Armed with a terrific new record Just Say the Word and a solid-but-not-cocky confidence, Josh Kelley is about to make great strides in his musical career. There are several different moods on the record but it contains a cohesiveness that wraps a collective stamp of quality on the contents. Think slick but not over-produced. His easy-going voice powers the gentle forcefulness of the songs making for a record that is as ear-friendly as any AOR fodder out there today. I spent an enjoyable half-hour talking to Josh recently about everything that's new with him.
antiMUSIC: Congrats on Just Say the Word. It's an excellent record. I had just run into a pile of shall-we-say less than stellar CDs that I had to review and then I got yours. So thanks a lot for making my day better. In particular my favourite cuts are "Beautiful Goodbye" and "You Are A Part of Everything".
Josh Kelley: Right on man. Thank you. That's awesome. That's great. "You Are A Part of Everything" is one of my favourite tunes. Just kinda came from nowhere.
antiMUSIC: There seems to be a few approaches going on in this record, although it all fits into the same cohesive mix. There's a few songs that sound like Dan Fogelberg, as in the title track, and "Cain and Able". There's a slice of Pop: "Pop Game" and "You are a Part of Everything". And there's that funky streak that appears in "How the Story Goes" and "Opposite of Me". Do you work at your songs to make sure there's a bit of diversity there or do the songs just come out that way?
Josh Kelley: Yeah, there's a little bit of an identity crisis on there. You know what? They usually just kinda come out that way. It depends...you know I'm a man who achieves different moods everyday. And I think, I get a little angry sometimes whenever I hear somebody…usually like a music snob or whatever go: hey man, why's there seven different styles of music on the one record? I'm like "because I'm seven different people and so are you." But I mean, it's like I have a lot of different moods that I'm in, depending on what happens or depending on what side of the bed I roll out on. I realised that it was okay for me to have "Cain and Able" and "Pop Game" on the same album because every time I get into my friend's car and they're listening to a mix cd that's got 17 different artists with 17 different styles of music on one cd. And I realised that's the generation we live in, you know. So I knew it was okay but believe me I did think about it when I was recording. As far as sonically, the album's very cohesive because it was recorded at my house. It was recorded at my studio. But as far as styles of music, there are a couple of different styles.
antiMUSIC: Your last record was getting quite a bit of buzz from Good Morning America and People Magazine. Did you feel a lot of pressure when starting this one considering the magnifying glass was starting to be placed on you?
Josh Kelley: No not at all, actually. I was recording this record and I started recording this album a month after I finished recording the second album. I'm always recording. These songs were basically just…I was laying them down, definitely to be masters. But I was laying them down also so I didn't forget them. Every time I came home from touring I would just keep on producing, just keep on writing. And it was really weird. It was like one day I said to Debbie who is my manager, "I've got a finished record here. Let me send this out to you, see what you think." She heard it and was like: "Oh my God let's do it." My fans love music, and they love for it to keep coming, they know that I'm prolific. It's kinda my fault because I put a lot of new songs on MySpace all the time and now they expect it. So I just got to keep it coming.
antiMUSIC: So tell us what led up to this record. Where did all your lyrical and musical inspiration come from this time around?
Josh Kelley: My now fiancé, honestly, is where most of it comes from. After the second record I actually told a lot of friends, I was like, "Man, I don't think I'm going to write a song for a while." Then I did the video for the song "Only You". And I met Katie and we just hit it off and the next thing you know, I had a lot to write about. It was weird you know. It was just one of those things, man. This girl stormed into my life and hopefully it sparked a lot new tunes.
antiMUSIC: I guess it wouldn't be a stretch to say a bulk of the songs out there revolve around women.
Josh Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. I can't imagine what I'd write about if it was a world just with dudes. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: In a lot of records, there's often one or two songs that write themselves? Just plop themselves out there one day when you don't expect it. Were there any like that for you on this record?
