Songwriter Josh Osborne celebrated his first chart-topping hit, Kenny Chesney‘s ‘Come Over,’ last year. It was a long road to get to that #1 party; the classic Nashville story of a 10-year overnight success. Osborne now has more cuts on his resume and co-wrote several songs on Kacey Musgraves‘ critically highly acclaimed album, Same Trailer Different Park, including her breakthrough hit, ‘Merry Go ‘Round.’
In this Songwriters Circle interview, he explains his early career, the lessons he learned, whether or not there is a line between art and commercialism, and talks about writing ‘Come Over’ and ‘Merry Go ‘Round.’
UCN: Your early writing process, was that developed out of listening to writers you were inspired by?
Josh Osborne: Yes, but also, my parents were huge influence on my love of music and my career. They started bringing me to Nashville when I was 15. I had been writing songs for about a year, and then came to Nashville and started co-writing with people at a young age. It was like being in school, you know. There was a writer named Terry Vonderheide who unfortunately just passed away. He was the first person I ever co-wrote a song with here and I learned a lot from him. I quickly began to love co-writing, more than writing alone. I love the light bulb moments where you’re talking to someone and they say something different than you would, or they interpret something in a different way. I really began to love that. That was kind of a big moment for me. I don’t write a lot by myself and when I do nine times out of ten it becomes an idea that it take to someone else. I learned more from the co-writing that I could ever have understood on my own.
UCN: How do you collect your ideas for future writes?
JO: I have them in my phone. When I think something could be an idea for a song, or even a line for a song, I put it in my phone. That’s the new notepad. [smiles]
UCN: Do you categorize your ideas for different writers?
JO: Yes, definitely. And also, sometimes there are ideas that you come up with, with someone else but you think this would be great to write with this other person. For example, with Kacey Musgraves, Shane [McAnally] had the idea for the title ‘Silver Lining.’ He mentioned it to me one day, he said “I have this title called ‘Silver Lining’ but I don’t know what it means, I just like the sound of it.” So I said “what if the idea in the song was if you’re ever going to find a silver lining it’s gotta be a cloudy day.” So we were like “oh, that’s a cool idea, that’d be great to write with Kacey.” That was one of those ideas that we filed away, and the next time we wrote with Kacey we threw her the idea. I write a lot with Trevor Rosen too, and it happens I’ll stumble across a title and think that’s something Trevor would like. So yes, I categorize them.
UCN: How do the writers relationships develop?
JO: Well, Terry who I mentioned before, I wrote with him quite a while. I got my first publishing deal and I was 18, I wrote for Warner Chappell music. They put you together with people and then out of that group, you find a couple of writers you really love writing with. It’s kind of a war of attrition. You write with a lot of people. I think after 100 writes there are five where you think I really enjoyed that, I thought that was really an experience. For me the first person like that was probably Trevor Rosen. We started writing in 2005 and I just really had good chemistry with him. We were writing pretty much every week, sometimes twice. There’s been a lot of writers I’ve enjoyed writing with but the circle I’m in now with Shane, Brandy Clark, Matt Ramsey, Matt Jenkins, that group I could write with every day. Through doing it a lot you can find a group of like-minded people but it is very much trial and error. You just have to write with a lot of people.
UCN: It’s a numbers game.
JO: Exactly. When you first come to town you kind of write 200 songs just to write 200 songs. You kind of have to get them out of the way. It’s like that Thomas Edison thing where he said he didn’t figure out how a light bulb worked, he figured out 100 ways it didn’t. I think songwriting is like that. You write 200 songs to find out, okay, that didn’t work, and you hone your process. With Trevor, we had that light bulb moment when we were writing a few years ago. We were talking about how we weren’t getting cuts at the time, and we started realizing we were worried too much about trying to get songs cut and not just trying to write songs.
UCN: I’ve heard that so many times from writers. Once you let go it become so much easier.
JO: But when you’re in that moment, you’re broke, and the publisher is breathing down your neck saying “We need songs cut,” it’s all you can think about – I have to get a cut. But I don’t think it works like that. You have to get to a point where you think, you know what, it doesn’t matter, let’s just write what we like. Things did start changing for us then and we started having some more success. We’ve tried our best to stay true to that. We just write stuff we enjoy. I feel like if you write something you like, somebody else is gonna like it too. In the past I’ve written songs before where I thought “I don’t really like this, but I think this particular artist might cut it.” But you know, there’s no way. I mean, if I don’t even like it why would an artist like it? So I think you just have to do something you believe in. It’s easy to say but hard to do.
