Josh Turner Interview – “I won’t lie, it’s been a gut-punch”
Today (August 21) multi-platinum-selling country star, Josh Turner releases his new studio album, “Country State Of Mind”, a musical masterpiece of classic songs featuring the music of the legends he has always looked up to. Just two days earlier, he spoke to Six Shooter Country’s Alison Dewar about releasing the album during the pandemic, getting to grips with the challenges of social media, playing his first gig in five months and talking about what he wants his legacy to be.
Congratulations on the new album, I really enjoyed it, those classic country artists are a lot of the people I grew up on and I particularly loved Midnight in Montgomery and The Caretaker.
Oh good, I’ve enjoyed not only making this record but being at the stage now where I get to talk about it a lot, because this is a passion of mine and it has been since I was a teenager. I’ve always been a student of country music and even after all these years I’m still discovering songs I’ve never heard, artists I’m not familiar with, so that speaks to me volumes because, for my fans, that means there’s plenty for them to learn too.
I know a lot of our fans are educated in country music but the younger fans coming up, sometimes they have a tendency to believe that country music is one type of music, I’ve tried to explain to them that there is so many different styles within country music, that they can learn about and learn from, and kind of dive into and enjoy. One of the goals of this record was to not just put on Islands In The Stream and Stand By Your Man – the recognisable country hits, I tried to dig a little deeper.
That was one of my questions, do you think music has become almost more disposable, people always want the ‘next big thing’ and are maybe less inclined to look back at the classics?
It can be, and it’s sad when it gets to be that way, but I think technology plays a part in that too. It’s kind of a double-edged sword because on one hand, there’s so much available to us when it comes to entertainment online and digitally and so…yeah, it’s easy to continuously just move on to the next thing. On the other hand, technology allows us to discover new artists and new music and when we find something that really resonates with us, that’s when the fans start buying the physical product. And if the fans are buying the physical product, that’s when I know they are true fans because they are making an investment, they are making it part of their life. It’s not just background music.
Talking about newer artists
The album features collaborations with newer artists, what stood out for you in choosing them?
I’ve done a lot of shows with Chris Janson, Runaway June and Maddie & Tae, and I’ve spent a lot of time on stage with them and backstage with them. First and foremost, all three of those artists are extremely talented. But beyond that, the thing I noticed about all three of them was they had an appreciation about where country music came from and for traditional country music, they are just genuinely good people, so I felt they were the right fit for this record and for these songs.
It was interesting because Chris Janson and I have actually sung Country State of Mind on stage before and that’s kind of what prompted me to bring him in on the song. It’s always been one of my favourite Hank Jr songs, but I couldn’t quit thinking about the time he and I performed it together and so that’s what led to that.
Then with Runaway June, I texted the girls and I said ‘hey would y’all be willing and interested to come in and sing on my record, I’m doing a version of the Patty Loveless song You Don’t Seem To Miss Me’, and within like 30 seconds, I get a text back from Jennifer Wayne saying ‘that’s literally one of my favourite songs of all time’….so I thought ‘well, I picked the right people then’. They came in and did an incredible job.
With Maddie & Tae, that song (Desperate) was written by Bruce Robison, one of my favourite Texas artists, and also covered by George Strait, who had a hit with it. With Maddie & Tae, with one of them being from Texas and one from Oklahoma, I felt they would really get that style of song and know what to contribute to it, so that’s why I chose them and I think I was right because they did an incredible job, they gave it exactly what it needed.
Speaking of the next generation of artists, I notice you gave a shout-out on social media to Mo Pitney with his new album…
Yeah, Mo and I share a management team and he has come out on the road with me and played some shows with me. He is a great guy, a family man, loves country music, bluegrass music, he’s very talented, I love being around Mo. He ends up hanging out on or around my bus, kinda picking my brains about different things and I love that because that’s what I want to see in the newer generation of artists, I want them to see what’s around them and I want them to be curious about the music that came before them and I want them to ask questions, and not just be in it for the money and the fame and the glory.
You’ve spoken about how little access you had to music education when you were younger, now you’re helping upcoming music and arts students through your scholarship fund, are you seeing the fruits of that coming through now?
