Josh Thompson Interview: New ‘Turn It Up’ Album Explores His Small-Town Roots
Josh Thompson‘s new ‘Turn It Up’ album (April 1) sticks to what the singer does best. The 10 songs fall in line with the unique brand of blue collar country this Wisconsin native introduced on ‘Way Out Here’ in 2010. A lots changed since then, but a few important things have stayed the same.
There’s a small town theme to ‘Turn It Up’ that anyone who grew up in a town smaller than 20,000 will appreciate. “I don’t know if it’s ever intentional, but I think that’s just where my inspiration comes from,” Thompson tells Taste of Country of this thread that ties his songs together.
"I grew up in a small town, and the blue collar theme … those are things that always bleed through because it’s what I write about. It’s just what I know."
“I grew up in a small town, and the blue collar theme … those are things that always bleed through because it’s what I write about. It’s just what I know.”
Fame and stardom don’t fit the 36-year-old as well as some others. He doesn’t instinctively step into every bright light, but he’s not media shy. Thompson is a morning person, up at 6AM on most mornings. He’s an outdoorsman, and a hunter. There’s nothing phony about him. None of his stories feel exaggerated for reaction. Currently on tour with Randy Houser and Justin Moore — both married with kids — Thompson passed on the obligatory chance to talk about how wild it gets as the three play bachelor.
“I mean we like to have a good time but I don’t think anybody gets crazy,” he says laughing. An off day may mean golfing, but Thompson doesn’t golf so he just drives the cart.
‘Turn It Up,’ featuring the Top 40 hit ‘Cold Beer With Your Name on It,’ is Thompson’s first with Show Dog Universal, Toby Keith‘s label, after splitting with Sony in 2012. He talked to ToC about the transition, as well as his favorite clunker, the unreleased album and leaving the small town behind.
ToC: How difficult was it for you to leave the small town for Nashville?
Josh Thompson: It wasn’t [long pause] easy, easy. I mean I didn’t know anybody in Nashville so I just kind of packed up and left, but it was something that was driving me to do. So I left and it wasn’t easy but eventually I made some friends and got a job and kind of settled in. There were some times there where I was definitely homesick. But it’s not too far from home, it’s about an hour-and-20-minute flight.
Sometimes if you haven’t watched someone in your circle do something similar it’s difficult to be first. Was that the case for you?
My whole family was in the concrete industry. That was what everybody had done from Grandpa to my dad to my uncles and my cousins. That was it. It was a great skill set to have, it was a great job, I just … I wanted to give music a shot to see if I could make a career out of music. I just made a jump for it.
When you were first starting, did you get the feeling people thought what you were trying was cute, but maybe “Come home and get a real job.”
[laughs] Yeah. There was a lot of support, but there was definitely some of that especially after … I mean they expect you to be … you’re there for six months and it’s like “How come you don’t have a record deal yet? How come you don’t have any songs cut yet?”
What was the turning point?
I signed a publishing deal about seven months in and I think that’s the point where I started thinking if I just kept working I could make this work. I still don’t think that the people back home understood that. I think it’s still hard for them to understand that. I think they probably realized it when I got my first cut as a writer, which led to a record deal offer.
The record deal offer was four years in, then it was like “Oh, OK. It’s working.”
There are at least three songs on ‘Turn It Up’ about a girl leaving.
[Laughs] I have a lot of experience in that too.
Three different girls?
I don’t know, I think when it comes time to make a record and you’ve got, I dunno how many hundreds of songs to pick from, you whittle ‘em down to the songs that you love, that you have a personal connection to. Or that lyrically or sonically set themselves apart.
I definitely think there’s a bit of truth to everything on there, especially the leaving songs, but I think at the end of the day it wasn’t my full intention to put three separate leaving stories on there.
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There are two car songs, ‘Hillbilly Limo’ and ‘Firebird.’ Are you a car guy?
I do like cars. I like trucks more but I think ‘Hillbilly Limo’ is more about how it doesn’t matter how trashy it is, it still works [laughs].
And ‘Firebird’ is really more about freedom.
Do you have a clunker in your life that you think back on fondly?
Oh goodness. I had a ’84 Dodge, heavy duty. It was horrible on everything. The radiator wasn’t big enough, it would overheat all the time and it would go through oil like crazy so I was putting oil in it at a gas station and the engine block was so hot I got a little oil on the engine block and it started on fire. [laughs] It wasn’t good. We put it out with some of the windshield washer fluid, and it was alright and we got back in and drove it down the road.
Those are the kind of cars that build character.
Oh yeah. There was eight months were the starter kept going out and you have just turn the key and get a big screwdriver and touch off the starter by hand to get it running. But they were easy to fix.
Compare Josh Thompson as an artist now with the guy who recorded your first album.
I was say my first album … I was probably a scared puppy. I didn’t know a whole lot. I think the big difference about this record is I have a great feel for what my audience is gonna love. And what’s gonna get them to react, whether it’s pumping their fist or putting beer in the air or dancing.
"I mean they expect you to be … you’re there for six months and it’s like ‘How come you don’t have a record deal yet? How come you don’t have any songs cut yet?’"
Did you cut a whole other album before you switched labels?
I did yeah. I’ve got it, but I wanted to start over with this record. We’ve talked a little bit about getting it out there in some facet, so I would like to say it would definitely see the light of day at some point.
Did any of the songs make both?
No. No I started all the way over.
When an artist changes labels, is there a period of self-reflection about what’s working, what’s not working?
It probably is, but the case with this one was it was really two weeks when we got out of one and into another. So it wasn’t a whole lot of reflect. It was a whole lot of time to get your s**t together and start thinking about making a record.