UCN: I think it’s difficult when you’re young and are trying to get in there and you have all these people putting pressure on you. So I think you need those years of doing it wrong, so you can then go do it right.
JO: I completely agree with you. There’s a lot of people who ask me for advice. I feel unqualified to give people advice because I think everyone has a different journey. But one thing I do tell them is you need to come to Nashville and get beat up a little bit. You’re competing against people who do this every day and are really great at it. I think there’s something to be said for being in the game and trying.
UCN: I have a quote by Jeffrey Steele on my computer, it’s the first thing I see when I open it in the morning. He said that it’s a business of falling on your face and you have to keep falling on your face because one time you’re not going to.
JO: Oh that’s great! And it’s true.
UCN: The early publishing deals, how did they come about and how did it feel to write as a staff writer when you’re that young?
JO: Well, the deal with Warner Chappell, I moved here in 1998 and at that time the music business was still on an uptick and a lot of people were getting deals. Publishers were still taking chances on young writers. When they signed me, they had seen me playing around in town and they were looking for a young writer, somebody they could develop, somebody they could spend a couple of years putting a little bit of money into it and seeing what would happen. I didn’t understand the gravity of the moment being that young. I just thought “oh, they’re giving me money to write songs, this is great, I’ve got a credit card!” [smiles] That was all I thought about at the time. Whatever you’re writing at the time you always think it’s the best work. I did that at the time. I thought “man, this stuff is great, I have it figured out already.” And it only took me 12 years after that to get a cut! [laughs] I think Jeffrey’s quote is true. I always tell my wife that there are two kinds of people in the music business: people that like to get kicked in the teeth, and people that love to get kicked in the teeth. [smiles] You have to decide how much abuse you are willing to take because it’s a long process. But I think each publishing deal has obviously been a better experience for me. It’s like anything, you learn more every time you do it. Each one you take a little bit more seriously. I think the deal I was in right before I was here at Black River was the one where I probably felt the most pressure. I thought “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’ve got to make something happen.”
UCN: Was it sort of make or break?
JO: Absolutely. You start thinking that after 10 years of doing this, am I meant to do this, is this going to happen? When you write every day and you’re not getting cuts, you’re not having success, it seems impossible. Around that time I met Shane. He had a song on the radio but he hadn’t blown up yet. He’s about three years ahead of me, he moved here in 1995. I saw him be a little bit ahead of me on the trajectory of a songwriter and he had a song on the radio. It wasn’t a number one hit, it was the LeeAnn Womack song ‘Last Call.’ He got a lot of acclaim for that and then he had the Kenny Chesney song that was number one. Having a friend have a number one was a big deal for me because suddenly I realized ‘this is possible.’
UCN: Yes, it doesn’t just happen to those other people.
JO: Yes, it doesn’t just happen to Jeffrey Steele. [smiles] That was a big turning point for me. Around that time I started getting fortunate in getting a few songs recorded.
UCN: What kind of pressure was there for you at your previous company?
JO: It wasn’t because of them, I was putting it on myself. They’re a good company and have a lot of good people there, I loved everybody there. I like the company but I suddenly felt ‘I’ve got to make this happen.’ They were very supportive but for whatever reason the timing wasn’t right and it didn’t click there. When they merged with Bigger Picture I had a decision the make and I chose to leave. I felt like I needed a change of scenery and luckily landed on my feet here.
UCN: I think a lot of it is timing. You might be with a great company but you’re not yet in the right mindset or the other way around.
JO: Absolutely. Or you’re writing stuff that Nashville is not ready for yet or it’s just not your time. Jeffrey’s an example of that too. I think he always just wrote what he wanted to write but then eventually they came around to where they wanted that. I was a Boy Howdy fan when he was in that band, and the stuff he wrote then was very progressive for that time, but it’s still similar to what he wrote later. But it was just ahead of what Nashville was ready for. As a writer it’s hard to acknowledge or accept that you just do what you do and they’ll come around to you. When it’s your time, it’s your time.
