Dishing with Jerrod Niemann

Hometown: Nashville | Occupation: Singer/Musician | What's on his plate: The October 2 release of his new album, Free the Music | First "Hit": Age 8: "Amy's But (sic) Looks Like a Hat," about his sister
Interview by: Jennifer V. Cole

I cut my teeth playing at the White Elephant Saloon in Fort Worth, where my parents live. You get on stage, and it's just you and your guitar for four hours. If you mess up, it's on you. If there's hecklers or drunks—you learn to deal with everything. That was an important part of paying my dues.

You've gotta be somebody, so you might as well be yourself. I decided I'm gonna sing what I want, wear what I want, write what I want, and hope that if it comes from my heart then people will see that it's real and gravitate toward it. And if they don't...whoops!

I need to get to the Flora-Bama, near Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the Mullet Toss. I always thought everyone took all their hometown rednecks they hated the most and threw them. That's what it'd be in my hometown.

When you dedicate your life to something, you should know where it came from. Growing up, I gravitated toward George Strait, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley. But then you realize that your heroes have heroes, and you wanna figure out who they are. Those guys look up to [Merle] Haggard. And Haggard's favorite is Lefty [Frizzell], and Lefty's favorite was Ernest Tubb, and Ernest Tubb's was Jimmie Rodgers.

I felt like it was our duty to learn with this new album. I put horns on the record because over 20 years before the pedal steel guitar, there were horns in country music. I wanted to honor every decade clear back to the 20s but keep our own spin on it.

My perfect day in the South? Well, I would go down to Key West...and then I would lose the rest of my schedule. [laughs] "It blew into the ocean!"

"Bless their heart" lets people say anything. I hear some really sweet people say it who think they're being sweet and they're not. How about a change? "Bless my liver! I drank a 12-pack last night."

Anytime I start doing something questionable, I think, "Man, my mom would kill me." Guess I'd better hurry up and get this over with!

Dead. That's how I take my barbecue. After spending so much time in Texas, I've become accustomed to brisket. But I really do love it all. Mustard-based sauces are my new thing.

If I could trade careers with anyone, it would be Oprah. I mean, nobody messes with Oprah. She's probably the head of the FBI and CIA. I'm surprised she's not already President.

The last thing I scribbled on a paper napkin? It was "Whiskey Kinda Way," the second song on our new album. I was going through this breakup, and my friend asked, "You miss her a lot?" I said, "No. Except for when I'm drinking. I guess I just love her in a whiskey kinda way." And he's like, "Man, we should write that!"