An In-Depth Interview With JOSH ABBOTT BAND Front-Man JOSH ABBOTT About The Group’s Newest Music, Progression of Country Music, The Aftermath of Route 91 and More!
Earlier this Summer on June 28th, Josh Abbott Band released their latest EP, “Catching Fire.” They are currently wrapping up the year on a new tour in support of that music through December making stops in New York City, Nashville, Washington DC, Chicago and more.
Their latest EP was produced by Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, Frankie Ballard, Aaron Watson) and it features four songs of positivity, built on solid country textures and unified by Abbott’s congenial-but-experienced voice. The EP brings a sense of similarity back to JAB’s own foundation. It’s a return to the band’s sonic past, a revival of its bar-bred optimism and fiery individualism. And it’s a reflection of the group’s off-stage cycles as old chapters are closed and a renewed, upbeat storyline comes to life. Catching Fire captures a sense of personal renewal.
“We have a whole new refocused attitude on what we’re gonna do now moving forward,” Abbott says. “Catching Fire is a reflection of what’s happened over the last year and a half of my life.”
Josh Abbott Band has accumulated over 100 million total streams, 20 million YouTube/VEVO views has over 1.5 million single sales and 250,000 album sales. Additionally, the band has sold over 1.2 million concert tickets the last few years. They have performed on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Fox + Friends and more. Their last two albums were both critically acclaimed. They have also kick started the careers of Carly Pearce and Kacey Musgraves featuring the ladies on their songs before both had record deals. Josh Abbott Band is made up of members Josh Abbott (vocals, guitar), Preston Wait (fiddle, electric guitar), Edward Villanueva (drums), James Hertless (bass), Caleb Keeter (electric guitar), Austin Davis (banjo) and David Fralin (Keyboard).
Connect With Josh Abbott Band Here- Website
Learn more about the Josh Abbott Band in the following All Access interview with their front-man Josh Abbott:
Thanks so much for your time today! So how has your Catching Fire tour been going so far?
Yeah, I think it’s been going great. It’s been fun to get back into some cities and states that we haven’t been to in awhile and it’s fun to add new songs to the set list. So I think that re-energizes the band getting to go across the country and play new songs. And then I think that that translates to the show.
And what do you think your long term fans can expect from these shows? The fans that have been to your shows before?
Well, obviously we’re still going to play some of the old stuff because we understand that that’s a big part of a band and developing fans and people always want to hear the old stuff. But I think fans are really enjoying the new EP. I think all the songs on there have gone over really well. There’s a couple of them that are kind of inspirational. One of them that’s just really cute. And there’s a love song and then there’s a rowdy drunk song. I think there’s something for everybody. I really do. And I’m pumped. I think it’s a great EP and I really think the fans are digging it.
Now I understand that you’ll be putting out a full length album sometime next year so how do you think that music is going to compare to this EP?
Well, I don’t know. I mean we used the same producer, the same studio and the same engineers. So I think sonically it’s going to sound pretty similar. The stuff that we recorded, we’re putting out next year, there’s a couple songs that kind of sound progressive, but there’s actually quite a bit of it that really dives back into the roots of what we do as a band and a lot of emphasis on the fiddle and banjo and steel guitar. And some really cute, sweet love songs and a couple of just rowdy beer drinking songs. And I know essentially every album in country music strives to be that and says they’re that, but really that’s been the formula for our band and our success over the years has been these really mid tempo ballads that females love to hear.
And then there’s the occasional kind of upbeat, fun song like My Texas or Hanging Around or Oughta Get Drunk that, that people love to sing along to. So the next album will kind of continue that. It’s not like we’re going to do anything too crazy and do like a bluegrass album or a pop country album. I think we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing here and continue to try to get better. Our goal is to keep making music. We want to make every album as we get older as a band better and better.
Now it seems like a lot of your music is very autobiographical. Do you find that songwriting has become kind of like therapy for you? You’re able to work things out through your music.
You know what’s funny? It’s definitely therapeutic, but it’s also almost delayed therapy. I write these songs as I’m going through it. Then by the time we get to the studio and we record and then we put it out, I’m already passed it. “Surprise, Surprise” is a great example. When I wrote that song, I don’t even think my daughter was a year old, I wrote it with our fiddle player and Jay Clemente. Now she’s two and a half and this song is out. So it almost seems kind of funny to sing a song about, ‘oh, we’re going to have a baby’ in “Surprise, surprise.” She’s two and a half years old. But really most of the stuff on the album still translates really well. In the past, like “Front Row Seat,” that was kind of my divorce album. It was very vulnerable and honest, throughout the whole record really. And then now there’s some songs from that album that people want to hear live. And I’m like, well, I’m just not really in that place anymore. I’m not dark and sad and I don’t have a story to tell. Like, it’s been years now. I’m re-married and I have a child. Life is awesome and I’m living it the right way the way I should. And I don’t really want to go back down that road and sing those sad songs.