You know, I’m not able to keep track of every single recipient of my scholarship fund, but I think it’s meant more to the parents than the students, I think the students don’t realise yet what impact it made and how big of a help it was. When I get to meet the parents, they’re like ‘thank you so much, you’ve taken a load off us financially’. So that’s been good for me to see how I helped in some small way for somebody to go to college and pursue music and art, it’s one of the first things that gets cut out of the school curriculum, so it’s good to try to encourage that.
When you’ve put an album to bed everything else happens…the marketing, the promos, the photography – stand here, look that way, wear this, wear that….do you actually enjoy all of it?
I enjoy all of it to an extent, because I realise especially now, after having done this since 2001, I know what’s involved to end up with the finished product. So there are days where it really feels like work and I’m ok with that, I’ve never been afraid of hard work, growing up on a farm, and doing manual labour, I know what it takes to get a job done. I’ve kind of relayed that way of thinking to my music.
I know whether it’s doing a video shoot, photoshoot, interviews all day long, shows back-to-back-to-back, whatever it is, I know what it takes. For some people it may seem mindless and meaningless when you’re in the thick of it, but I can see the big picture and I know kind of what we’re looking for. Especially now, with the experience I have, if I’m doing a photoshoot that’s going to take all day long, I want to make sure we’re getting the shots we need for the cover, for the back cover, I’m trying to think ahead to different things.
Even stuff like if I’m going to be using a picture for the prints that I sign and I’m selling at a show, I’ve gotta make sure there’s some space on there for me to put my autograph rather than just signing over my face. It’s little things like that that a lot of people don’t think about, my mind is always turning on what has to be done.
So you’re very hands on…
You’ve talked about how Hank Williams inspired Long Black Train, where else do you get your inspiration from when you’re writing?
It’s a variety of places. Listening to the music I love always inspires me, life in general. I’ve always been very observant about what is going on around me, I’m always hanging on to things that people say, because sometimes I don’t think they always realise how poetic they can be. They’ll say something and I’ll think…hmmm….that sounds like a song title…I might create something out of that. You just never know, people have to be careful when they’re hanging around me, I might write a song about it (laughter).
If you bounce off people and you haven’t been able to do that to the same extent, has it left you a bit bereft of ideas?
Well luckily, we have cell phones nowadays, so for me, even if I’m not able to sit down and write a song, the least I can do is type in the title idea into my phone and if I have a melody idea I can go to my little recorder and put it on there for future reference.
I’m always compiling ideas, there was probably a two year stretch where I just didn’t have the opportunity or the time to write, so I’ve had plenty of things to write about, I’ve finally gotten back into that in the last five months and it’s been great. I’ve had plenty to write about and it’s been good to kind of purge some of that.
I know your wife Jennifer and Hampton, one of your sons, have written with you before. Have you done more writing with the family?
No, they’ve been busier than I’ve been lately, they’ve been doing their own music thing but we have been talking about getting together and doing some writing together.
On legacies and socially distanced gigs
The album reflects you picking up on the legacy of the icons you’ve featured. What do you want your legacy to be?
It’s that age-old wisdom of take your job seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s one thing I’ve always tried to adhere by.
I’m very serious about my art, every time I go on stage or into a studio or do an interview, I want people to know that country music is something I do really love and it’s held a special place in my heart for a long, long time. It’s gotten me through a lot of hard times, it’s a hobby of mine, it’s something that makes me feel good physically and mentally.
I haven’t played a show in five months, I finally played a show just two days ago in Utah and it was incredible. I have never taken more than a month off in my whole career in almost 20 years and for me to come out of a five month hiatus because of the pandemic and to go out, not just the actual show, but the preparation, having to get in that frame of mind and get ready physically for going out and doing a show, it was so good for my soul to be able to go out and play for a crowd again. I think it was good for everybody, it’s something I really love.
I want my legacy to be that I treated everybody the same – that I loved what I did and I respected those who went before me and I try and encourage and lift up the ones that came after me. And that’s just professionally (laughs).
So was the Utah gig socially distanced, how did that work?
It was an outdoor amphitheatre, so we had that going for us. Myself and my guys all got tested for it (Covid-19), we all tested negative and instead of flying we took the bus all the way to Utah – 3400 miles round trip. As far as the audience was concerned, they had the seating set up where people were socially distanced and they strongly encouraged people to wear a mask and to follow all the guidelines. It was a little different, but people still had a great time and I think it was good for them to see live entertainment and it was good for me to play it.