UCN: On his Acoustic Motel album, Jack Ingram explains that he had a time where he almost didn’t want a hit, because if he didn’t have a hit he could never be a one-hit wonder. Does the same happen for songwriters when it comes to big cuts? Getting what you want can be very scary sometimes…
JO: I agree. It’s that thing where you think “I want my life to change but I don’t want my life to change.” You want the acclaim and the financial security but you don’t want to be different as a songwriter. It even scares me now. I’ve been very blessed to have had some success but I don’t want to change. I want to continue to do what I do. I don’t want things that are out of my control to influence that, like money or whatever. I don’t want those things to change how I view music. I’ve never made music for money.
UCN: I think very few people do. It’s not easy enough. If you just want money you can go be a lawyer or something.
JO: Exactly! I just do it because it’s all I really have a passion to do. There is that scary thing in your mind where if you’ve never had money or success, if I get those things will I change, will I be the same person?
UCN: When you get those big songs do you then get people on the phone saying “I want another one of those, I want Josh Osborne songs that sounds like ‘Come Over’?”
JO: Yes, that happens. But it opens a lot of doors with writing.
UCN: Do you then fear that this influences you, where you are going into the room saying “I want to write another one of those songs, I really shouldn’t but that’s what works.”
JO: That’s a big fear. That’s another thing I’ve been fortunate with, with a song like ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ being so different from ‘Come Over.’
UCN: Yes, they can’t pigeonhole you.
JO: That scares you as a writer, that they think, oh, that’s what he does. Having a song on the radio does open a lot of doors with writing, with writers you couldn’t write with before, or writing with artists. Those doors open up a little bit more. But I’m not really involved in the pitching and stuff.
UCN: Do you stay away from that because if you knew that people were asking for certain types of songs it could get in your head?
JO: It gets in my head because I think about it. I put it in my own head. They’ve not really told me that but it to myself. But I think a lot of writers do that.
UCN: I want to find out about the ‘Come Over’ write. I remember reading either from your or Shane that some lyrical decisions were very deliberate where you discussed ‘we want to convey this kind of emotion so we need this kind of language,’ like with the use of repetition on the line ‘come over.’
JO: We made the decision to use the repetition but we accidentally found it. We wrote that song in two different sessions. The first day we had the melody, we didn’t have a title which is backwards. A lot of time we have an idea before we start writing. We have the melody and Sam [Hunt] had a cool thing for the verse. Shane said maybe it just needs a simple title like ‘come over.’ We were writing more to the emotion of it than the hookiness of it. You know, when you’re writing you will have blocked out words and there’s pieces missing, and sometimes you just play and sing along and a line will fall out. And one time, Sam, almost like he was singing a tag was going come over, come over, come over. And Shane stopped playing guitar and went “what was that? Do that again!” So we said “that’s it, every time we have a chorus we should do that because it sounds desperate, he’s pleading.” So that was a happy accident, which I think a lot of songs are. We got lucky with that one.
UCN: Do you remember that call when they told you Chesney is cutting it?
JO: Yeah… [smiles] Sam is an artist, and he’s great, so we wrote the song with Sam in mind. This was around Thanksgiving. We demoed the song and Sam played it for his producer. Everybody loved the song but didn’t think it necessarily fit Sam. So we left for Christmas break and I said to my wife “I don’t know what we’re going to do with that song, it’s not even right for Sam.” We came back and we went over to Shane’s house for a New Year’s Eve party and he goes “Man, you’re never gonna believe this, Kenny Chesney wants to cut ‘Come Over’!” And I’m just like…
UCN: Happy new year! [smiles]
JO: Yeah! [laughs] And I said, “Are you serious?” Sam and Kenny have the same manager and he sent the song to Kenny not for him but just to hear what Sam was doing. Kenny just fell in love with the song and said “Look, I don’t want to hurt Sam but I want to record the song.” So we were like great, and Sam came on board too.
