"On my first two albums, I tried to cover all the music I enjoy," says Jerrod Niemann. "This time, we mashed it all together and that's what you do when you're really attempting to create your own sound. And as it all gelled, I think it brought us into our own pure sound for the first time."
On High Noon, Niemann continues to pursue the innovative sonic approach that has defined his identity in today's country music, while bearing down even harder on the rock-solid songwriting that first brought him to Nashville's attention. The immediate response to the album's debut single, "Drink to That All Night," proves that Niemann's distinctive style still hits the mark. "My biggest obstacle," he says, "was to make sure this sounded different from everything else out there right now."
Jerrod Niemann exploded onto the scene with his chart-topping major-label debut, 2010's Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury. The album, on Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville records, included the Number One smash and RIAA-certified Platinum digital single, "Lover, Lover," and the follow-up Top 5 single, "What Do You Want." Niemann—who has also written songs for and with such artists as Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, and Lee Brice—returned in 2012 with the acclaimed, musically adventurous release, Free the Music. All the while, he's continued playing 200 shows a year on the road, year in and year out.
He credits the advances on High Noon to a new collaborator, producer Jimmie Lee Sloas—honored by the Academy of Country Music as Bass Player of the Year—who has worked with everyone from Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood to bluegrass bands and Megadeth. "We've been friends for years," says Niemann, "and I knew he wanted to get into producing. I called him out of the blue, we had lunch a few times, and I told him I'd love to bring him in to work on this project. We went in and instantly had a great connection."
Niemann also credits songwriter Lance Miller and engineer Corky ("Just call him Corky") with playing vital roles in the album's creation. "The magic came from those four minds—and those four livers! There was no ego, just pure fun. The friendships and feeding off of each others' ideas really created the vibe, and the more experience I have, the more I learn it's all about the vibe."
Before even entering the studio, though, Niemann recorded all of his own demos at home as usual. "That's where I go completely out of whack, take things to the furthest extreme," he says. "Then after I lay down the structure, we take that and start to build around it. We take my unique sounds and then we mesh that with acoustic instruments to come up with an organic approach for the loops and beats. When it all comes to life, it just makes you want to tap your foot."
The resulting thirteen songs on High Noon represent not just a musical blend of country, pop, and rock with splashes of electronic, forward-looking beats, but also a wide emotional spectrum. The album takes the listener on a journey from the opener—the yearning, atmospheric "Space"—to the sexy, slow-burn menace of the last track, "She's Fine," which features a guest vocal from Colt Ford. "Some songs have those haunting melodies and chords—something to scare the kids a little bit!" says Niemann. "That one made me think of songs by Chris Isaak or the Mavericks, or the True Blood theme song. In some ways, we're all still a little feral and have those animal instincts."
"The Real Thing" offers the panoramic feel of a pop ballad from the '60s, while "I Can't Give in Anymore" takes a more traditional country approach, both in subject and style. "It's about that moment when you realize you need to move on from something unless things are going to get better—that point in time to either say goodbye or fix it," Niemann says. The arrangement features the old-school weeping of a pedal-steel guitar. "We had a guy in the band with a b-bender guitar, which can emulate that sound, but when I was listening to the real thing, I was like, 'Of course I'm going to use that, 'cause nobody else is doing it!'"
And then there's "Donkey," an uproarious, swaggering, double-entendre singalong about wrecking a truck and finding alternative, four-legged transportation to the local bar. "The first time I heard it, I thought, 'Oh, goodness,'" Niemann says. "But then I went back and listened another five or six times and thought, 'If I don't record this, I'm gonna end up kicking myself!' It's hilarious to me—I was raised in a family that wasn't afraid to laugh. Every time I played it on the bus, everybody stopped and asked, 'What is that?!' So I thought, I'm just gonna roll with it."
But most of High Noon returns to a single theme: drinking, partying, having fun. "This is a record to get you in the mood before going out on Friday or Saturday night," says Niemann. "I came up playing in bars, and that's always going to peek through in my music. A lot of the people we play for have a beer in their hand, and my job is to get whatever's on their mind off their mind. So always, at least half the songs are about partying—hey, it's better than crying, right?"
Kansas-born Jerrod Niemann—who once lived in the actual Dodge City—explains that there are a number of meanings to the album's title, but clearly, it stands as a challenge and a mission for his music. "High Noon represents taking chances," he says. "We live in a society where a lot of times you're forced to be the same—all copy-paste—and when you do something different, people dig in their heels.
"So High Noon means go out there and go for it. Get your game face on, walk ten steps, and pull the trigger. It's the next step into facing the future."