Josh Kelley: Yeah. Absolutely. "Cain and Able" wrote itself. On my first album, "Amazing" wrote itself. Let me think here. Definitely "You're a Part of Everything", wrote itself which is great. It was so much fun to record that song. Talk about minimal production: it sounds big but it was only two mikes on the drum kit. I played drums on that. I basically took my drum kit apart and put it right next to my console and I only…I just brought a kick, a snare, a high hat and a cymbal. And I justx sat them there next to my console. And that's all it is: one SM58, a Shure 58 hanging right above the kit. And then I can't remember what the kick mike is, but there's one mike on the kick. And it's crazy. It was a lot of fun recording that one. Very minimal production. Only acoustic, and I think that really sorta airy guitar that makes it sound bigger. If that wasn't there, it would sound much more dry. More '70s, you know what I mean? But its cool, I love that track.
antiMUSIC: Is there one song that holds special meaning to you above the others or maybe one that you feel is the truest Josh Kelley song?
Josh Kelley: You know, "Cain and Able", I sat down at the dining room table. I was in LA at my fiancé's house. That song came basically from a lot of different notes that I wrote down. A lot of times I'll wake up in the middle of the night, and whatever I'm dreaming, I'll write down quotes from the dreams. And that song is basically a lot of quotes from my dreams. I was sitting down one night and I was playing the chords for my girl and she was like: "Oh my God. That is awesome. I love that." She inspired and motivated me to finish that song. And she sat there and helped me with some of the lyrics. It was almost like: "How bout this?" And she would nod, sorta OK. Or not and I love that. I liked having someone filter all the s***, you know, that could have been lyrically in that song. So we pretty much wrote it together.
antiMUSIC: You pre-released the record on iTunes earlier this year. What was the reasoning behind this move and are you glad you did it that way?
Josh Kelley: I wanted the transition to be seamless. Basically I let go a major label and I started out my own vision which is Threshold Records which is my label. And everybody who works with me is a blessing. And I was like, you know, I think what's going to have to happen here is we try to get an exclusive with iTunes. And iTunes gave me the exclusive and gave me a lot of press and basically it just really amped up the record and forced the buzz of the record and now that it's out, you know, it's tangible. I think more people know it because of ITunes. Plus I just wanted to see what would happen. It sold so well on iTunes, that's another reason it motivated me to put it out for real? It could have just been an iTunes release, which I'm doing some of those. I have some albums that are done, they're ready, they're different. Some of them are concept records that I might just put out there. You know why not just put it out there? You know the other day we almost died in a bus accident, and I would have wanted to put my s*** out there. Now, I'm just like, you know what? Lets do it.
antiMUSIC: You sound pretty prolific. You must be always writing?
Josh Kelley: Always. Always. Everyday. If I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. It's my free drug.
antiMUSIC: You wrote several songs with The Matrix. How and why did you hook up with them?
Josh Kelley: I hooked up with them out of curiosity and because they contacted my people and asked if I would come out there and write. I was just coming back from Australia and I had a couple of songs that were half finished and went over there and we became really great friends. Those three are amazing. They're awesome. Really great vibe. Really talented. And whatever they do, which is really funny because it's hard to put your finger on it, whatever they're doing, they're doing it right. I like what they're doing. They're actually way more left of centre than people think. They come to centre to write songs, you know, a lot of times it's for financial purposes because they love to sing pop songs.
antiMUSIC: You started a record label, Threshold Records. Have you always wanted to own your own label?
Josh Kelley: Because I've always had a vision for my music and the direction of it, and how I can get it out to the public and I knew as long as I was with a major label, my vision would never really come to fruition. I knew that it would always be like, "Yeah, cool Josh." They would probably throw me a bone. But I would never get the love that I wanted for it? So I just had to break away completely. Everybody who's with me are just believers. I've got an A&R dept., a radio dept. I've got publicity, marketing, mall, computer graphic design dept., three interns, management. I mean it's crazy. It's a real running machine. It's great. We're going to start signing bands probably within the next 6 months.
antiMUSIC: What's the significance of the name?
