David Nail Says He Was ‘A Ticking Time Bomb’ Before Facing His Depression
David Nail can't remember the first time he had depression, but he knew something was bubbling beneath the surface and needed to be addressed.
Nail went public with his depression battle in 2014, after reaching country music success with hits like "Let it Rain," "Red Light" and "Whatever She's Got." But none of those highs mattered as he came to terms with the fact that he was living with a mental illness.
"I think selfishly, the reason why I went public is because I knew that it was probably the worst kept secret in town," he shares in an intimate interview with Taste of Country. "I think once you start getting to even a remotely positive place, you're kind of battling that, 'I really was an a--hole.'"
Raised in Kennett, Mo., Nail describes how he grew up during a time when mental health was stigmatized — it was something you didn't openly discuss.
"I grew up in a town where that certainly was frowned upon. That would have been entirely viewed as a weakness or, 'Man, get happy, what do you have to be miserable about?'" he says, "Which is absolutely the worst thing you can do to a person like that."
Over the years, signs of Nail's depression would arise in subtle, but stark ways. He's honest when recalling how friends told him he was "miserable" to be around and, quite frankly, a "heavy burden."
"And I was," he admits.
After his diagnosis, Nail's wife Catherine took it upon herself to research the disease, educating herself through books about mental health and depression. The "Forgiveness" singer argued that while reading such books may help her understand mental illness, they couldn't tell her husband's story of living with depression. "That book's written about somebody else, and everybody's book is different. My book hasn't been written yet," he told her.
So Nail began to tell his story himself, after beginning therapy. The sense of peace he felt after his first session inspired him to publicize his mental health struggles, knowing that unloading his burdens and inner demons would be cathartic.
"I remember walking out of my therapist's office the first time and it was super heavy. I probably burned a thousand calories just sitting there because my heart was racing so bad," he says, recalling it as if a literal weight had been lifted off his shoulders. "And as you grow more and more comfortable with that process and the person, it's amazing all the things that you dig up that you never really knew bothered you before, and I just felt this freedom — I felt lighter. I'd held so much of this stuff in and I was, in essence, a ticking time bomb."
Nail's artistic outlet for his new self discovery? Music. "Oh, Mother," the title track from his latest EP, plays out the conversation he never had with his mom before he went public about his depression. The seed of the song was planted when Nail's mother called his wife, expressing the pain and guilt she felt over her son's mental illness because she believes she was partially to blame for it.
"Like any mother would be, she was heartbroken and she was sad for me and she just couldn't quite understand why it was that I thought the way I did, or why I felt the pain that I did and that was always a heavy thing to wear around," Nail says. "The fact that my mother in any way shape or form would feel any sort of blame for how I was as a person was really hard to deal with, and it was something that I knew I always wanted to write about."
"Mother / Ain't nothing that you did / Nothing that you said / Just all I've ever known / I'm on my way to California / I just need to see the sun / Ain't so much about the weather / But the demons I just can't outrun," he tells her in the song with painstakingly raw vocals.
"In this song, that was me saying, 'I'm on my way to this place that I hope that I really am going to depend on turning things around for me,'" he describes. "It broke my heart to write a song like that, but I always tell people depression, mental illness is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. But the difference is, now I know that it's not this quicksand that I'm going to be in for three, four, five months at a time."
"Oh, Mother" was a "monumental shift" in his career, Nail says. Think of it as his musical North Star, pointing him in the direction of who he truly is as an artist. With a recent EP and other new music he has in the works, Nail is writing songs that "mean something," he says — the kind that take courage and confidence to put out into the world.
Unafraid to get personal with his music or share topics he may have previously deemed "too heavy," Nail gravitates to songs that reflect who he is at the core, and he's ready to show the world exactly who that is.
"There's so many songs that I've recorded that I feel like there's people that haven't heard them that need to hear them," he says. "I feel like there's people out there that don't know who David Nail is, that need to."