Have you got more things lined up?
I’ve lost count, in the past few days I’ve had several more dates moved, I’ve probably had 70 dates moved this year. I won’t lie, it’s been a gut-punch, not just for me but for my guys and everybody that works for me and with me, and you can pretty much say the same for every artist in this town. Everybody is really struggling and looking forward to getting back to work.
Is there a lot of camaraderie between the artists, do you get together to bemoan your fate?
I have some friends I keep in touch with, but for the most part, everybody has their own schedule and goes their own way. It’s hard to get to see everybody as far as peers go but I’m very good friends with John Anderson, he and I talk probably on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and I keep in touch with guys like Chris Janson and Runaway June and different ones. It’s affected all of us and we’re all ready to kind of pull out of this.
Learning to live with social media and what to do on a day out in London
You had already put the album back a bit, but launching it now, did you feel you could maximise the interviews and the socials because you have that time?
Yeah, that’s been something I’ve had to come to terms with (laughs) whether I wanted to or not. I always kind of shunned the technology and the social media part of it, it just never felt personal, it never felt genuine to me, but when the shutdown happened with the pandemic, the only way I could interact with my fans was by way of social media. I’ve warmed up to it and I’ve tried to embrace it and we’ve tried use it to our advantage.
With this record coming out, we pushed the release back a month to allow us more time. We had a lot of things early on, like the photoshoot, that we were having trouble making deadlines because of the virus stuff. I think it’s going to be one for the history books for sure. I’ve never released a record under these circumstances, hopefully we’ll see some good return out of it because I feel like I’ve been doing stuff every single week since the shutdown happened to try and promote the record.
When did you start working on it?
I started last fall, actually I had been in the studio the day I had to fly out to England.
The Union Chapel gig was phenomenal, plus of course you were at The Long Road, your first trip to Europe…
Yeah, my first trip, it was funny because everything that was told to me was the English audiences are very reserved, if they don’t respond in a way that seems warm and embracing, just note that they’re listening intently and they still like you. Everyone was prepping me for like, a dead crowd and I was bracing myself for that. I get introduced, I hadn’t even made it to the mic stand and people were already throwing babies in the air, it was incredible, the whole night.
Then we played to a sold-out crowd in Manchester, same thing there, the crowd was just so energetic and excited to see me, and The Long Road, and all the meet and greets. It wasn’t just people from England, which kind of surprised me, it was people from neighbouring countries who came to meet me just because I was in close proximity. That made me feel good and I was not only just reaching the English fans but everybody in the surrounding countries too.
Crowd aside, what was the one thing you went home and said to the family ‘you’ll never guess this…’
Honestly, I’m such a big fan of history. I spent two days at the British Musuem. If they could set me up a little cot, I would probably just live there for a while. That was incredible, getting to see the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra’s Mummy and all that stuff, you know, it was so fascinating. I had been there the first day when I was seeing the sights in London, but you can’t see it all in one trip, so I ended up back there the next day with one of my band guys and got to see the rest of it. That was fun for me.
I couldn’t let you go without asking if were you a fan of the Dukes of Hazzard?
I am, always have been and that’s exactly why I put Good Ol’ Boys on this record. I was trying to come from a lot of different perspectives and one of those was I need to find a song that even non-country music fans would recognise. The first thing I thought of was TV – is there a song from TV that people from all walks of life would have seen and heard, and then I thought of the Dukes of Hazzard, and I was like, I love Waylon (Jennings), I love that song, I love that show and we’ve got to do it.
For your final question, …you mentioned earlier you’re writing, so where do you go from here?
Well, I am writing towards the next project and I know what the next project is but I’m not allowed to say. I’ll have to keep you in suspense until next time. (laughter)
That’s good to hear, but I guess that’s going to be 2021 at least?
At least, yeah…
Josh, that’s brilliant, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and I appreciate your time.
My pleasure, thank you Alison, bye.
Josh Turner’s new album ‘Country State of Mind’ is released on Friday 21st August 2020. You can read our review here.
‘Country State of Mind’ is available on Apple Music.