Josh Gracin Takes On The Nashville Establishment – The 9513’s Exclusive Interview From CRS
Josh Gracin has been out of the spotlight for more than a year, but while on hiatus, he’s completely revamped his music career: Everything from his management to his record label to the music itself.
In this exclusive interview with The 9513, Gracin dishes about the transition to an independent label, his thoughts on Scott Borchetta and American Idol, and reveals, for the first time, a new vocal-crowdsourcing contest that will be taking place this spring.
PIERCE GREENBERG: It’s been a couple years since we’ve heard from you, and it always seems to be that way when there’s a change of labels. We know you haven’t been sitting around on your butt this whole time. Can you tell us what that transition period is like and what you’ve been up to?
JOSH GRACIN: I kind of had a unique situation. When I left Lyric Street, there really wasn’t any sort of failure. All the records that they shipped out of the second album, they sold them all. So, I think I left at a good point. We needed to part ways. They were looking one direction, I was looking another.
It was kind of scary not having a home, but I felt like it was the right choice at the time. I’m a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason,” and I think if I would have just released a third album, it would have been the same as the last two have been. And I wanted to change, I wanted to show people—especially coming off a show, where you have that talent show stigma on you—and I wanted to shatter that and let people know that I didn’t just wake up one day and say I want to sing. It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do forever.
I’ve been in the studio now with my new record label, Average Joe’s. It started out as a hip-hop label in Atlanta and he wanted to be more country. His first country artist was Colt Ford, and he’s done amazing things with Colt. He sold like 140,000 records in a year—with no radio airplay. So, that’s something I definitely wanted to be a part of because I’m very hands-on with my career.
So, I’ve been in the studio the past two and a half months, and not only have I written everything on the album, either by myself or co-written with a band member, not even a songwriter in Nashville—I’m producing also with my music director in the band. So they’ve given me full reign for me to have my hands on everything. That’s the way all my life, I function best that way. I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t like people to do things for me if I can do them myself. So, that’s where we’re at right now.
PG: Speaking of that switch to Average Joe’s, do you enjoy that smaller, more intimate label setting?
JG: There’s a huge misconception in Nashville. I’ve noticed one thing about Nashville is—especially with the bigger labels—is that they have to have a piece of everything and it tends to get in the way sometimes. And honestly, human nature, the law of nature—there’s a pecking order on the bigger labels and a lot of great artists fall by the wayside because of that. I think with the changing market in music, the music listener/lover/buyer is fed up with everything they’ve been getting fed lately. That has a lot to do with major labels trying to minimize costs and maximize profit at the cost of quality.
I wanted to prove to Average Joe’s that I could make a record for $60,000 that sounded like a $400,000 record. I’ve made $400,000 records and I felt we didn’t need to spend that much to make a good record. It depends on the songs, who’s producing and who the players are and that’s why I think independent labels are popping up all over the place.
Even if you are a big honcho at the label, you aren’t allowed to branch out and do what you want to do. For example, I have this song that I want to make a duet with a female artist. I haven’t been able to get any female artist to agree with it. Bigger labels all worry about the special interests and I get that for the most part, but then again, I’m not asking you to do anything but sing on it.
I asked a friend of mine from the second season of American Idol, Kim Caldwell, and she just came out and has a new single coming out. I asked her to sing on this thing and the label told her no. So, she was upset by that and I couldn’t tell her “take the reigns and do what you want to do” because she’s on a major label and I don’t want her to jeopardize her shot. It shouldn’t feel like every little step you make, you’re walking on pins and needles. We’re all human.
PG: As you mentioned, you’ve written a lot for this album and you’ve written a few songs in the past, but what can people expect from “your” songs?
JG: It’s sort of hard to talk about your songs without being egotistical and I really don’t want to do that because my mama would slap me! I grew up in Michigan outside of Detroit. I learned how to sing off of R&B and Motown music. I loved that stuff growing up. Country music really came to the forefront for me at about 12 or 13 because of Garth.
I’ve noticed after six years in Nashville that the music is great, but things go in a cycle here where all the music starts to sound the same. I’m not about that. I think what makes country music is different from what everybody in the industry thinks. The industry thinks if its country music, it’s got to have a fiddle and a steel and it can’t sound like a big pop performance and everything like that and my thing is that’s not what country music is about.
Just look at the 80s and Ronnie Millsap and guys like that. Kenny Rogers. They were country but their stuff wasn’t country by any means. But what was country was the content. The content of a song makes it country music. If you really listen to pop music or rock music, they don’t really tell a story. They don’t make sense sometimes—it just fits with the music. Whereas in country music, it tells a story, it takes place somewhere, there’s an event that’s going on that’s described… and it’s life. And I really try to do that with my writing.
