Country singer-songwriter JJ Lawhorn releases his debut album today via Average Joes Entertainment. The young Virginia-native kept a heavy touring schedule and thoroughly road-tested this collection of songs. The result, Original Good Ol’ Boy, became a true reflection of his personality.
To get your copy of the new album, please visit www.jjlawhorn.com.
UCN: When did you start writing for this record?
JJ Lawhorn: I started writing for this one about three years ago really. That’s when I started writing specifically for this album. But I guess I wrote a lot of these songs before I had a record deal.
UCN: And that’s around the time you met Jeremy [Stover]?
JJL: I already had some songs but the majority was written after I met Stover. But then, one of them ‘Down Home in Dixie’ is a song I wrote in English class, in the ninth grade. We kind of spruced that up for then album.
UCN: Was it an assignment?
JJL: No, I was supposed to be paying attention. [smiles] I guess I was thinking about my future while they were teaching me how to prepare for it.
UCN: This record feels really “this is who I am.” How did you pick the songs?
JJL: Yes, basically, the first record is people’s first impression about who you are. I always tell people, if you want to get to know me, get to know me through my music. So yes, it’s just my life in songs.
UCN: One thing people might not be expecting is the amount of midtempo or slower songs on the record. Everything now on the radio is big drums and big chorus and big everything.
JJL: I had the opportunity to pick a bunch of rock or fast-paced songs because really I had enough songs done for two records. I had lot of songs to choose from but I wanted to pick songs that in the best way portrayed who I am. What I mean by that is that somebody’s going to have better grasp of who I am from me singing a song about my beliefs and my values, more than from some feel-good, good-time, sing-along song. I mean, I have the fun songs too but the majority of the songs are ones that hold a deeper meaning for me.
UCN: Yes, I see what you mean. I guess maybe only ‘Tan Lines’ fits that fun song bracket. But even then it has lines in there that say ‘this is part of my life.’ But all the other songs have a point to make.
JJL: Thank you. I think Johnny Cash said something along the lines of ‘if you can’t say what you feel, then you shouldn’t say nothing at all.’
UCN: And he took his own advice… [smiles]
JJL: Yeah, but still, I’ve learned to not say everything. [smiles] People sometimes ask ‘what do you think about this’ and now I will say ‘do you really want to know?’ Because I keep it 100% real and I don’t feel the need to sugarcoat things. I believe if you’re not going to make a statement through your music than what the hell is the point. Every artist has to answer the question for themselves “what am I trying to accomplish?” Yeah, we could write songs about drinking and partying but, at the end of the day, what am I trying to leave people with?
UCN: So you’re already thinking about legacy?
JJL: Yes. These songs are special to me regardless of whether anybody else cares about them. Even if the record doesn’t sell, I didn’t change who I was to sell some records. I made something I was proud of. It gives people an accurate indication of who I am.
UCN: I like that. I hear a lot of artists obsess about numbers but I think at the end of the day it comes down to ‘Are you proud of it? Yes. Then that’s enough.’
JJL: Yeah, some people have this thing of we’ll find out what works and we’ll replicate that formula, and then beat it until it dies. I’m trying to stay away from that where people say it’s got to sound like this and be like that. I just want to make music that I think is good.
UCN: What was the recording process like for this record?
JJL: I recorded at the Rukkus Room here in Nashville. It was awesome! We would go in and play the music for the studio musicians, and my producer would give them some direction. Then we would chart it all out, go into the studio and record it. We then tracked vocals in another studio. But I guess the whole process really starts out by writing a song with some other cat, and you try to write a “hit song,” you know. [smiles] Well, my mentality is more “let’s just write a song, let’s see what we want to say today.” We put together a list of the songs we wanted for the record, we went into the studio and cut them. And then there’s all the footwork of building a fan base that’s going to buy your music. It’s just a huge process with a lot of things that go into it. It’s long and arduous.
UCN: What were some of the lessons that came out of this for you? Things to do or not do for the next record?
JJL: I definitely learned a couple of things! I think next time I would like a shorter period between writing and recording the record. But overall I’m happy with the way this record turned out.
UCN: What you have with this record is that it’s really honest. A lot of its charm comes from that I think. For some of those songs, maybe if you had more time, you would overthink them.
JJL: Yeah, I know what you mean. There is a very youthful sense about it, a youthful vigor. It’s kind of like a time capsule.
UCN: That’s a good way of putting it.