I read a quote one time…. let me think of what how the artist said it… They basically said when they release an album, the songs no longer belongs to you, they belong to the fans. And I think that that’s true. When I write these songs and I’m playing them at home for some friends or whatever, they are for me, but when you record it and put it out as a commercial product, they no longer really are yours. They’re the fans because you’re sharing your story with them. And a lot of times there are people who can relate and they’ll sing the songs in a way that makes them feel therapeutic because they can’t write songs. And so I think you just take that approach into making records. You write from the heart and then you just keep moving.
Now what was the inspiration for your most recent fun song, “Oughta Get Drunk”?
Well, I didn’t write that song. But a buddy of mine named Eric Gilliland wrote it with a friend of his named Greg Bay. They wrote the song and I texted him and I said, ‘hey man, we’re going to record and I just feel like I need an upbeat drinking song.” I mean, like I want a Lee Bryce parking lot party. I want a Eric Church drink in my hand. I want a song that people just love singing and it’s fun and I don’t have to worry about it being sentimental or deep or inspirational. I just want it to be fun and lighthearted. And he goes, “man, I think I have the song for you.” So he sent me Oughta Get Drunk and I was like, yeah, that’s it. This is it. And I love it. I was a little hesitant to put on the record obviously just because ‘drunk’ in the PC world we live in these days can be taken the wrong way. But essentially I think people get that the song is saying, ‘let’s just go out and drink and have a good time tonight and not really worry about all the bullshit that we’ve been worried about all week long.’ And it doesn’t mean get sloppy drunk and ruin your life. It just means go out and get a little buzzed. But Oughta Get Buzzed just isn’t as cool as Oughta Get Drunk. We rolled with it and we recorded it, put it out and I love it and I hope that the fans love it. I hope it becomes a radio single for us because I just think there’s a lot of drinking songs out there. Well I don’t like them as much as I like this one. So I hope that it’ll see the light of radio.
I just watched the music video. The animation is really fun.
It’s so fun. They crushed that. I love that video.
So what do you think of country music these days and how do you feel like it’s morphed and developed since you’ve been a part of it?
Well, there’s a few things that are undeniable. Country music like everything in life has evolved and progressed. Progress is undefeated in history and sometimes it’s delayed, sometimes it’s embraced, sometimes it’s accelerated, but progress is undefeated. That’s a phrase that I kind of always try to remember and live by. So traditionalists and people who really love the true country, historical sounds of bluegrass and fiddle and banjo and all the instrumentation involved, the stories, the simplicity and the production. I think we all have to just really embrace what it is and who made those songs that we love. And then we just have to tip of the cap to how country music has evolved but you always see it in waves as country will evolve and it will progress and it will get really poppy.
Then there’ll be a wave that comes in and brings it back down to more of the kind of rowdy instrumental country that we all love. And I think you’re seeing that right now and you’re seeing that wave. There was a wave of bro country that existed in Nashville for years. And if you didn’t do that, you were lost at sea. But now thanks to Cody Johnson and Luke Combs and Riley Green and John Pardi and Midland. And I’m not trying to just name men, there’s a lot of female acts out there that are doing really great, more normal sounding country albums as well, right? So I think that there’s a movement right now that’s bringing the kind of country that middle America really loves. It’s bringing it back.
And a long winded answer here, but in three or four years it might shift again. It might go to something that’s a little bit more electronic driven. I think that that’s the next phase for country. I think you’re going to see more country artists dive into that world of DJ and electronic remixes on their stuff. Because at the end of the day, labels and artists, everybody wants to be as big as they can and make as much money as they can. And the simple truth is if you can popularize your music, that’s why we call it pop music. If you can do that, then all of a sudden now you’re streaming more, you’re getting on playlists, you’re getting played in the clubs in Vegas and all that stuff kind of translates to more dollars. It won’t surprise me to see it shift to that. And then in 10 years it’ll just shift right back when some brand new cowboy from Texas will bring country music back.
That’s a really long-winded answer, but I just feel like it’s very cyclical. Like some of us that love the old school stuff, we just have to love the old school stuff and find the gems here and there when we can. And this is what I tell everybody too- if it all sounded the same every year, year in year out, nothing would ever stand out as special.
So when music evolves and changes for better or worse, it’s a part of the process that leads us to the results that we like.
The process informs the results and that’s just super true about a lot of things in life. And I think it’s true about country music. Like the path that country music goes down kind of weaves in and out. It does what it does. You may like it, you may not, but at the end of the day, that process does lead you to this discovery of music that you do like.
Speaking of evolving and change, I know that earlier this week was the second anniversary of the Route 91 shooting. How do you think that touring and performing has changed for you as this band? How has that awful event affected you guys?
Well, several of our guys had to get therapy. There was this particular kind of therapy, and I wish I knew what it was called, but it’s basically a kind of a PTSD style therapy. And I know that that was super helpful for my guys. The band and crew had to go through that. And it’s definitely affected us and now, if we’re playing a show now where fireworks are going to be shot before or after, we have to know in advance.