It’s unfortunate, but if you look at the things out in the media, country music has kind of taken a back seat to other genres. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t feel like there’s a lot of vocalists on this side. They feel like country music can’t stand toe-to-toe with some of their vocalists in other formats. I think that’s absolutely ridiculous. I think there are great vocalists in country music—some of the best vocalists are in country music. I think country music really needs to rise up and stand up and show that we’ve got vocalists over here. And that’s what I really try to do with my writing.
PG: It’s interesting you bring up that vocalists point because of that little spat that was going on between Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and Kelly Clarkson. What is your stance on that whole thing?
JG: You know, I think Scott Borchetta is a brilliant man. When things were going bad at Lyric Street—and even before Lyric Street—I wanted to go where Scott Borchetta was. I just knew by talking with the man that he is a brilliant marketer, a brilliant promoter, and that’s what he’s done. But I felt, before you can make shots at something, you better know what you’re making shots at. Making shots at a TV show that’s based on vocal talent and vocal ability, is a wrong example to use, in my opinion.
To be honest, some of the things he’s worked with, wouldn’t have made it on the show at all. It’s not putting anything against anybody. We think that just because we’ve got money and we’ve got a push behind it and we’ve got some kind of marketing gimmick, then anything can happen. The American Dream is “anything can happen” but it needs to happen based on [your skills]. I think for him to make a statement like that is comparing apples to oranges.
Taylor is a remarkable writing talent, especially as young as she is and she can perform as well. She’s an entertainer. But focus on that—don’t focus on sparring with vocalists. I think he’s brought more light to the situation than he’s needed to.
PG: Going back to your music, I was listening to songwriter Kelley Lovelace speak last week and he said that it’s really tough to consider outside songs because you love your own songs. Is that tough for you? Do you try to strike a balance?
JG: It isn’t tough. I’m very critical of myself. I constantly have to ask people “are you sure this song is good?” The list of writers that I love to listen to goes on and on and on. But the problem in Nashville is that you have a pecking order, once again. You don’t get the songs that you should get because of whatever pier you’re on. I knew with this album it needed to be as good as it possibly could be. So, I went out there and wrote as much as I could. I really wanted to take it out of the realm of Nashville and try something different. And that’s what I’ve got.
What I really try to do is give a different variety. This is country music on this album, but it’s nothing like anybody has heard. It’s got a very soulful, very blues, very R&B vibe to it. I wanted to make an album that all types of people could listen to.
PG: The first single off your new album is going to be “Over Me.” Why was that one chosen to really launch your come-back?
JG: It’s a come-back, but it’s also “this is me.” This is what I’ve always been and never got a chance to show. I was scared to choose “Over Me.” We have a lot of good stuff on the album, but we wanted to come with the best lyrical example of me as a writer to really show people that I’m not just a kid on a show that can sing. I can write and I can produce.
I love the song, I think it’s one of the best we have, but I left it up to the people around me to make that decision. The reason that they gave me was lyrically and vocally they wanted to come out with the strongest song that would separate me from everything else out there.
PG: How do you feel about your fans in terms of the come-back? Do you think the fans will still be there?
JG: I do. That’s where the come-back thing gets kind of iffy. I feel like where I was before, there was a lot of disservice done. They didn’t capitalize about a lot of things they should have capitalized on. I’m still touring and I have the same turn-out—or better turn-out—since the last time I went there. The fans are still there—in fact, there’s more of them. I think that has a lot to do with the music that was released before. “Brass Bed,” “Nothin’ To Lose,” “We Weren’t Crazy”—all of those are still playing on the radio.
And with the internet now, people can still get the music if they want it. You’re still fresh in people’s minds. Especially with the show, every time American Idol comes back on, you get people interested in it. The word’s starting to spread again.
I try to keep my fans involved and make sure they have a sense of ownership and I think that’s what’s so great about the label I’m at right now. In fact, something we’re working on right now—you’re the first one I’m telling this: Because I couldn’t get Kim to do this duet, I came up with an idea that would get radio involved.
All of radio throughout the nation is going to be able to announce to listeners that we’re going to hold a contest for a listener to sing on my actual album on a song that probably will be a single on the radio. You know what—I got a shot on a talent show so why not use an avenue that I can use to give somebody else a shot? So basically, we’re out there searching for a female that wants to sing on an album and a song. I thought that would be a really cool thing to do.
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