Jacob. A biblical name. A common name. The name of Ty Herndon’s latest album.
No, Jacob is not the name of Ty’s son or brother, or his late father or grandfather. It is the name of the man who lost in a struggle with God, resulting in his new purpose as Israel – a role that completely rewrote the outcome of Jacob’s life. It’s also a name Ty gives to his struggles and triumphs – much of which is detailed in his aforementioned project released last month.
In 1995, Herndon released his first album, What mattered most. The chart-topping record was a success (especially the titular track), setting the Alabama-raised Herndon comfortably alongside other groundbreaking artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Then came the Herndon scandal.
A closeted gay man married to a woman and secretly plagued by a crystal meth addiction – Herndon calls his drug use medicinal, a method of numbing pain – he mistakenly exposed himself to an undercover police officer in Dallas one night.
Although incredibly traumatic, it would not be the last of his fights. In June of this year, People listed Herndon’s recurring struggles as the lyrics to “Twelve Days of Christmas”:
“In the 27 years since his arrest, he has bounced in and out of Nashville, on and off the charts, and in and out of rehab. He married two women, lived with three men, came out of the closet, relapsed three times, and battled crystal meth addiction for nearly three decades.
Either way, he persevered.
Today, Herndon still makes music. He’s also come out of the closet and elated about it (he’s currently looking for love after his decade-plus relationship ended), and he’s so proud of what he’s done and endured. He even changed the pronouns for one of his most famous songs, now singing it the way he wished he could sing it over 25 years ago. Plus, he’s incredibly happy to be his newborn nephew’s uncle.
SPIN spoke with Herndon about the origins of his new album, Getting Clean, and how his failures entirely helped him rewrite his future — much like Jacob.
SPIN: Can you explain where the motivation for the album and its name come from?
Ty Herndon: The idea came to me while I was in treatment for four beautiful months that changed my life. I was given a spiritual advisor – his name is Pastor Clint – and the first thing I asked him was “Do you believe gay people go to heaven?” He said “Absolutely”. And I was like, “Okay, then you and I can talk.”
He told me that my story reminded him a lot of Jacob, because Jacob saw so much adversity before he wrestled with God and realized he wasn’t going to win this game. None of us will. God gave Jacob a reminder of this, and he became a leader of his tribe – essentially changing his ending. I didn’t even know until then that I was going to make another record, but I said to Pastor Clint, “I had to wait for a slap because you just gave it to me. My next record will be called Jacob.”
What is your favorite song from the album? Which was the hardest to write?
It’s difficult, because the album has no filler. There were even three songs that we had to omit from the album, but those will be released later. I have to say my favorite song is probably “Til You Get There” because it’s a celebration of it all – of everything so far.
I wrote the song with Hector Montenegro, and it started out as a love song for my future self, wherever that was – because I had just gone through a very painful breakup with someone I thought was my eternal. You never know, and I guess the right person is always heading my way, but they have to hurry, whoever they are. [Laughs.]
I found out after recording the song twice that it was actually a love song for God and for myself. It was about all the work I had put in to finally feel joy, to feel better, to feel healed one day at a time.
“Say It For You” was probably the most difficult because it was a real start for me, especially with its Latin side.
The country music scene really champions heterosexual relationships. Did your education and your immersion in the country world make your coming out more difficult?
Sure. I mean, I was just a 10-year-old little cowboy from Alabama. I just wanted to fish and fit in like everyone else. I didn’t want to be gay – and it’s no shame for the LGBTQA community because I’m gay-gay-gay now [laughs] – but it was hard. I started singing when I was 7 and didn’t get my first record deal until I was 30 because a lot of trauma and baggage held me back.
Were there ever times before you came out where you were asked about your sexuality or were you afraid of being exposed?
Oh yes. It got to the point where the record company was calling my mom like, “Hey, do you think you could make Ty not go to gay bars at night?” But it was literally the only place I could go with my partner, and that’s all I could give him for 14 years.
When did you know your drug use had gotten out of hand?
I don’t think I really knew at any time because I was in so much pain. The trauma I clung to was like quicksand or tar, and I was just surviving. Drugs and alcohol were more like medicine. I didn’t even feel high when I was using it, just felt better. But then you start to disappear in small amounts.
You have seen many ups and downs in your life. What do you think are some of your proudest moments?
I am extremely proud to come out. Also, the day my nephew was born was one of the proudest moments of my life. He’s my little champion. I also have a brand new podcast coming out, and my first guest will be Leanne Rhymes. It’s a chance for artists to act as teachers, to explain how they raise positive voices and drown out negative voices, and how they implement this in their daily lives. It is primarily designed for newcomers to better navigate the trials and tribulations of this business.
Would you like to add anything else?
Well, I’m currently looking for a boyfriend, so…