He’s a strapping 6-foot-2 with biceps the size of ham hocks, but Joe Nichols has met his match: two little girls who can effortlessly knock him off his feet.
Yes, he says, he can’t resist getting on the floor to play Disney princess with daughters Dylan, 5, and Georgia, 3. And, yes, he confirms to PEOPLE: “We do paint the nails. They’ve painted my toenails, my fingernails.”
Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and the 40-year-old country artist says he’s loving every minute of it – except for one thing.
“There’s no pain worse than stepping on a [princess] figurine at 2 o’clock in the morning on your way to the refrigerator,” Nichols moans. “Ohhh my gaaawd!”
The stray Moana not withstanding, Nichols is thoroughly enjoying the fruits of a life filled with family, a busy touring schedule, and now a brand-new album, Never Gets Old, his first in four years.
After dabbling with a more contemporary sound on his last album – which produced the No. 1 hit “Sunny and 75” – Nichols is returning to his traditional roots with this latest outing, which debuts Friday. All the tunes come with a twang, but there’s a track for every mood, including a countrified PG-13 version of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s raunchy 1992 rap “Baby Got Back.”
What started as a goofy joke on stage one night, Nichols explains, has turned into a tongue-in-cheek “mainstay” that his fans have come to expect in his show – a fact that has even Nichols shaking his head.
What was he thinking to put it on the record?
Nichols laughs. “I would ask me the same thing,” he says.
Still, the album’s most recurrent sentiment is romance, and no song is more touching (or toe tap-worthy) than its first single, the title track, which celebrates enduring love. It earned its spot, Nichols says, with his wife Heather’s approval, and – no coincidence – “it reminds me of Heather quite a bit.”
“We’ve known each other for 20-plus years and she never gets old,” he says. “I’ve grown so close to her now, I think she’s as beautiful now as she ever was.”
The couple’s story is familiar to country fans – how they met in 1995 but didn’t marry until 12 years later, and then how they suffered a devastating series of miscarriages before Dylan was born in 2012. Georgia arrived two years later. (Nichols also has an 18-year-old daughter, Ashelyn, from a previous relationship who is a dean’s list student at the University of Tennessee.)
A day doesn’t pass, Nichols says, when he doesn’t reflect on what his wife endured to become a mother. “She taxed her body beyond reason,” he says, recalling with awe “the heartbreak and the drive, the fortitude to keep going and getting us what we wanted – a family.”
The result, in Nichols’ mind, are “two little personalities” that fought their way into the world.
Dylan, he says, is the expressive one who “draws great pictures” and loves to make up songs (that “don’t make any sense,” he adds with a chuckle). He describes Georgia as stubborn and determined with a bit of an old man’s “crotchety” streak, particularly when it’s time to get up in the morning.
No doubt Dad is wrapped around two sets of tiny little fingers. “I love being around my children so much,” he says, “that it kind of hurts bad to go on the road.”
So much so, Nichols says, that his family joins him on his tour bus for any stretch that keeps him from their Tyler, Texas, home more than four or five days.
“We all cram in there, and it’s uncomfortable at times, but at least I get to spend time with them,” he says. “I don’t want to miss these years.”