It obviously takes some degree of talent to make it in the music business. It also takes killer songs that mesh the perfect lyric with a fitting and compelling arrangement. But perhaps the hardest, most frustrating part of the whole ordeal are the roles that timing, cosmic alignment, and personal will to succeed play. This matrix of unidentifiable variables that come together for some, while conspiring against others is what Josh Grider explores on his newest album, Luck & Desire.
Luck & Desire didn’t start out as an album title. “'Luck and Desire was just this song I had about songwriters and the music business.” Josh explains. “One day Jeff Middleton (co-writer) and I were talking about all the folks, ourselves included, that come to Nashville chasing a dream. They’ll lose money, time, and spouses, even their minds trying to figure out how to make it in this crazy business. We talked about how opportunity has so little to do with talent, and so much to do with timing. That led us to this idea of personifying desire and luck, and the interplay they have. You gotta get lucky, but a lot of that is just hanging around long enough for the chance, and even then there are no guarantees.”
Josh got his chance. The Las Cruces, New Mexico native moved to Nashville by way of Texas in early 2011 just to “try something different.” There, he hung around Music Row for a few years meeting fellow songwriters, signing a publishing deal, and building a network of like-minded peers who challenged his writing and supported his dreams. One of them was fellow singer/ songwriter and soon-to-be producer, Trent Willmon. The connection was mighty. “He’s savvy,” Josh explains. “He understands what being an artist is. He understands what being a writer is. He understands Texas and Nashville, and he understands the road. He understands so much of what I do, and the proof is in the pudding. We made a great record.”
That was the goal—to make a great record. But for Josh, it was about more than just making an album that would sell well or produce a litany of number-one hits. He says his goal was “to make something artistically satisfying enough for the purist in me, but relatable enough that I could play it for my dad.” He pauses and explains, “My dad is a smart guy, but he's not a studied musician or anything, he’s just a lover country music.” Indeed he is. He raised Josh on the classics, the legends. Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins and Willie Nelson are the foundation that Grider builds on, but his own generation of musical peers is also present in his music. “Dave Matthews was a huge influence when I was younger. John Mayer and Chris Thile make me want to just quit,” he laughs. “I'm just blown away by everything those guys do. I could never do what they do, but I'm certainly challenged by them. For me, they are setting the bar for songwriters in our generation.”
Before you discount Josh as another young artist trying to “pop” the country format, listen to him explain how his diverse musical influences, which also include a generous dose of Garth Brooks Tracy Lawrence, Alan Jackson...and even a touch of Dr. Dre...meld: “I always say, if my musical influence was a house, it's built on a rock solid concrete foundation of country. But, there's a blues room I can walk in, and a jazz room and a classical room, but no matter how many rooms there are, I'm always standing on country.”
Josh’s confidence is unflappable. His mix of traditional and modern has combined to make a living, breathing collection of songs that range from ethereal and pensive, to light-hearted and downright funny. He makes no more apologies for his electronic loops than he does for his thoughtful lyrics. He proudly says, “I'm not ashamed of one thing on this record. I love traditional country music, but I doubt anybody will call this a traditional country album. I’ve got all the respect in the world for what was done, but I also believe that you've got to keep moving the ball forward. New stuff has got to keep happening. I'm not going to do it better than Haggard did it, so I'm not going to try and do that. I need to sound like me. My goal is to be greater than the sum of my influences. Not better than, but distinguishable from. Hopefully that’s what you’ll hear in
Luck & Desire.”
The formally trained singer, who remembers pressing, “play” on his Fisher Price tape recorder to hear Ricky Skaggs “Heartbroke,” always knew country was where he belonged. Even though he played guitar in a jazz combo in high school, and received a scholarship to attend college and study classical voice, it only took one night performing in a Waco honky-tonk for Josh’s relationship with his roots to be cemented. “There was this night at Six-Shooter Junction in Waco, Texas. We had a little thrown-together band and played some cover songs, and I was done. I had already been in this little jazz thing, and they wanted me to sing classical at school, but fronting a band and singing country songs was the place I knew I was meant to be.”
Josh began putting pen to paper in high school and soon realized his passion. He beams when he says, “Writing is my favorite thing in the world. I’m very fortunate to be given the ability to deliver what I write, and I guess that’s why singing the songs I wrote is my second favorite thing in the world.” Writing is more than a job for Josh. It’s a passion that allows him to chronicle his life, and a therapy that helps him make sense of the world around him. When speaking about song selection for Luck and Desire he says, “I just started looking at what I had been writing and all of the sudden these themes of want, and need, and desire, and getting or not getting what you want started surfacing.” According to Josh, that is just what seems to happen. “There will be seasons in my life, and things that I go through that will definitely influence my writing. It's really neat to go back and look at how the songs reflect what I was going through at any given time, and how I was trying to work it out musically.”
He's a thinking man's writer with an incredible baritone voice that delivers lyrics directly to his listener’s soul. But he also has a keen funny bone, and he cleverly bookends Luck & Desire with evidence to both of this attributes. He calls the title track the dramatic introduction to this melodic movie and “One Night Taco Stand” the hilarious outtake reel. Listen closely—the front end of the album is loaded with luck, but the project wraps with pure desire.
There is, too, an unspoken theme to Luck & Desire that Josh is most proud of. “Luck and Desire definitely play a big thematic role in this album,” he says. “But that particular song sort of ends sadly for desire. I think there’s more hope than that in the record. Overall, I want there to be hope, because I have hope. Without it what the hell is the point? I say focus on the good and believe that something good will happen, and it just might.”
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