David Nail’s road to Nashville success has been a long and winding one. After arriving in Music City in 2002, the Missouri native recorded an album on Mercury Records, but never saw it released. After a hiatus from recording and a brief stint coaching baseball, Nail decided to take another shot at a music career. In 2008, his single “I’m About To Come Alive” did well on the charts, and the album of the same name was released the next year. Last month Nail stopped by the American Songwriter offices, where he recorded a session and talked about his writing process. Look for audio of the session to appear on the site in the near future. In the meantime, be sure to check out his profile on American Songspace.
Can you tell us about the song “Missouri” on your new album? It sounds pretty personal.
The girl that I guess I dated, or I guess the relationship I was in the longest before my wife, was that particular girl. I don’t really sugarcoat it. That’s her name. I spell it the same way in the lyric sheets. She’s actually from south Georgia.
If you know anything about the songs I write, most of the time, if I write them with people, they have a tendency to encourage me to maybe not make it so exact. But I think deep down I knew that if I was up on stage singing “southern Indiana” when I knew it wasn’t southern Indiana, it would bother me.
It was the end of November. We were at my parents’ house in Missouri, and we had dated on and off for about three years. We had recently broken up, and I had spent a lot of time trying to get her back. I finally got her back, and I was going through a really dark depression and kind of always would say in my prayers: “God, when I finally get my shit together, give me one more chance with her.” Just so I can have a clear conscience that wasn’t my issues that was ‘causing our issues. And I had another opportunity and quickly realized that it wasn’t just me, but at the same time having fought so hard to get her back.
I had a really hard time coming to grips with the fact that, “Okay, you wasted so much time and energy trying to get her back and you’re just going to break up with her again.” So that was more or less a song where I realized that it was over and I was kind of hoping that she would to and she would do the dirty work for me. And I realized I guess over the Thanksgiving holidays at the end of that month that that wasn’t going to be the case. That she was in for good, and there’s no telling how bad I could’ve treated her or how many mistakes I would have made, she was just going to tolerate it. I think at the end of December, a month later, I finally realized that I was going to have to take the initiative and did. Like I said, I don’t think you write a song like that… I joke all the time saying that I hope she hears it everyday for the rest of her life but I really don’t mean that. At least, most of the time I don’t mean it.
So when did you write it?
It was one of those subconscious things where I sat down. I didn’t know what the hell was about to come out, and it just did. And it’s one of those things when you read it back you’re like, “Holy crap. What the hell? I’m a jerk!” It was one of those cool things, I never in a million years thought anybody was going to play it, or that I was going to record it. When I met Frank Liddell he asked me right off the bat, “Do you have any songs?” And I guess just subconsciously I felt that, writer-wise, it was one of the strongest ones and so I played it and he just said, “Man, that’s incredible!” And it was one of the first five things we cut. And then I think as you get away from the situation and can kind of look at it as a piece of art, and you’re not so close to the situation, it’s easier to play it. But I guarantee you not a time goes by that I sing it that I don’t remember what it was like the first time that I played it.
Are most of your songs autobiographical?
People always say that about the songs I write. I just wrote a song with Jonathon Singleton who wrote “Red Light” and played the demo for my manager and he was like, “Man, I can totally hear you in there. I love this not just because Singleton has wrote it and he’s on fire writing hits.” I think it’s just because I really don’t know how to sugarcoat things and I have no qualms just coming out and calling myself out and calling the situation out. Ryan Adams is a huge hero of mine, and I guarantee you Ryan Adams never stopped and said, “Hmm, I wonder if anyone is going to be offended by this!”