UCN: Yes, I was just thinking, if Kenny Chesney calls and says ‘I want your song’ it’s ‘Yes, Mr. Chesney.’ [smiles]
JO: Exactly. [smiles] When he said “Do you think Sam will be on board with it?”, I said “I’ll go over to his house and make sure he’s on board.” [smiles]
UCN: I’m sure you could be very persuasive. [smiles]
JO: Yes, we have ways of making him say yes. [laughs] We found out around New Year’s, and then in April he cut it. Shane and I got to sing harmony on it because they liked our demo, so we got to hear the song before anybody else. And hearing Kenny’s voice, such an identifiable voice, on something we wrote was a very out-of-body experience. He came in when we were doing the harmony. I told him “you must hear this a lot, but hearing your voice on this, it’s amazing.” It’s sort of like, I know this song and I know this voice but I don’t know how they got together. He was very gracious, very kind, and said “you know, I just wanted to do this song justice.” I’m very lucky that happened.
UCN: Did you pay attention to the charts when it was climbing up?
JO: Oh yeah! I had a song about the same time called ‘Neon’ that I wrote with Trevor Rosen. That was on Chris Young. And that ended up peaking at 23.
UCN: Which, as an aside, I still don’t understand; it’s such a great song.
JO: Thanks for saying that. But ‘Come Over’ raced up to number one just when ‘Neon’ kind of died. And as crazy as it sounds, as happy as I was about ‘Come Over,’ all I could look at was ‘Neon’ failing. It’s like, this hit is amazing…but why is this other song dying?
UCN: I want to talk about ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ a little more in-depth too. What I love about the lyrics is that they’re not condemning, they’re just sort of explaining ‘this is what it is.’
JO: Kacey is one of the people, she’s not condemning, she’s not saying “they” do this, she saying “we” do this. She and Shane are from small towns in Texas and I’m from a really small town in Kentucky. We were doing a writers retreat in Texas for her project and were at Shane’s mom’s house. My wife and I went down a couple of days early and we spent some time with them. Shane’s mom is this crazy character, and she was talking about one of their neighbors and she said “They’re doing something crazy up at their house, they’re selling Mary Kay or Mary Jane or something.”
UCN: [laughs] That’s awesome!
JO: I said to Shane “man, there’s a song in that.” Well, we got with Kacey two days later, she loved it. As deep as that song is, we probably wrote it in two hours. But it’s one of those that I think if we had spent more time on it, it would have been different. It kind of fell out, we knew what we wanted to talk about and all of us had grown up in small towns. I guess it could be taken as anti small town but it’s not. It’s just saying these are little snapshots of things we grew up with. It’s not even negative, it’s just the way it is.
UCN: It’s got a lot of those verb-less phrases like ‘same hurt in every heart’ and then following that with ‘same trailer different park’. Maybe those are lines if you had more time you might want to go make that different. But now they’re so effective because they’re so simple.
JO: Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t think they’d mind me telling you this but the ‘same trailer different park’ line, I almost didn’t say. We had the line ‘same hurt in every heart,’ and I was like “you know, it might sound a little goofy but what if it was something like ‘same trailer different park’.” And they both went “that’s awesome, let’s go with that, the line’s great.” The whole song is just very conversational. It came from us talking about the tiny little boxes in a row. I grew up in a coal mining town where all the houses are sort of stacked on top of each other. A lot of people grow up and marry their high school sweetheart and live in the same small town and they’re really happy. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just sort of what you do. That’s where a lot of that song came from, just us thinking about how we grew up and where we grew up.
UCN: Where did you grow up?
JO: This is the personal part of the interview.
UCN: Yeah, do you wanna go lie down on that couch and tell me about your childhood? [smiles]
JO: [in serious voice] My father was a stern man…. [laughs] Well, I grew up on US23, the highway that run through my hometown. It’s been renamed Country Music Highway. Along this road from East Kentucky into around central Kentucky, you have all these famous singers who came from there: Gary Stewart, Keith Whitley, The Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Crystal Gayle, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Scaggs, and Billy Ray Cyrus. It’s very much like I grew up not knowing those people weren’t stars anymore because they were still played on the radio. That’s why I grew up loving country music so much. It’s a great place to grow up if you love music. You want to be a part of it, be a part of the music.
UCN: I wonder that about Texas too, and I’m sure Kacey and Shane will have something to say about that. When you’re around that all the time, you want to be a part of it
JO: Yes, you do, with Kacey especially. She’s really more concerned with being an artist then with being a successful artist. She’s very committed to trying to make music she’s proud of and I think that comes from those kinds of influences on her.