Because the first time we played a show with fireworks after that concert, I mean, the panic in my guys’ eyes was undeniable and I really hurt for them. Some people can get through things quicker and easier than others and some people really have issues with things. And some of our guys have taken a long time and I would even argue they may not still be over it. I know that when we played big city events and we play places with buildings and we’re like outdoors downtown or something. I’ll be honest, I scan the horizon and the building and I’m looking for any advantage points that shooters may have. And honestly, I just think it’s going to happen again and that’s the world we live in. It’s something that no one else had really thought of doing.
Unfortunately, I think there are so many psychos in this world with access to guns at times that unfortunately I think it’s going to happen again. And I really hope I’m wrong, but I just, I think nothing about history over the last decade or so has led me to believe otherwise. It will happen again until we figure out a way to solve it. The thought of it happening to us again terrifies me because that was a very, very traumatic ordeal.
Jason Aldean, I think is one of the strongest guys. I don’t really know him well. We’ve met one time, I don’t even know if he knows who I am, but he headlined that night and for him to be on stage when that happened and then for him to still be able to handle himself through that whole ordeal I thought was just so admirable. He didn’t go write a song about it. He didn’t try to do a lot of stuff that’s so on the nose with like being on the news and doing interviews. He didn’t want it. He didn’t want the attention and then what does he do? He goes out and he does a national tour! And I just think like, I hope one day I get to talk to Jason and tell him how much I really respect him and how he got through that process. And Jake Owen as well and all those guys that were there that day. It was a shitty deal and I hope that we don’t ever have to go through that again.
Now tell me about developing your own label, Pretty Damn Tough Records. Where did the idea come from and what has surprised you about it?
It’s pretty much just been the aesthetic for what we’ve been doing all along anyway. It’s financing our own stuff, writing our own songs and A&Ring our own songs. I mean, because other than the three years we were at Warner and Atlantic, other than those three years that we had the record deal, we’ve been an independent band. We were an independent band for like four or five years. Yep, ever since 2015, we’ve been independent again. So the majority of our career we’ve been an independent band and Pretty Damn Tough is an acronym take on the fraternity that I was in in college, Phi Delta Theta. There was a phrase that we in Phi Delts that we were called, we were pretty damn tough, PDT.
So that’s why I wanted to name my company Pretty Damn Tough. It’s kind of as a tip of the cap to a really big part of my life and a lot of my best friends, people who helped influence me and supported us early on are from that time. It’s been fun too because it’s not only our music, but I’ve been able to put out a couple other albums.
There’s a brand new kid that we just put an album out for, an EP out for, named Brant Gilbert. And I think that he’s going to make some serious noise in music over the next 10 years. I think there’s going to be a moment where he gets a record deal and has a song on national radio. I really think that and in this EP that we just put out is wonderful. I want it to be a resource to help young and unknown songwriters get an album out.
We don’t take ourselves too seriously in terms of like we’re not a real label. We don’t have a building, we don’t get invited to the red carpet events. But at the end of the day, it’s basically our way of just kind of handling all the different aspects of being a successful touring band that doesn’t have a record label.
Since we’re at the end of the year, what are you looking forward to wrap up the year with?
Well, we’re really excited about our touring this fall because again, we’re kind of shifting gears more and playing more nationwide throughout the rest of the year. In 2018 we didn’t really leave Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas. We might’ve played Colorado as well, but we kept it very close because 2017 was such a weird, weird year. In 2017 I lost my dad, I became a father, I got engaged, and we were in Vegas and we put out a brand new album called “Until My Voice Goes Out.” And we toured nationally from California to New York. And when we got to 2018 I was like, I need a break. So we cut our shows in half, and we only played mostly in Texas and Oklahoma. So that way I could always be super close to home. So now it’s fun getting to go back out to Ohio and Nashville and Florida. And New York and DC and all these places that we haven’t been in one, two or three years.
So I think that that’s a lot of fun for us as a band too, because it’s all these really fun cities and doing what we dreamed of doing when we were younger. Like at the end of the day, we don’t want to get so jaded just because we’ve been doing this for 10 years now. It’s like, hey, this is still fucking cool! We’re in a tour bus and tonight we’re in DC and tomorrow we’ll be in Raleigh, and then next week we’ll be in Florida. And that’s awesome. And people come watch us play, believe it or not. Holy crap. So, that’s the attitude we take. And so as far as the rest of this year, I don’t mean to sound stereotypical but I’m truly excited to tour and get back out there to these places that we haven’t been in awhile.
And then that said too, I mean, isn’t fall and the end of the year just the best? I mean you’ve got Halloween, which is like my second favorite holiday and now that I’m a parent, it’s kind of becoming my favorite. Like dressing up with your kiddo is so cool and trick or treating, and she’s so excited about it this year. And so I’m pumped and then Thanksgiving you get to see all your family and friends. And Christmas time and then, I don’t want to piss off any PETA people out there or anyone who’s against hunting. But November, December, and January is a big time of the year to go hunting and doing things like that with your friends and your family. So I’m going to love these next three months, October, November, December. I’m going to live life and we’re going to tour the country. I’m going to have fun!
Well thank you so much for your time, Josh. I really appreciate it.
Well, I hope through my long-windedness that you were able to to get some of that and I hope that it made some sort of sense. Thanks for your time and your great questions. I appreciate it!