While writing and recording his new album, Jerrod Niemann immersed himself in the history of country music. A student of music theory and productionhe majored in Performance Art Technology at South Plains College in Levelland, TexasJerrod pondered a question that is heard more and more frequently these days: Just what exactly constitutes country?
His answer to that query can be found in the musically and technically groundbreaking Free The Music. "This album is my interpretation of how I feel about country right now," Jerrod says.
The follow-up to his Sea Gayle Records/Arista Nashville debut Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury, which debuted at No. 1 and yielded the No. 1 hit "Lover, Lover" and the Top 5 single "What Do You Want," Jerrods sophomore album emphasizes the early instruments that have shaped the genre: acoustic guitars and bass, fiddles, and even horns.
"The pedal steel guitar has come to define country music, but there were years and years of country being made before that instrument was even invented. Horns have been in country going back to the 1920s. And fiddles and other string instruments date back even further. I took all those things and put them on Free The Music," Jerrod explains. "I made this record in an effort to try and mix 1927 with 2027, but I didnt want to disregard 100 years of what people have already done musically. Instead, I wanted to take that and do it in a way that is also representative of the future."
The result is an adventurous release that redefines the listening experience. A "headphones album" if ever there was one, Free the Music is a sonic journey through a multitude of styles, including country, rock, honky-tonk, Dixieland jazz and reggae.
While exploring these sounds, the Kansas native says he sought inspiration in the outside-the-lines approach of two seminal outlaws. "Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were very progressive in their day, and they were getting harassed by people who said, Hey, thats not country. But the mistake many artists make when they first come to Nashville is that they want to be those guys so badly that they get stuck in time. Its our duty to have our own voice and come up with our own way of saying something," Jerrod stresses. "Icons like Alabama and Ronnie Milsap did that by using pop melodies. But when you hear their songs today, theyve become country classics. Those artists stepped out, and I hope fans will understand that that was my goal too. I want the album to push you out of any musical comfort zone."
Jerrod took each of those big steps with great care, painstakingly fine-tuning every song on Free The Music with his visionary co-producer Dave Brainard. Together, the pair cut a new technological path in Daves studio, using a one-of-a-kind analog-to-digital recording process to give the record a rich, organic feel. "Knowing that analog was going to be our foundationand that wed have the ability to easily record and re-record digitallygave us the confidence to take more chances. For instance, we used an acoustic bass on the entire record and put horns on every song. By doing so, we got a lot of organic sounds," Jerrod shares. "I want people to realize the time and effort that we put into this album, from the beginning of the first song to the very last note."