UCN: I hear this from people in Austin, or in that scene, where they say if you openly admit you want to be successful and you want to be on the radio, they will shoot you down so fast.
JO: Yes, they will.
UCN: But it happens here too with East Nashville versus music row. I sometimes think, ‘Come on, get over it!’
JO: [laughs] That’s so true.
UCN: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing silly songs. It’s okay to write ‘1994,’ and just laughing your ass off in the writers room.
JO: I agree, and I don’t think you can judge art. I’m friends with Luke Laird and Barry Dean who wrote ‘1994’ and to them, they’re just having a good time, they’re having fun with that song. Not every song has to be the deepest life-changing song. And trust me, those guys write those songs too.
UCN: And you can’t write an ‘I Drive Your Truck’ every day, you would just collapse.
JO: Exactly! The one thing I don’t pay attention to is reviews or what people say about songs. I learned my lesson with that. When ‘Neon’ came out a lot of people loved that song and had complimentary things to say. When it wasn’t having much success on the charts, they were still saying “I can’t believe that, I love this song, it’s a shame.” But then want ‘Come Over’ came out, a lot of people – which I don’t think it’s fair because I think he has evolved so much – a lot of people don’t like Kenny Chesney.
UCN: Oh, okay, so they weren’t objective.
JO: Yeah, no matter what song he puts out, they’ll go, well, he’s Kenny blah blah blah. And I was finding myself letting that take my joy away. I would read somebody saying it’s not as good as this other song or whatever, but you can’t let other people determine your happiness. I was proud of it and I was proud to hear what he did with it, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters to me. It taught me a lesson. I stopped looking at that stuff and stopped worrying about it. Luke and Barry love ‘1994,’ they’re proud of it. And I think it’s fun.
UCN: I sort of have mixed feelings about that song. I watched Luke play it at writers nights and it’s hilarious, it is so fun! But then I think, ‘but is it a radio single?’ When it was released as a single I already knew the people who were going to slam it, and several people thought I would too. But my review turned into a defense of songwriters, because I think you have the right to write silly songs. I actually ended up paraphrasing Voltaire in a Jason Aldean review which might be the first time ever… [smiles]
JO: [laughs] That’s great!
UCN: I said that I might not like it, but I will defend their right to write stuff like this.
UCN: I think I understand the industry a bit more now, and I don’t look at it only as a music fan anymore. Sure it’s ridiculous, but that’s the point. [smiles]
JO: Exactly. I can’t remember who it was but a writer said to me one time that you can’t punish a writer for somebody cutting their song. When Luke, Barry and Thomas [Rhett] wrote ‘1994,’ they didn’t know if anybody would ever cut it, you know what I mean. They wrote it and were having fun that day. Michael Knox and Jason Aldean loved it and they cut it, and that’s not the writers’ fault.
UCN: Yeah, I can sit here saying “it’s fun but is it a single?” and well, yes, because Jason Aldean thinks so. It’s his name on the single and he gets to decide.
JO: The one thing I like about that mindset is Jason is such a big radio artist. They’re gonna play a lot of what he puts out, if not everything. So I do love that he wants to do something different. They may think deep down it’s not a radio song, and they may think “he can pull it off and it’s different,” and it may take him to some other level or open him up to a new audience. I like it when artists take chances. I think our format is better when artists take chances. Whether you agree with the chance or not, it’s better. And I think you can say the same about Kacey. A song like ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ is different compared to other stuff on the radio. The fact that she is willing to take that chance and stake her career on it, I think she should be applauded for that.
UCN: And in her case especially, it’s just great timing. I wrote an article a couple of months ago about the roots revival with Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers coming through big time. I mean, Clear Channel stations are playing Mumford & Sons, I never thought I’d see the day…
JO: I know!
UCN: I think if they had released ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ two years ago, it wouldn’t have had the same impact.
JO: Exactly right.
UCN: That kind of snobbery about songs we talked about before, how does that feel as a writer? Does it get in your head when you know you can almost anticipate a backlash, or do you still write whatever you want to write?
