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Interview: Josh Turner discusses new album Country State of Mind and his first UK shows

Country legend Josh Turner made his first trip to the UK last September for his very first headline shows on this side of the pond.

The shows were a huge success, including a headline slot at The Long Road Festival and a sold-out show at London’s Union Chapel, and fans are hopeful that Josh will be making the UK a regular tour stop. Next month Josh releases new album Country State of Mind, an album of covers paying homage to the artists that have inspired his music that features a wealth of special guests.

I spoke to Josh recently to talk about the making of the album, discuss how he picked the songs to record, and to find out how his first UK shows went…

You were in the UK last September for your first shows here. How was that trip for you?

Fantastic. Man, you know, I didn’t really know what to expect but I went over there and I just had an incredible time. I think the first day was the hardest for me because I didn’t know how people would respond to me. Just being in another place like that where everybody’s got a different accent (laughs) and all that, is a little bit of a culture shock. After the first half a day I kind of settled down and just really started enjoying it more and started taking in the sights and the people and just the whole experience. The way the fans responded to me and my shows was just honestly, overwhelming. I felt right at home. Everybody made me feel really welcome and it was just incredible.

The last time we caught up was before your show at Union Chapel. The audience at that show was pretty rowdy, especially the woman who kept shouting how much she loved you…

I had been prepared for the crowds to be just really laid back, reserved the quiet. I had been warned, ‘they’re gonna be really quiet but don’t don’t take offence to it. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you’ (laughs). Before I had even stepped up to the microphone, people were just going nuts and it just made me feel right at home. It was incredible and I can’t wait to go back.

Your new album Country State of Mind is coming out in August. This is a collection of covers of songs that you’ve loved and been inspired by. Where did the idea for the album come from?

The whole record is just a dream come true for me, to be able to go in and record a lot of my favourite Country songs. As a country music fan, as a student of country music, and as an artist I’ve always taken on the role of responsibility of trying to not only entertain people, but I try to educate people and inform people that the songs that were on the radio and that were hits, that’s just a piece of the puzzle. There’s so many other Country songs. I’ll admit, I’ve been listening to country music my whole life, and I’m still discovering artists and songs that I wasn’t that familiar with. I continue to learn and I try to create records that are gonna enlighten and open the minds of my fans and my listeners. I didn’t want to just go and do a record where it’s just nothing but all of the classic Country hits that everybody knows and loves. There’s some of that obviously, we have I’m Not Stranger to the Rain, we have Midnight in Montgomery, we have Good Ol Boys and we have Forever and Ever, Amen. But we also have songs like I’ve Got It Made, Alone and Forsaken, The Caretaker, I Can Tell By The Way You Dance… I think a lot of people are not that familiar with that song. A lot of people aren’t even familiar with Vern Gosdin even. I tried to create some variety on this record so that not only are they entertained, but they’re educated.

You have some serious legends on the record such as Kris Kristofferson, John Anderson and Randy Travis, who collaborate with you on your versions of their songs. How did you choose which of their tracks to record?

John Anderson and Randy Travis, I could have chosen any song from any one of those artists because they’ve been such a big influence on me and I’m so familiar with their catalogue. For the John Anderson selection I really tried to go back to songs of his that really meant something to me. I could have easily gone in and done Seminole Wind, but that’s not going to sound right coming for me because that’s the song that John wrote about where he’s from, and just the heritage of the place he’s from in Florida. I don’t think it would have been as believable for me to go in and sing Seminole Wind. I tried to choose one of his songs that I felt like I really related to and that song was I’ve Got It Made. My producer Kenny Greenberg loves that song so that that’s why we landed on that song.

For Forever and Ever, Amen – the Randy Travis song – once again, I could have chosen any song of Randy’s. i had seen several times in town, here in Nashville, when an artist or a writer would come out and sing Forever and Ever, Amen and they would have Randy come up and sing the last word of the song. The crowd just absolutely loved it. I felt like it would be cool, not only with it being Randy’s signature song, but I felt like it would be cool to have a recorded version of this. When Randy came in the studio that day, we all kind of realised the fact that this was the first time back in the studio since his stroke. It was a historical moment. It was a bittersweet moment and there were some tears shed but it was a joyous occasion too to have Randy come in and sing behind the microphone in the studio again after all he’s been through.

There’s a lot of special moments on this record. Kris Kristofferson joining me on his song on this record was a dream come true. I’m very honoured to have all the guests on this record.

Josh Turner - Country State of Mind
Credit: MCA Nashville

One of the songs I really love on this record is Desperately, the Bruce Robison song that was covered by George Strait, which features Maddie & Tae. How did that come about?

I’ve done a lot of radio shows with with Maddie & Tae. I was really impressed by their harmonies. I just enjoyed hearing them. I spent a lot of time on stage sitting right beside them doing these radio acoustic kind of things. When it came time to choose younger artists to join me on this record, and I decided to do the song Desperately, that came from me being a big fan of Bruce Robinson and George Strait had a hit with the song so it was my way to pay homage not only to Bruce but to George. I figured with Maddie & Tae – one being from Texas and one being from Oklahoma, I felt like they really understand that style of song. They agreed right away and decided to do it at their home studio and on their own time and just did an incredible job. I think they sound really good on the song. That’s probably the newest or the youngest song on this record

Was it daunting recording songs by artists you admire?

I think it could have been if I’d have allowed my mind to go there but I just went in as my own artist and realising that this was my record. All the artists that agreed to be on this record or a part of this record, I was just very grateful and very thankful. I’ve known most all these artists for a long time so it was really a situation where I was singing with my friends. It wasn’t uncomfortable in any way. Everything was very organic and very natural. It was cool to blend the old with the new.

You mentioned your producer Kenny Greenberg earlier. This is the third consecutive record that you’ve worked with him on. What do you feel that Kenny brings to your music when you’re working together in the studio?

Kenny’s played a lot of different kinds of music and he’s familiar with a lot of different kinds of music. I think, and I don’t say this arrogantly, but I think he’s learned a lot from the as far as country music goes. He’s verbalised that to me so that’s probably the only reason I would even say that right now. But Kenny is an incredible musician. He’s got an incredible ear. He’s an incredible producer. He takes things that are old and kind of out of date, and has a way of making them sound new and fresh without screwing up the integrity of the song. That’s one thing that I’ve really appreciated from him, is that he just loves good music and he knows how to make songs just sound really good and fresh and new. I Can Tell By The Way You Dance is one of those examples, that was my first choice of song to do for this record and (Kenny) really wanted to get it out of the 80s guitar playing and that hook line that that’s song got in it, he wanted to kind of get away from that and update that. Our treatment of that song I feel like was just spot on and I feel like it could be a hit today.

The album closes with a cover of Johnny Cash’s The Caretaker. You’ve updated the lyrics to include your own name, which is a nice touch. Why did you decide to record that one out of all of Johnny’s back catalogue?

I’m just glad my name was Josh and it sounded similar to John, instead of my name being Benedict or something responded to john. And instead of my name being Benedict or something (laughs). I first became familiar with that song through the work Johnny had done with Rick Rubin. That led me to research the origin of that song because I loved it so much. I found it on a record Johnny did in the late ’50s called Songs of Our Soil. The original is different than his version done with Rick Rubin. I used the later version as a base. I love the story it tells of someone living in a cemetery and watching people mourn the loss of loved ones and how it makes him think of how people would respond when he dies. Musically, it’s constantly changing tempo and makes for an intriguing listen.

Josh Turner’s new album Country State of Mind is released on 21st August 2020. Watch him perform the title track below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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