The country singer, who opened for the starlet, gets ready to head out on his headlining tour
Credit: Reid Long

Coming back to work after a little time off isn’t easy for anyone.

Just ask David Nail, who kicked off his 22-city, headlining I’m a Fire tour last week.

“I was starting to get used to being home. I just lay on the couch and nap,” he tells PEOPLE. “[My wife] Catherine is teaching school and she’d give me a couple errands to do, but I’m so ADD I can only knock out two in an afternoon.”

But now it’s time to get back to business and Nail, 35, couldn’t be more excited. “We’ve worked hard this year, more than I ever have,” he says. “I still get nervous before a show. [Baseball manager] Tony La Russa told me if you stop feeling nervous before you go out there, you might as well quit.”

In the five years since the release of his first album, I’m About to Come Alive, Nail says he’s picked up a thing or two about headlining a tour as the opening act for artists including Taylor Swift, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum.

“The last night out with Darius he put his arm around me and said, ‘If you’ve learned anything at all from us, I hope it’s how to treat people,'” says Nail. “He and his people treat everybody well, it’s a pleasure to be on his tour.”

Lady Antebellum’s attention to detail and goal to improve every show also left an impression.

“They are constantly tweaking. I had always felt like sound check was just you go out there, that sounds good, my job is done. Lady A does really long sound checks, they’re so intense about it. They go over what happened the night before, what went right, what fell a little flat, what could be done differently. The first time we went out with them they were coming off days of rehearsal, but after the first night they changed several things. They’re always out there trying to make things better for their audience.”

Nail also learned what not to do. “When we were out with Taylor Swift I’d watch the show and all I could think was ‘Man, there’s so much room for error!’ How you’re able put 100 percent into your performance like she does, singing and walking down steps that are two feet wide and have no railing, it seems like there are too many things that could go wrong. She makes it look easy.”

Nail says he prefers to keep his set simple. “Bridges, steps and ramps are a recipe for disaster for somebody like me,” he jokes. “I don’t do any tricks. I’m scared to death of heights. Sometimes I’ll look down off the stage and I’ll get freaked out. I try not to get too close to the edge.”

As for his new, scruffier look, “it’s part laziness,” Nails explains. “I started cutting my hair real short on the sides because there was so much gray in it, but when it grew back, it seemed like there was always more. I asked the woman who cuts it if it was true that cutting it off means it grows back double. She said no, it just means you re going gray. You can’t run from it or cut it away. Now there s gray in my beard too and that s kind of alarming.”

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