Josh Gracin Takes On The Nashville Establishment – The 9513’s Exclusive Interview From CRS

Pierce Greenberg | February 25th, 2010


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-2JOSH 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.

3 Pings

  1. [...] Average Joe’s, and is apparently working on an album of songs he’s written according to this recent [...]
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  1. Matt C.
    February 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    It’s a sad state of affairs when Josh Gracin is considered anti-establishment.

  2. Noeller
    February 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    “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.”

    I read that quote, and immediately braced for the incoming hurricane of traditionalists on this site. Yikes!!

  3. Brady Vercher
    February 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    They were country but their stuff wasn’t country by any means.

    So we’re being sold on the idea that what makes country music country is solely based on the content of the lyrics, but then he turns around and essentially defines it as a particular sound that he doesn’t want to incorporate himself, yet he still wants to be considered a country artist. Hmm.

  4. Noeller
    February 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    yeah – big “hmmmm” from me too. I was none too pleased with a lot of what he had to say.

  5. Dan
    February 25, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Props to Scott for being willing to call out the almighty Scott Borchetta. He’s dead on the money. Need the proof? Check out www taylorswiftcantsing com.

  6. Becky
    February 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Josh is an amazing singer with true talent. His performance live are just as good as he sounds on the radio, he doesn’t use “help” like other artist. So say what you want, but at least this is a true talented singer.

  7. Kim
    February 25, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I love the idea of the radio contest…i just wish i had a good singing voice to be able to do it. i may make my friend do it. she has a amazing voice! cant wait for Josh’s new cd to come out!!!

  8. stormy
    February 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Dan: After watching his whole season of AI, I’m not convinced Josh can sing live either.

    Matt: I don’t think that he’s anti-establishment so much as he is “have to pretend I belong outside the establishment because they won’t let me in.”

    Anyone else get the feeling that we are about a year away from Rascal Flatts covering F* This Town?

  9. Pierce
    February 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Brady – In his defense, I think some things get lost in translation. They simply sound better spoken, but look strange on paper. His point is pretty clear: he has a wide wide definition of country music and believes that a lot can be under that country umbrella.

    Whether you agree with that or not is another story.

  10. Steve M.
    February 25, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Since I have never watched American Idol, I can honestly say I have never heard of him. And judging from his comments, I don’t seem to be missing much.

  11. Sue Roberts
    February 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I think Josh Gracin is a great singer and puts on an awesome show . I am very excited about the new CD . I have met Josh three times and trust me he’s the real deal. I think for ones bashing , your just jealous . Get over it !!!!!!

  12. Brady Vercher
    February 25, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the interview, and get the gist of what he’s saying in that answer, it just doesn’t sound well thought out–whether I agree with his personal definition or not.

  13. Betty
    February 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    I think Josh Gracin is a great singer! He was my favorite on American Idol. He sounds great live!!I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live 3 times and I’m going to see him again March 5th.

  14. Ashley
    February 25, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Josh, you are an amazing person with GREAT vocals! I cannot wait for your new album to come out. I have been a fan every since your audition on AI way back when and have continued to follow! I wish you nothing but the best!!!

  15. Jon
    February 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    His point is pretty clear: he has a wide wide definition of country music and believes that a lot can be under that country umbrella.
    Whether you agree with that or not is another story.

    well,yeah – you can either agree that a lot can be fit under that umbrella or you cn be wrong ;-). The problem is that folks like Gracin want to have it both ways – a very big umbrella but still some overarching point of identity – so they come up with silly stuff about “stories” and what-not. Instead of just saying “this is where I feel comfortable and connected” and explaining the particulars of why.

  16. stormy
    February 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Steve: He also lost a push up contest to Simon Cowell.

  17. Steve M.
    February 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Is that a good or bad thing? Other then “Cops”, I have become violently anti-reality TV.

  18. Kristen C
    February 26, 2010 at 12:29 am

    I think Josh is an amazing singer and sounds better live than most others. He puts on one hell of a show. Cant wait to hear the new CD Josh You ROCK!!

  19. Heather
    February 26, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Interesting. I’m a huge Josh fan, but he’s been real quiet since he was dropped last summer. I got to talk to him about it right after it happened, it was a mess at the time. He was not pleased at how they had treated him. But it’s definitely for the good. They hadn’t done anything for him for years, he was practically an indie artist anyways, since they never promoted him, and scrapped his entire second album and redid it with random covers and filler. Good to know what he’s up to. I hope it all works out well for him.

    To those that doubt his live performance go see him! He’s a million times better than he was on Idol. He’s by far the best live performer I’ve seen in a long time. I think I’ve been to 15 or so of his shows. He has a big live show following. Far better than anything you’ll ever get on an album from him. (or at least youtube him!)

    And as far as it not sounding “thought out” really he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed haha. But everything aside he’s very worth to be in the country music industry, he’s a great talent with a great voice.

  20. Mylene
    February 26, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Ever since I heard Josh Gracin’s music, I fell in love with country music. And yes, country music is different from other genre – it tells a story. I’m happy to hear that Josh has changed to an independent record label to work on his own. Love his recent single “Over Me” . . .can’t wait for his upcoming album!

