kids. We dated right out of high school, and we’ve always been best friends for about 15 years. We were in a relationship a while back about 15 years ago and just became great friends. I didn’t know that relationship would ever go further than that and eventually it did. I’m thankful that the breakup we had in the first go-around wasn’t the end of it.
What mystery about women would you like cleared up?
[speaking to his wife]. Honey, what mystery about women would I like cleared up? [She answers from across the room as Joe laughs]. Exactly! My wife just helped me out with this answer. I would love to know what “I’m fine” really means.
You had a relationship, obviously, with your daughter’s mom. How old is your daughter now?
Twelve, going on 30!
Are you still friendly with her mom, and how is that relationship working out now?
It’s great. I’d be lying if I said it was all roses, but we learn from it every day. It’s important to show solidarity for a child, no matter what. It’s important for a child to be raised in a situation where she sees love, solidarity, commitment and honor. From her mother’s side and my side, certainly with my wife, we try to show that. I think we’ve done a good job. We get along with her mother great, and she does a great job of raising her. Of course, in our home, we do our own parenting. It’s important that adults get along with each other for the child’s sake, and that is our situation.
How is your wife, Heather, handling being a stepmom?
It’s got its easy days and not so easy days. The beauty of it is we’re all in this together. Ashelyn is a very smart, loving little girl. And, of course, Heather is a great mother-figure in her life and does a wonderful job being a stepparent. I think Ashelyn picks up on that and responds to her well. She’s a very brilliant little girl who has a huge heart. She looks at Heather with big glowing eyes and really respects her.
What do you and Heather do to keep communication open between you?
Number one is we’re always honest, no matter what. If it’s good, bad, ugly, extremely undesirable — whatever it is — we’re always honest. That way, it’s not hard to be honest in very tough situations. If something is bothering one of us, it’s easier to come out and say that and be consistent, so then when something big comes up, it’s not so hard to say, “Hey, look, I’ve got to point something out to you that is bothering me. We need to do something different or learn from it.” We always seem to do that. It’s really cool that we’re always really honest with each other. She’ll tell me when my breath smells, and I’ll tell her when her hair doesn’t look right. [laughs] That gives us trust in each other and makes it easier to tell somebody something very difficult.
Speaking of difficult, you tackled your alcohol addiction head-on, very soon into your marriage. How long have you been clean and sober?
I went into treatment in ’07. I’ve had some bumps and bruises along the way, of course. Nothing is perfect. It’s a matter of progress and not perfection. But right now my sobriety date is November 2008, and that’s pretty awesome. I’m proud of that.
Willie Nelson recently created the ‘Teapot Party‘ for legalizing marijuana. How do you feel about that?
[Laughs] Well, first of all, I can’t believe that Willie Nelson is still getting arrested for pot. I just think if you’re Willie Nelson, you’ve got a guy that buys your pot and the only thing you do is smoke it. Those people don’t get arrested. [laughs] As far as legalizing pot, my wife and I have some opinions on it. Of course, probably none of them are right, none of them are wrong. Coming from me, I’m a former alcoholic and addict, so I’ve had a tough time with substance abuse. So, it’s just not something that’s in me to say it’s quite OK for a drug to be legal because I’ve seen the dangers that they create. That can be extremely harmful to families, and I just don’t think legalizing [drugs] does any kind of good for anybody. I mean, it might ease the burden as far as people getting arrested but I still don’t think the widespread use of any kind of drug is a good thing because of my own personal experience. I’m probably a little skewed. I’m probably not the guy that has a great unbiased opinion on it.
Since we’re on the subject of current events, what’s your take on the huge wave of bullying that’s going on in our schools right now?
My message to kids who bully other kids is: You know it’s wrong! What’s really going on? Try not to make somebody else’s life miserable because you are. That’s the smaller, simpler message to a bully directly. My wife and I discussed this quite a bit, and we feel like it’s a great opportunity for a parent right now. I think the true problem is the parenting or lack of. There’s not just a sudden influx in people who decide to be bullies. Bullies have been around for a long time and probably always will be. It’s a stunning and sad fact of life. But I think that the true test here is just to challenge the parents to be proactive in their kids’ lives and prepare kids for bullying. I think it’s important for a parent to step into a kid’s life and know what’s going on … trying to prepare a kid so he doesn’t ever feel so lonely and alone that his only alternative is to kill himself or herself. We have a good opportunity to be good parents right now.
Were you ever bullied in school?
I had a big brother. I think that’s the best defense for a bully [problem]. [laughs] If I ever had a bully that was bigger than me that I couldn’t handle myself, he was there. My parents handled it in a very interesting way when it came to bullies. They always instilled in me, “your life is going to be full with these kinds of situations, go out and handle it. Try to stand up for yourself, and if it’s an unfair advantage that somebody has over you, then that’s another issue.” That’s when my big brother stepped in.
So what’s next for Joe Nichols? Do you have a new album in the works?
We’re in the studio now, working on a brand-new one. We don’t have a working title. We’re going in with a good group of songs and good head space and a good group of guys. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to try to make some magic. I think with the right attitude, sometimes that happens.