Steeped in the white lines, black tar and diesel smoke of the American highway, Tough As Nails—the latest LP from Craig Gerdes—is raw and real, a document of a road-tested band fast on the rise. Ever since the central-Illinois songwriter released his lauded 2018 debut LP, Smokin’ Drinkin’ & Gamblin’—and right up until the current pandemic—he’s been on tour almost constantly, playing upwards of 150 shows per year, including opening slots and festival support for top country and Americana artists from Tyler Childers and Paul Cauthen to Jamey Johnson and Cody Jinks, as well as a lengthy run with hard-rocker-turned-country-star Aaron Lewis.
Sit with him for five minutes and you’ll know that Gerdes is a natural-born storyteller. Really, Tough as Nails (out April 24) is a documentary in album form. It deals with real people, real places and real struggles, collected along the Interstate as Gerdes and his band played an endless parade of one-night stands. New single “Pennies, Feather and Dimes,” premiering today at Vents, was written as a tribute to our departed ancestors, family and friends.
Hi Craig, welcome to VENTS! Tell us about your latest single “Pennies, Feathers and Dimes.” What inspired you to write the song?
I was eating supper with my family one night and we were talking about being visited in our dreams by loved ones who have passed on, and the different ways they try to communicate with us. I thought it was a really relatable concept for a song, so I got up from the table, went out to my garage and wrote it right then and there.
The single comes off your new album Tough As Nails—what’s the story behind the title?
That song was written from multiple conversations I had about different people from all over America overcoming struggles in their lives. It’s about people I met—an ex-steel worker from Pennsylvania, an out-of-work coal miner from Alabama, a veteran dealing with PTSD in Ohio, a teenage girl with a drug addiction trying hard to stay clean. Tough as Nails is a testament to fighting for your ideals, taking your blows and persevering in the toughest of times.
What was the recording and writing process like for this album?
A lot of the songs were written while I was on the road playing shows from town to town, so there’s a lot of highwayman and real-life reality in the songs. I was very proud of the actual recording process this time because it was the first time I actually took my road band in the studio to capture a “live” sound, and I think we achieved that.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I always try to be observant—sights, sounds and smells make me think of certain things. I’m always intrigued by different people’s life stories, what they’ve gone through or are going through. I find a lot of inspiration in other people.
How does being from small-town Illinois influence your music?
Well, it taught me how to dream. As a young kid I often imagined what life was beyond the corn and bean fields of Illinois, so at a young age I was using my imagination to put myself in different places and scenarios, which I think helped shape me as a songwriter down the road.
How difficult has it been to be off the road in the midst of this pandemic, and how are you coping with it?
It’s definitely different! We are used to constantly traveling from town to town and making our living on the road so it’s been quite a change, but it has given me time to reflect and spend time with family at home, and I’m always good with that.
What is happening next in Craig Gerdes’ world?
We’re definitely looking forward to getting back out on the road, and promoting the new album. This down time has allowed me to do some more writing, so we are working on releasing a new single as we speak. “Pennies, Feathers and Dimes” will be available everywhere this Friday, April 14.