JO: It’s a little scary. I think any time a song comes out, I don’t read the reviews, but as an artist or writer you want people to like what you’ve done.
UCN: Yes, you want an audience.
JO: Yes, you want an audience and for people to say “I like this.” But again, with Kacey, I believe in her so much and in her music that I just thought, whatever happens with the song happens. The fact that it has done as well as it has at radio has really been a blessing. We didn’t know. She’s a new artist, she’s female and there aren’t many female artists that are just rocketing up the charts. I didn’t know what to expect so anything that happened I took as a plus. I just knew that I was proud of that song and I wanted people to know I was a part of that song. It is a little scary because you never want to offend, you never set out with the intention of offending people but sometimes as a writer you set out with the intention of challenging people and making them think. It is getting them to think “this is something I haven’t heard before, I willing to hear it now?” I love that about Kacey, that her project is her saying “this moves me, I hope it moves you, and if it doesn’t, I’m sorry, because I wish it did. I’m sharing my experience with you. I believe in this.” There was a line that I heard Ricky Gervais say about The Office when he sold the show to the BBC. It was such a gamble of a show because no show had been done like that before. And he was saying, to paraphrase him, that his thought was that he believed in the idea and the concept and he would rather be 1 million people’s favorite show than 10 million people’s 10th favorite show. He wanted to make something that stood out, something that had his stamp on it. You want that as a writer, but it does scare you. We all want success. You want to be able to say “hey, I did this and it worked” but at the end of the day I think for me it’s more important to say “hey, I did this, I’m proud of it.” Luckily in the case of ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ we’ve been able to say both.
UCN: Do you feel that here in town as a writer? Because when I mentioned the attitude of some people in East Nashville you seem to know what I was talking about. [smiles] Do you ever feel people think ‘oh, if you write songs for Kenny Chesney, you can’t be writing meaningful songs?’
JO: Yeah, there is a touch of that. But I don’t care. [smiles]
UCN: Oh, I’m not suggesting you should care. [smiles]
JO: It doesn’t bother me. I get why people say that. There is music that I’m not a fan of, but I respect it. I think music fans often have a hard time with that. I think if they don’t like a certain type of music, they don’t respect it. They might go “I don’t like today’s country” so they broadbrush the whole thing and say it’s all bad. But then I write today’s country, so to speak, and I can’t say that everything I hear on the radio is all good. But then what is all good, what do you hear that’s all good, or all bad? Nothing. It’s about what you’re willing to open their mind up to, which is funny because it’s often the people who tell you to open your mind to things like that, who are so close minded to things like that themselves. They’ll be all like “Oh, check out The Lumineers.” And I’ll say “I love The Lumineers, but check out this Kenny Chesney record.” And then they’ll go “I’m not going to listen to that,” you know. [smiles]
UCN: Did you have to overcome that as a writer or did you pretty much immediately write the kind of stuff you right now?
JO: I think I’ve always written kind of commercial, I’ve always had more of an ear toward the commercial. I think I’ve had a good development curve. When you sign a publishing deal, especially early on, they just want you to get cuts. So I spent five years just doing that, and then at a certain point I thought “I don’t like the songs, I don’t like what I’m writing.” But that’s when you find like-minded people, people like Trevor Rosen and Shane McAnally, we like commercial music but we like artful music too. There are songs like ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ that are different and are making a statement, but they’re also catchy and can be played on the radio. Shane had that with ‘Somewhere with You.’ Nobody had ever done that kind of phrasing in a country song before, but people related to it and loved it. That was a blurred line to me where it was a commercial song but it was still artsy. That is definitely something you need to develop.
UCN: Chris Janson told me he started out being the cool guy who wanted to write the edgy songs and that he had to get over that. He had to get to a point where he realized that it’s ok to just go write ‘Truck Yeah’ and have fun. They didn’t know they were writing a Tim McGraw hit, and like you said, it’s not their fault he picked it up.
JO: Yeah, and Tim really believed in that song.
UCN: He really did; he loves singing it.
JO: And at the end of the day, when you look at a successful artist like that, a guy who sold millions and millions of records, he believes enough in your song to say “I’m singing it, I’m gonna put my name on it and I’m putting it out.” That means something! Whether people like that song or not, you have to respect what a miracle it is that that happened.
