Josh Turner Is Ready To Go Haywire
With his first single, 2003’s “Long Black Train,” Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Josh Turner enthralled country fans with his distinctive voice and deeply-moving songs about real, rural life. Since then, he’s issued three albums, all of which have been certified gold or better. His fourth album, Haywire, furthers his reputation as one of the leading men in contemporary country, a true, traditional voice in an ever-changing Nashville scene. In this interview with The 9513, Turner speaks about the sources of inspiration for his new album, his views on the current country landscape and his plans for a standout 2010.
BLAKE BOLDT: Why Haywire as the title of your newest album?
JOSH TURNER: The most obvious thing is there’s a song on the album called “Haywire.” It’s a song about this country girl that’s making me go haywire, you know, because she’s hot. It’s a pretty deep song. (Laughing) Other than that, with titling the record, judging from the titles of the songs on the record and getting away from the subject matter of the song, “Haywire” felt pretty relevant as to the world right now and my life, too. Last year I was making this record, I had my second child born in June, I was out on the road, I moved into a house and have been building a log cabin for me to write in. It was kinda haywire really. It kinda spoke to my life and also to what was happening in the world.
BB: What was your approach to songs this time around in terms of following that theme?
JT: If I had to sum it up, it would be energy, a lot of positive energy. It’s an album that’s full of songs that will make people dance. There’s a lot of passion there. Vocally, I stepped out of my box more; I let ‘er rip and you can hear that on a lot of different songs, whether it be a ballad or an uptempo. Basically, the theme of this record is taking people’s minds off the economy and all that.
BB: “Why Don’t We Just Dance” has firmly planted itself within the top ten. As your career rolls along, is it harder to find songs that will stick with country radio?
JT: Yeah, it’s changing every month, you know. You can kinda see the changes in the trends and what people are digging and what not. You never know what radio’s going to play. I mean, look at my career–every song that’s been a hit for me has been very different, from an old-timey, old-fashioned gospel country song to a real fast, bluegrass song to a fun song like “Firecracker.” You never know what’s going to work. You just follow your heart and go with your gut and you have to be in touch with your fans and listen to what they’re saying.
BB: The story of how your first single, “Long Black Train,” came about is a famous one. How do you keep the inspiration alive in terms of your songwriting?
JT: I’m in the process of building a log cabin on our property, strictly a place for me to write. It’s gonna be my little writer’s cottage and it’s extremely important to me, just for my music stuff and to have co-writers come over and for me to be away from the TV, the computer and the phone and allow myself to be musical and creative. It’s where I can let inspiration find me. That’s a big key for me in the near-future. When this writer’s cottage is finished, it should be a great atmosphere, with papers thrown everywhere. (laughs) I really don’t have that place right now to see it all through and think.
BB: Your songs stem from very specific experiences–your faith, family and love for rural living; How do you put new twists on old ways?
JT: Say it in a different way, I guess. Talk about these timeless concepts with new words. The great storytellers have done that throughout the years. I always think of Jerry Clower–he went out on stage, would take a real-life situation and told a story in a different way and made it funny. When I’m going in to make a record, I think “How can I make a traditional country record–one that 13, 14, 15 year-olds would be interested in?” When I write a song like “Eye Candy”–you know, that term wasn’t around ten years ago–this girl is extremely beautiful and how many songs have talked about beautiful girls? It’s finding a new way to say it.
BB: Your deep, rumbling baritone is one of country music’s finest instruments. How have you learned to use it in different ways since when you first started?
JT: I’m always trying to improve upon what I’ve done before. This time I decided to show off a different side of myself and my voice for this record. We had the songs that were going to allow me to do that, whether it be a gospel song, a love ballad, an uptempo song that makes you dance–it didn’t matter what kinda song it was. It challenged me; I’m not gonna say it was easy. I could’ve done these songs in a standard, unoriginal kinda way. I tried to match what the song was trying to say. There’s a song on here called “All Over Me” that’s so rhythmic, so different from the demo version. When I went in there, we had to reinvent the melody and allow my voice to work with it. It’s like trying to fit in gears in a transmission, right where they need be. I had to kinda really make it different.