  21. Rob G.
    February 26, 2010 at 2:41 am

    So here is my 2 cents. I’ve never been a fan of ‘written interviews’, I prefer video. It just seems to get a more real feel for me. That said, I am a HUGE Josh supporter and behind him 110%. I have been up & down the east coast for a total of 13 shows in less than 2 years. Wanna know real people…I’ve had @ least 8 m&g after shows with NO fan club to pay to join! And when he sees me, he ALWAYS take the time to acknowledge me. Whether @ a show, m&g, or even in the hotel! So, yes he is a great guy, but can he sing? Go check out the show… I’ve heard him do a good job with a 45 minute setlist with the oncoming of strep, & if he’s not sick… GAME ON!!!

  22. ginnie b
    February 26, 2010 at 6:06 am

    What Josh said in this interview is no different than some of the prominent singers have said, either in words or through their songs. One of the responders to this interview said..the problem is that folks like gracin…well, take a look around and listen. It doesnt matter whether its about a song, its lyrics, music or something in everyday life, who doesnt want the ability to spread their wings and try something a little “off center”? A lot of country songs have a different tone to them now, but the thing that doesnt change are the lyrics and how they are translated to the people listening on the radio or sitting in a seat at a concert.
    Where I live we dont get a chance to have country music concerts around here. I have, though, made it to various concerts at Mohegan Sun to see many artists, and I have to say that Josh Gracin puts on as good a show as many others. He never fails to take the time to show his appreciation for his fans and his music shows a lot of soul when he is live. As far as his previous label..I listen to many of those artists and Rascal Flatts, I believe, are really the only ones that will have the exposure needed to really bring their music out to their fans. Nothing against Rascal Flatts, i love their music for the most part, but sounding more and more the same. Just went to one of their concerts..great show, but they are the lucky ones because of the way Lyric Street represents them. I feel bad for some of their other artists because they arent really given a chance after awhile.
    I believe Josh Gracin has an unbelievable future ahead of him in he is given a chance. As said by previous writers, his concerts are great and he is definitely in the moment and gives all he has.
    Hopefully, he will get this well-deserved chance.
    The only thing I will say to Josh is this…Show them with your music because things that you say will always be torn up and changed around by others who are too close minded to see where you are coming from. Yes, we all need to stay within the “safe zone” in whatever walk of life you are in, but we are also individuals who need to show why we are not exactly like the next person. Wishing Mr. Gracin much luck and success in his coming adventures.

  23. Kerry S
    February 26, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I was there from the start for Josh, when he played in NYC for his album release & I will be there again for this album. If an artist is good to his fans, his fans will always be there for him, big record label or small. Between Twitter & Facebook music is getting out to the fans anyways.

  24. Katie
    February 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I think that Josh is completely right!! The new song “Over Me” is absolutely FANTASTIC!! I know that I’ll be first in line at midnight to get the new CD just like i was for the last one!! Josh you have a loyal fan right here…I’ll be here loving your music for years to come!!!!!!!

  25. USMCSarah
    February 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard an artist who wasn’t mediocre. There isn’t any voice that stands out to me, with one exception. Josh Turner. His bass vocals are simply amazing.

    But what really turns Gracin to me is the love of music he has. His perseverance in his music career is commendable. I’ve never been to one of his shows, hopefully I’ll have the chance to go to one soon.

    I think, that what makes a great artist, isn’t soley based on voice alone. It’s the way they present themselves, and the outcome of their performances. Josh Gracin doesn’t quit. And that’s what makes him good at what he does. The lyrical content of his songs is astounding. Just listen to them. I think that is what good country music is about. It has soul. I don’t believe that other genre’s of music can say that. Josh Gracin’s music has tremendous amounts of soul.

  26. Stormy
    February 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    February 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm Permalink I don’t think I’ve ever heard an artist who wasn’t mediocre. There isn’t any voice that stands out to me, with one exception. Josh Turner.

    That is one of the saddest things I have ever read. We have to help Sarah find better music.

    Artist 1: Shelby Lynne.

  27. Chris N.
    February 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Gotta hand it to her, “The only non-mediocre artist ever is Josh Turner” is among the more daring statements I’ve ever heard about anything.

  28. Anna L
    February 27, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I have had the great pleasure of meeting Josh and hanging out with him! My best friend and I have seen 15 shows in a very short amount of time. We believe in Josh and he is an extremely patient and caring man, he is always taking time out of his schedule to come say hi to his fans, to give them hugs or to just say thank you. He is always humble and never judges his fans or anyone else. Josh deserves so much more than what he was given at Lyric Street, I think that LS gave too much to Rascal Flatts and not enough to their “other artists.” Josh is going to be a huge, Garth Brooks kind of star one of these days and those non believers will have to deal with us fans saying “told you so” Josh, if you read this, we all think this and have complete and utter faith in you, cant wait for the new album. I know I will not be the only one waiting in line the day it comes out… See YAAAAA!!!!!

  29. Larry Estep
    February 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    I think Josh did the right thing for the right reasons and he should be very proud for doing his own thing. He is a great artist and I think he can only continue to go up from here.

    Hey Josh have you thought about asking Crystal Shawanda to do the duet with you?

  30. Amanda M
    February 27, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Josh Gracin is the best artist in country music. His live concerts are the best and even when he is sick, he still sing for his fans. He is a true fan artist. I have love him and his music since 2004 and I would not talk badly about him.

    To the one that talk badly, you need to see him in concert first before voicing your opinion. If you don’t like his music, don’t listen to it.

  31. stormy
    February 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    How am I supposed to go to his concert without listening to his music?

  32. Steve M.
    February 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Earplugs. Or lots of pot, which might very well help.

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