I’ve loved Josh Kelley for years.
Back in college, my roommate and I waited impatiently for the “Only You” singer to bring a tour through Atlanta. And when he finally did, we saved up, bought tickets and rocked out front and center.
Yep, my love and loyalty runs deep. So when I received his latest album New Lane Road, I was eager to dive into his first release in five years. I wanted to catch back up and pick up where his story left off.
But with this new music, it was as if I were meeting Kelley for the first time all over again with the most wonderful introduction.
“This is my new beginning,” Kelley recently told me during a chat at CMT’s offices in Nashville. “Everything that I’ve done up until this moment was almost like boot camp to get here. Lots of learning, lots of mistakes. Thank God, I’ve learned from them and tried to apply that new knowledge to this.”
So what separates this particular project from all the great work Kelley has done before? Experience and a new perspective that brought him back home.
“One of the main things was write about what you know,” he said. “It’s kind of like investors. The most successful investors invest in what they know and, for me, that’s this project. I invested in my family lyrically. I said, ‘You know what? This is what I know. I know my babies, I know this land, I know my wife, and I know about being a good husband and being honest. So this whole album was born out of where we live in Utah and what we do and how we live.”
Plus it’s been a more mature experience for him.
“It’s very grown up,” he says with a hearty laugh of his new venture with Sugar Hill Records. “It’s the most grown up I’ve ever been.”
And nothing feels as good as doing something on your own terms.
Kelley told me he took three years to make this record after taking a year off to score a movie, an experience that he says brought him back to this album with a fresh perspective. Even though it did get lonely sometimes recording the new music in his “super-vibey” home studio in Utah (he admitted to talking and giggling to himself at times), recording at home does have great perks, like the perk of having his biggest fans and supporters close by to weigh in on his creative choices.
“My family is very honest with me,” he admitted. “They’ll let me know when a new song is terrible. They’re just like, ‘Daddy, that song is terrible. I don’t like that one.’ There’s no, ‘Umm, that’s got some potential … ’ but they’ll let me know when it’s great. I know they’re very honest, especially Katie. When she feels it you can just look at her face and know that she is in it.”
“Katie” would be Katherine Heigl, Kelley’s Emmy-award winning actress wife, whose unwavering love and support of her husband is perfectly captured in one of the album’s standout tracks, “The Rock Who Found a Rolling Stone.”
“I wrote it for Katie because if not for her, I’d basically live in the studio, have a beard down to my ankles and probably would just be a total derelict because I am just obsessed with making music to the point where it’s really all I want to do,” he said. “She’s the one who basically opened the curtains in my life and gave me family and was like, ‘Hey man, there’s beautiful things also outside.’ That song is for her.”
Heigl also directed and appears in the video for his latest single, “It’s Your Move.”
The driving, ’70s-charged “Call It What It Is” is an ode to one of his biggest idols, Jackson Browne — or as Kelley called the song, the musical lovechild of Browne and The Dire Straits. It’s also special because of co-writer Charles Kelley, one-third of the Grammy-winning trio Lady Antebellum who just happens to be Josh’s little brother.
“I was driving from Utah to Los Angeles with my studio in tow because Katie was finishing up her TV show,” he said. “I was listening to a ton of California country: Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt. When I was writing that song, Charles was about to come over because we were writing for his record. I’d already had this idea going, and the first thing out of my mouth was that first line with that crazy, weird percussive delivery. The song was probably done in an hour — and that never happens.”
Well, there’s no chemistry like genetics. And for Josh, there’s nothing like getting to live out your dreams with your brother as he’s also seeing his dreams realized.
“It’s the best,” Josh says of their lives. “We were best friends. I think that was our parents’ intentions. I think that’s why they had us so close together. We’ve done everything together our whole lives. If I come to Nashville and I say, ‘Maybe I should stay in a hotel to give you guys some privacy,’ he gets angry with me! He wants me to be there because we love doing stuff together. We play golf together, we make music together, and I don’t think we’ve ever written a bad song together. And that’s one thing we’ve decided we’re going to start doing more of. We’re going to start writing a lot more together.”
And Charles isn’t the only other Kelley man guesting on the record: the boys’ father, Dr. John W. Kelley, makes an appearance, too.
“I don’t think he knows he’s on the record, but the title track ‘New Lane Road,’ that speech in the middle? That’s my dad,” Josh revealed.
“I called him on the phone because I’d written the song and I had nothing for that moment. I said ‘I’m just going to interview some people around town.’ And then I said, ‘I’m going call my dad.’ I put my phone on speaker next to the microphone and without him knowing it. I was sort of interviewing him and recording the whole thing, him talking about his life. It was a tough life growing up on the farm in the North Georgia mountains. At the end, I had chills.”
Josh is incredibly grateful he and Charles have such wonderful parents, and that they both have an opportunity to reach people through music.
“This is what we’re supposed to do,” he told me as our talk came to a close. “This is our life’s design and we’re supposed to help people on their journey through life with whatever emotion they’re going through. Hopefully, they can find a song in my catalog that helps them through it.”