JJL: I’m not the guy who listens back to his own music a lot. So, it’s been cool to go back and listen to some of the songs and sometimes go “damn…that’s good.” [laughs]
UCN: Well, ‘I’m Diggin’ on That,’ that’s a hit.
JJL: Thank you! Hopefully there’s a couple on the record. [smiles]
UCN: The first time through that song, I thought “that’s a hit, let me start that again and listen with my radio ear.”
JJL: That’s awesome! I think there’s a few that could do well like ‘Good Ol’ Boys Like Us.’ And ‘She Kissed Me Anyway.’
UCN: Yes! That one too. And ‘Down Home in Dixie.’
JJL: There are some songs that I think might work on the radio, but I didn’t write them with that in mind. I didn’t think “let’s write this so it could be on the radio.” Because sometimes that goes into it a little bit but there are different ways of writing songs to make it more appealing. There are songs where I didn’t think about that at all. ‘You Don’t Know Me Very Well,’ I wrote that with Dallas Davidson. It really shows people who I am. It’s a big message to all the people who poke fun at me being different for my long hair or dressing the way that I do. They have this perception and stereotype me, and it’s just a song that says ‘you don’t really know me.’
UCN: I think that’s a really strong album cut, something that speaks to who you are.
JL: Well, the thing with records is, I’ve been the consumer. I’ve been the dude that goes out and buys records. And usually on a CD, there are only a couple of songs that are radio hits, and sometimes maybe only a few songs I want to listen to and I skip the rest. With this record, I don’t feel like there is a song you would want to skip. I mean, maybe some people will but, to me, they all belong there, that’s why I picked the songs I did.
UCN: One thing I’ve noticed about you is that you know your audience really well.
JL: Yeah… [smiles]
UCN: You play a lot of solo acoustic shows, do you think that’s why? When it’s just you and a guitar, you can’t hide behind the band so it’s just you and them. Is that why you got to know your audience so well?
JL: Yes, for sure. And the approach that Average Joes has, it’s not really based around radio. I mean, radio is a great platform, a great tool to expose your music to a lot of people who might not otherwise get a chance to hear you. But the greatest way to get out there and get record sales and to have people know who you are, is to get out there and meet those people. You have to go out there, make an impression, talk to people and let them know that you’re real. There are different ways to do that. I have put on Facebook things like ‘get 10 of your friends to like my page, leave me a message with your number and I’ll call you.’ And people geek out! They’re like “dude, I never thought you would actually call me!” I don’t think I am better than anybody else because I do what I do. After I’m done I walk around in the crowd, shake hands, take pictures, or sign autographs. That sometimes still surprises me. I want to say “do you really want my autograph?” And when they go “yes, we do,” I’ll be like “okay, I will sign something for you but I can’t promise you it’s ever going to be worth anything.” [smiles] The cool thing about country music is that it’s one of these genres where almost no matter what your age is, you can have longevity. It’s a genre where you can have a career that spans 30 to 40 years. Once you build your fan base, country music fans are hard-core.
UCN: The current single is ‘Stomping Grounds,’ so to finish up, let’s talk about that.
JL: It’s a song that talks about how your hometown helps to shape who you are, and it gives examples how it affects you and became the person who you are today. In small towns, everyone knows where to go to get beer. And everyone still drives up that same hill for that first kiss. A lot of people grow up in a small town and they get it. It has lines about how it’s funny how the bucks we missed get bigger and bigger every time. I’m talking about those hunters, you know, who go “I shot at this buck and it was this big,” and then the next time it’s “dude, it was 30 inches wide and it was this big!” [laughs] I read through the lyrics of the song and it might not look spectacular, it might look simple, but it’s a powerful song. It speaks to that sense of pride that people have for their hometown. There’s a ton of songs that talk about being proud of where you’re from, but I think this one is a little more personal, and I think people can latch onto that and take ownership of it a little bit.
UCN: Yeah, I see what you mean. They’ll identify pretty much whatever their hometown is.
JL: Exactly. They can fill in the blanks with their own experiences, and place themselves in those scenarios. They can go “oh yeah, dude, I remember driving that girl to that spot outside of town.”
UCN: And it’s not the same hill, but they know what you mean.
JL: Yeah, exactly! It’s a universal thing. Even if you’re don’t drive a truck or wear camo or are a redneck, they can still go “man, I know what you’re talking about.”
UCN: Thanks so much for you time. Enjoy the album release!
JL: Thanks! I will!