Interview: Jerrod Niemann Hopes to Unite Listeners With Patriotic Anthem ‘Old Glory’
One of the first times Jerrod Niemann performed his new song, "Old Glory," he was at a show in Afghanistan, playing for members of the military. After his set, an audience member came backstage to see him.
"He was this big guy, this mountain of a man, someone who I'm very glad we're on the same team," Niemann recalled to The Boot. "And he just had tears running down his cheeks. He ripped off this patch on his arm and said, 'Man, I had to wait 20 years to earn this patch, and I want you to have it.'
"I was like, 'I can't accept that. No way,'" Niemann continues. "And he said, 'No, listen, you don't understand. I've heard a lot of music, and I've had a lot of my good friends die. I've never heard a song that represented those feelings until just now.'"
This story, and the stories of many other military men and women, are at the front of Niemann's mind when he performs "Old Glory." In October of 2017, after seeing a news report of an ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers, the country star was immediately inspired to write the track. "It just all kinda fell out," he explains.
Niemann has seen the hardships that soldiers go through when they're far away from home. He has performed on several USO Holiday Tours, during which he became a "fly on the wall" for a typical day of those stationed overseas during the holiday season. "It was probably the craziest moment, on Christmas Day ... [when] everybody started showing me videos of their babies opening presents," he remembers.
"One guy told me his wife and decided to leave him the day before, on Christmas Eve, and he had to wait eight months to get home and try and win her back. And then, another guy told me that he had missed his mom's funeral that month," Niemann continues. "You don't think about that, you know?"
"It came 100 percent from the bottom to the top of my heart." -- Jerrod Niemann
"Old Glory" speaks from the perspective of a soldier, describing the little things that military members miss out on while deployed. Niemann says he hopes that the song will offer civilian listeners some insight into the day-to-day life of someone in active duty.
"I didn't think about all those little sacrifices -- the flag football games, the dance recitals -- that everybody takes for granted," he reflects. "What a selfless act, for a bunch of complete strangers."
It was important to Niemann to perform "Old Glory" to military members before incorporating it into his set anywhere else: "If you're gonna put words into somebody else's mouth, you obviously hope they're the right words, especially with such an important message," he says. So, the country star debuted the song during his 2017 USO Holiday Tour, when he visited troops in Spain, Iraq, Afghanistan and Poland. Once he began to receive reactions from audience members like the man who came backstage to give him his patch, Niemann began to feel more confident about bringing the song's message to civilian crowds.
"When we were onstage that night in Iraq," Niemann relates, "I remember looking across the room and thinking, 'Wow. Look at this. Here we are: Men, women, I'm sure both Republicans and Democrats, and every skin color this earth has ever produced, and we are more unified than anything I have ever seen. How inspiring. Half a world away [from America]."
Although he knows that, in today's politically divisive climate, anything can be made into a hot-button issue, Niemann hopes "Old Glory" can be bigger than its listeners' political affiliations. "It came 100 percent from the bottom to the top of my heart," he says.
"In country music, just the same as in our military, there's suits and there's boots. And I trust the boots every time. Because we've got a bunch of old wealthy attorneys, who should be our sages and our leaders, waking up every morning with a silver spoon in their mouths, making our decisions and riling up everybody," Niemann continues. "I could give a rat's a-- about any of them. It's all about these people I know."
"Old Glory" isn't a normal part of an album cycle, but Niemann says its message was so important, it didn't matter to him how it fit into his career. "I felt this message was one that needed to be heard," he goes on to say. To that end, the country star was adamant about not using his own picture for the song's cover artwork; he wanted the message to stand alone and not be about him.
Niemann says he can see himself releasing more songs in the traditional, powerful country vein. His past singles have run the gamut from that territory to crossover, pop-heavy sounds.
"I just love country music, all versions of it," Niemann reflects. "As a creature of habit -- and this is probably a character flaw -- I always go with the opposite of what's out there, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
However, fans who like the stylistic leanings of "Old Glory" may have more to look forward to as Niemann's career progresses. "I love the vintage feel, and the rawness," he adds. "That's a direction I definitely could see myself heading in."
"Old Glory" was released on Friday (Oct. 12) and is available for download via iTunes.
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