BB: With almost ten years under your belt, are there any parts of your career that you would have done differently?
JT: In the end, looking back I’m fine with the way things are. There are always going to be little things, but I hope I can teach somebody else about how they should go about certain situations. One of my mentors is John Anderson; I’d always been a fan of his and we struck up a friendship. We’ve gone and written together, sung together, eaten together, shot guns together. During that time he’s been able to share with me a lot of things. John’s the epitome of an artist; he has not received the credit he deserves as a singer and he’s written or co-written so many of his songs. He’s had highs and lows and he’s seen it all. It helps keep certain things in perspective.
I won’t ever forget when “Everything Is Fine” stalled on the chart. I was so bummed because I just knew that song had potential to be a #1 song. Soon after that, I went and wrote with him and I was still talking about it. He said that you have to remember–there’s still a lot of people that have heard that song. He was absolutely right. I went out on the road pretty soon after and from the first line of song crowd would go applauding for it. I don’t know if I just heard them because John had said that, but they were enjoying it. So it doesn’t mean that a song isn’t heard by the people just because it went to #20 on the charts. It was good wisdom.
BB: I asked you to look back into the past, and now I want you to look into the future? What’s your primary goal moving forward?
JT: This year I wanna get a new start. I wanna get this new music out there and go and play for some new fans. I wanna get this writer’s cottage ready and start stockpiling my songs for the future. I wanna get in the good graces of radio and gatekeepers and the decision-makers. Most important, I’ve kinda come to the point where I’m going to make a conscious effort to do it (music) because I love it. There are so many people out there that wish they were doing what I was doing and I’m very grateful.
BB: Does country music’s progression more towards the mainstream concern you?
JT: Yes and no. I have mixed feelings about that. I think the youthful part is a good thing because that’s the future of our business, the future of our industry. Those fans will be looking back into their past and saying “When I was growing up, I loved Josh Turner,” and hopefully they’re saying, “I still love Josh Turner.” (Laughs) The youthful side is a good thing. I think some of the things you hear on the radio in terms of song selections or some of the singers you hear–I’m not exactly convinced most of these songs will be around 20-30 years from now and I’m not sure the singers have what it takes to have a long career. And I think fans can figure out who’s going to last and they’re quick to forget about those who won’t. Certain artists out there have that understanding and others, well, they’re there for the party, they think they’re greater than they are. But you can find people like that all around the world. I think the fans understand who’s real and who’s not and that’s OK. Like Grandma said, it takes all kinds in this world.
BB: On country radio, what singers make you stop and listen?
JT: Alan Jackson is one. He’s a traditional country artist and he’s not only putting out traditional country music but he’s writing it, too. He’s kind of a lighthouse for a lot of us country artists. There’s a song I heard on the radio last night–it was Ashton Shephard. She’s not tearing up the airwaves but I think as new artists are concerned, as a singer, writer and artist she’s unique and unapologetic about her love for country music. You know, next to her, she makes me look like Bing Crosby.
BB: You’re the youngest male Opry member; what do you think about the Opry’s place in country music in the present-day?
JT: I think they’re doing a great job with maintaining the traditional side. Opry has always been about tradition; they’ve done a great job with moving into the future and making newer artists members, artist who appreciate traditional country music. They’ve found a way to continue to sell tickets, to promote country music, by thinking outside the box and using all of the tools they have. They really have given fans an experience. You go to the Opry and you never know who you’re gonna hear. I was there not too long ago and I heard Blind Boys of Alabama. It’s just a great place to go and play. The people at Opry treat you like family.
BB: What is country music?
Country music is an art form that comes from the heart of America. Originally it came from the American South. I still think it comes from that Southern way of thinking. It’s an art form that comes from that place that speaks to blue-collar, everyday Americans who work hard for a living, that believe in their country, that fight for their country, that know how to have a good time. It’s a form of music that makes you feel warm and fuzzy when everything is screaming and up in your face. It makes you feel good about who you are and what you’re doing. It’s something that I feel is the lifeblood of America. It’s that music that we play on our way to church, at home cooking supper, in our car heading to work or at work or having a party and having a good time.
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