David Nail knows what to do when he’s thrown a curve.
He takes it, hoping to eventually reach first base on a walk.
Life has thrown the country singer a few curves along the way, and Nail has taken a lot of pitches. But now he’s finally ready to step up to the plate in the big leagues, looking for a hit or two. His debut album, I’m About To Come Alive (MCA Nashville), is set to be released August 18, about 10 years after his arrival in the Music City.
Music wasn’t always on Nail’s mind when he first arrived in Nashville, though. His ambition (at least he thought at the time) was to play baseball, a lifelong Cardinals fan who grew up in a small town in southeast Missouri.
After graduating from Kennett High School in 1997, Nail enrolled at Aquinas College, where he planned to continue his career as a fast-running catcher who had the ability to draw walks and steal bases.
“I was never much of a power hitter until I got to college,” Nail said during a phone interview earlier this month. “Like the first week, we couldn’t work out with the coaches but we could take BP (batting practice); and I remember calling my dad the first week and going, ‘I really don’t know what's going on, but for some reason, I’m hitting a lot of homers.’ ”
That didn’t last long, though. A pre-existing shoulder injury prematurely ended Nail’s baseball career, but he might have eventually given it up anyway. He soon discovered what Nashville had to offer a former choirboy who had been singing since the age of five and whose father was a high school band director.
“I had come to Nashville and lived for a couple weeks and was fairly enthralled and just dumbfounded by how huge at the time Nashville was and would walk the streets at night and see other people singing,” Nail said. “And I fell in love with it. And at that point, I really had no interest in playing (baseball). I’ve always been very much a one-track-minded guy. …”
So Nail decided to pursue his dream of making music. That took a while to develop, too. He fought off doubt and depression like a batter with two strikes against him trying to foul off a series of pitches.
Now he’s ready to swing for the fences again. I’m About To Come Alive includes an impressive group of studio musicians, from lead guitarist extraordinaire Waddy Wachtel (Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Stevie Nicks) to bass player Glenn Worf (recently named the best in Nashville) to legendary keyboardist Chuck Leavell (Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers).
Nail covers a lot of ground, going from the Ray Charles-influenced “Mississippi” that opens the album to “Missouri,” the closing cut that Nail said he wrote during a two-year bout with depression.
Whether it’s intentional or not, Nail’s pronunciation of his home state in the mournful song sounds a lot like “Misery.” Sample verse: “It’s hard to think that everything unraveled / To know there won’t be happy ever after.”
Nail, who turned 30 on May 18, isn’t dissing the Show-Me State, though, admitting he even misses it a little. “Ohhh, yeah,” he said after a long pause. “I think that anytime you spend 18 years in a place, it’s kind of hard to just up and bury it in the back of your mind; which is weird because I was so quick to want to get out. … Maybe in 15 years or so, maybe I’ll go back when I get a family; ’cause I think there is something special and unique about that small-town way of life.”
Nail's album, though, gets a bright lights/big city boost, starting with co-producer Frank Liddell. His Carnival Music publishing company has had songs recorded by the cream of the country crop, including George Strait, Faith Hill, Sara Evans and Kenny Chesney, whose “Turning Home” Nail just had to have. A mix of church gospel and Motown with Leavell’s honky-tonk emphasis, it’s “my most favorite song to sing,” Nail said.
There also are songwriting contributions from Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox (“Summer Job Days”) and guest vocal appearances by Miranda Lambert (“Strangers On A Train”), Texas singer Stoney LaRue (“Looking For A Good Time”) and Natalie Hemby, who recently released Under the Radar and is married to I’m About To Come Alive co-producer Mike Wrucke. Even Taylor Swift, without prompting from anyone (“I’ve never met her,” Nail said), gave his snappy “Red Light” a green light on Twitter, saying it was “my new favorite song.”
Yet, it’s Nail’s soulful voice and personal lyrics that consistently drive this album. He co-wrote three other songs, including “Again,” a mid-tempo cut that relies heavily on his past. And “about 95 percent” of it is true, Nail offered.
He said he brought two verses and a guitar riff (“which is odd because I don’t fancy myself as much of a guitar player”) to co-writer Scooter Carusoe and “I think that he could tell, and by then we had become good enough friends for him to realize that was something that was important to me and something that I probably needed to get off my chest so I could move on.”
Which got Nail back to talkin’ baseball, a topic he thoroughly enjoys discussing as much as – if not more than – his new album. (He's shown at left with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.)
Nail, who threw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game this season and was a mlb.com correspondent at the All-Star Game in St. Louis in July, addresses – among other things – his playing days in “Again,” when he was “chasing my father’s dream instead of growing up.”
“That was his dream – for him to play,” Nail said of his father, a Stan Musial fan back in the day who is now retired and still lives with his wife in Kennett right across the street from Nail’s grandparents. “I was chasing his dream. I don’t want to paint him as an overbearing parent that was trying to force me to play baseball. … I think that it baffled him somewhat that I wasn’t more interested in having surgery (to stay in the game), because I think that everyone who watched me play, I was very competitive once I got out there; it was the motivation to get out there that was the problem at 18 years old.”
Married June 6 (he calls his wife Catherine “the breadwinner now”), Nail quickly dismisses the notion that he was one of Nashville’s most-eligible bachelors. “Yeah, that was just a rumor on the street,” he said of articles that appeared in Nashville Lifestyles and Country Weekly. “I really wasn’t that big of a catch; in fact, there’s probably a select group of ladies out there that say quite the opposite.”
Given the chance, he does still like to brag about his playing days, though. He said he lives vicariously though his friend Matt Palmer, a 30-year-old rookie pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels who has gone 9-1 this season. “I just fancy the thought that my senior year … I won the game (against Caruthersville High School) with a base hit off of him our senior year. So I might as well be in the bigs,” Nail said, laughing.
And making a record is much more challenging than facing a curveball, Nail admitted. A pesky player who had the ability to get in the heads of his opponents and “just annoy them to death,” his philosophy was that no pitcher he faced (not even Palmer?) was going to throw the pitch for three strikes.
“So I sure as heck wasn’t going to help him out by swinging at it,” he said.
Whether or not he has a bat in his hand, Nail expects to keep walking tall.
• David Nail is inviting everyone to attend his album release party Tuesday, August 18, at the Tin Roof in Nashville (1516 Demonbreun). Doors open at 6 p.m., with Nail’s performance at 7.
• David Nail’s video for “Red Light” features his new bride, Catherine.