UCN: Yes, when you consider how many songs there are to choose from.
JO: I know!
UCN: People can be cynical about it and say they just wanted a song that would make them some money, but there’s a 100,000 of those and he picked that one.
JO: Absolutely! He picked that one. That’s exactly right. And the same thing with Kenny. It’s easy if you don’t like him, but as a writer to have a song by an artist who is that big, who literally has thousands of songs pitched to him, for him the pick our song and say that’s the one, and I’m shooting a video, I’m singing this on NBC and all the TV shows. He believed that enough in it to do all that. It means something and it should mean something, you know what I mean?
UCN: Yes, I do, vicariously. My friends wrote ‘Truck Yeah’ so to hear Tim sing it means a lot.
JO: Me, Shane, and Scott Stepakoff have a song on that album, and it’s the first song I’ve had with Tim McGraw. And hearing his voice on it, such an identifiable voice, on something we wrote is so great. I’m old enough to have been in town for a while, but I’m young enough that these guys influenced me when I was a kid. I love Tim McGraw and when I moved to town he was a huge star already.
UCN: Yes, so he’s this unattainable, almost mythical, figure somewhere and then suddenly he’s singing something you wrote.
JO: Yes, exactly! [smiles] One of the craziest moments of my career was when I got to meet him. My wife works at CAA and we went to Vegas to see the Tim and Faith show. We were backstage before the show and I was introduced to him. And he immediately said “Man, I love ‘Merry Go ‘Round’!” And it was this crazy moment like…what? [smiles]
UCN: Yeah, and you’re thinking ‘no, I’m supposed to tell you that I love your music.’ [smiles]
JO: Exactly! [laughs] It was very surreal; I didn’t know what to say. He was very kind to us. He’s someone I always wanted to have a song recorded with, so to have him cut ‘It’s Your World,’ it’s just great, it’s a dream.
UCN: But that dream came true. Let’s see, maybe we can get the universe to listen, who else would you like a cut on?
JO: Oh, um…is [Paul] McCartney looking? [smiles]
UCN: Well, he’s still putting out records, he might be up for a co-write? [smiles]
JO: Yeah, he’s still putting stuff out; I would fly to England to write with Paul. [smiles] But I’m curious about something, did any of the songs stand out to you on Kacey’s record?
UCN: Bizarrely, the answer is ‘no,’ but it’s because, like I told someone the other day, it’s like reading a book. Every song is a little chapter in the story and you can’t disconnect them.
JO: That’s what she wanted, so it’s great that you said that.
UCN: The production and the mixes are fantastic too. Luke and Shane did such a good job.
JO: Oh yeah! And I think Ryan Gore mixed it. It’s nice of you to say that though about the flow of the record, because that’s very important to her.
UCN: It’s hard to pick out one and say ‘it’s a standout’ because every song is informed by the one before and the one after.
JO: That’s exactly right. And that’s what she wanted, she was very much aware of that. You were talking about deliberate decisions before and this was very much on purpose. She was very involved with that record.
UCN: That’s something I think many music fans don’t really know about and it’s why I like these interviews being more in-depth. I don’t think they know how deliberate and well thought-through a lot of this stuff is.
JO: And with her in particular, she’s involved in every aspect, she’s very much present in her own career. Maybe in the late 1960s, but Nashville has never been an album-driven market, it’s all about what’s on the radio. But she’s an album-oriented artist. The album as a whole is more important to her than what they might pick as singles. She wanted to make a record that whatever they pick she would be okay with. And there’s more artists like that coming up. Sam Hunt is another one like that. I think you’ll like Sam, he’s very different. Not quite as rootsy and organic as Kacey, but he very much knows what he wants to be and what he wants to say.
UCN: Yes, I think there’s a lot of artists who are getting smarter. Kip Moore is one of those.
UCN: He knows what’s going on and he’s involved in everything and he wants everything to be correct. And Charlie Worsham too.
JO: Oh yeah, I love Charlie.
UCN: He’s another one of those completely rounded artists who understands the business.
JO: Actually, Shane and I just wrote a song with Charlie.
UCN: Oh, very cool! I look forward to hearing that one. Thank you so much for your time today.
JO: Thanks for doing this!
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