Josh Kelley: There is no significance really. This whole thing started…I wasn't going to start this record label for a while. At the back of my mind I definitely wanted to start it but at the time, my manager called and she said "We need to put a record label name on it just so the record looks more legit." And I just came up with a name, just an arbitrary name. And the next thing you know, this label had a beating heart and it made me happy because I didn't even have to talk to anybody about starting it, and I didn't have to run it by anybody. Yeah, there's no reason behind the name, but I love the name.
antiMUSIC: You're listed on the record cover as the A&R guy. Did you have many conversations with yourself, saying stuff like "C'mon Josh, this isn't what the label was expecting."
Josh Kelley: You know that I had a lot of conversations with myself. (laughs) That's pretty funny. Debbie put that on there and she did that to be funny.
antiMUSIC: Who handles distribution?
Josh Kelley: Icon handles distribution. They fielded a lot of offers that came in. When Target came in, they wanted an exclusive, and Borders and all these people. I think we put out 50 thousand records, a couple of weeks ago. Which is excellent. When my first record came out I think we only put out 40.
antiMUSIC: Nice touch to have the extra cut at the end of your record by your brother's band. It's like what all the hip-hop artists do and I wondered why nobody else in the rock world did it.
Josh Kelley: That was me and my manager. I think Charles is going to get signed very soon. I think it's bound to happen. The album comes out in January and I think January holds a lot of big days for Charles and his group called Lady Antebellum. I just wanted to get it out there. People dig it. The track, the quality of the recording isn't wonderful but I love it. It feels good.
antiMUSIC: For those of us that are new to you, what is your background and have you always been working in music?
Josh Kelley: I started playing drums when I was about 10 years old. Then somehow a guitar found my fingers and I started playing that and bass. The piano. I don't know. I grew up in Augusta, Georgia. Grew up in the Augusta scene and when I became a solid guitar player I started meeting other solid guitar players and I started playing with James Brown's side band which was called Firstborn. I was like 17 years old when I was playing lead guitar for that. It was weird, man. I had a record deal offer when I was 15 and me and my brother had a deal on the table from Atlantic Records. My dad wouldn't sign the papers. He thought we were too young. Then I went to college and started writing and singing. Actually, I didn't really write and sing. Well I always did, but I didn't actually do it for real, with intentions of going in there: "Hey man, I could do this for a living", until my freshman year in college.
antiMUSIC: So you're out on tour with The Gin Blossoms and did some dates with Five For Fighting. I imagine you would fit in really with those audiences. Shows going well?
Josh Kelley: We're doing the Five for Fighting tour right now and it's actually turning out great. Last night was completely packed. We sold…I think we sold a CD to half the audience. I swear to god we did. Nuts, man. We sold so many CDs. The show was really powerful and the owners want us back. So these tours have been really great. All of these promoters are seeing what we can do with an audience, seeing how we can engage and how we are actually real entertainers. I think next year's going to be a big year because of these tours that we've just done. And we've got the Thanksgivings Day Parade coming up and I'm playing on a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They're letting me play "Just Say the Word" for 2 minutes live on television. (laughs) It's crazy. It's going to be great exposure. Everything we're getting now we're grateful for, like me talking to you, about this album, we're grateful for everything that happens. Whereas before when we were with the label, I've got to be honest, sometimes I was kinda annoyed. It's a different mentality. When you take on something of your own, you've got to be humble enough to start from the ground up. Everything that comes in, you're just like so glad things are happening. So that's the kind of mentality we have right now. Everything that's coming in, we're grateful for. And things are starting to flood in.
antiMUSIC: That's all the questions I have for you, Josh. Is there anything that I didn't ask you wanted to mention?
Josh Kelley: You know what man? No. This was a very thorough interview. Thank you so much. This was a great interview, brother. Thank you so much and have a great day.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Josh Kelley for taking time out for this interview