Most known for his Top 5 hits "Brass Bed" and "I Want To Live" and, of course, his 2004 No. 1 smash "Nothing to Lose," he has learned the hard way about the political nature of the music business. He departed from the fledgling Lyric Street Records before the label eventually disolved in 2010, but he's taken that experience with a grain of salt as he heads into the next chapter of his musical career. His newly released "Drink It Gone" sees him stepping out of his comfort zone with a catchy summer anthem, which serves as the lead offering from his forthcoming project (either an EP or an album).
I recently had the chance to chat with him about his new music, what he describes as his former label's "inner fighting" (that led to his departure), the state of Country radio, balancing family and career and the lessons he's learned over the years.
Nashville Gab: Where are you calling from right now?
Josh Gracin: I’m actually calling from home.
NG: So, you’re taking a break from the tour?
JG: I am. I think I have one show this weekend, and then one show next weekend. Then we get really busy. I usually do that because as a family of four, I usually take a little time off to get them to transition from getting out of school to summer vacation. Then, I’ll hit the road hard.
NG: How is the tour going?
JG: It’s going good. With the new label, new music and new team, there’s gonna be some growing pains, and there’s gonna be things we need to figure out. For the most part, things are going really, really good. I just hired a radio team to get the new single out there to radio in the next couple weeks. So, [there are] a lot of good things happening.
NG: As you just mentioned, you have a brand new single out “Drink It Gone,” which you wrote. Can you tell me the story behind it? What inspired it?
JG: Well, I’ve done a lot of different kinds of music throughout my eight years. It’s all been Country, but it’s been different. I felt like this time around, with the new single, I needed to write something that [fit with] how Country music is currently sounding on the radio. So, I really drew from my experiences around friends and family and you know, going to gatherings and seeing how they act around each other. I have a good time. I mean, I drink occasionally, but I’m not one to usually do the drinking songs and all that other stuff. It’s not my nature. I tried to do a song where it’s like me. We work hard. We do what we wanna do all week, and we’re responsible. Come the weekend, there’s no reason why you can’t have fun, let loose, lay back and have a good time.
[Adding:] A lot of the songs on the radio are, in my eyes, irresponsible. I understand that they are having a good time, and I understand that it’s all about that. At some point, you have to sit back, and if you have the opportunity to be a voice, you have to bring balance to what’s going on. Real life isn’t about drinking every night and having a good time and not knowing where you are the next morning. It’s just like everything. There’s a time and a place for it. That’s what I wanted this song to show. You can have a good time and go out there and forget life for a weekend. But come Monday morning, it’s right back to being responsible and contributing and doing what you need to do to move forward in life. That’s what I try to do. I try to make a responsible drinking song, I guess. [laughs]
NG: There’s a line about being passed out on a stranger’s floor. Is that from personal experience?
JG: Not from me, but definitely from a friend of mine, who lives in Denver now. I definitely have some experience with having to go pick them up and wondering where they’re at. They were usually the life-of-the-party kind of thing, where they never met a stranger. Usually, we’re there making sure to pick up after them and get them.
NG: You said that you drink on occasion, what’s your drink of choice?
JG: [laughing] Either Jameson and whiskey or Red Bull and yager.
NG: You were originally signed to Lyric Street, and, of course, they closed up shop in 2010. What was that experience like, knowing your label home was no longer in business?
JG: Well, I left before it actually closed, but I kind of felt that. They were going through a lot of inner fighting. Not everybody over there, but some of the artists had strange relations with the powers that be. I kind of saw the writing on the wall. They were upset with me kind of sticking my nose where they felt it didn’t belong, but the way I look at it, it’s my career, my life. It’s my families; it’s my livelihood, my music. If there’s a situation where I feel like you’re not being straight up and I’m not getting a straight answer, I’m not gonna just lay back and let it happen. That’s what I feel like there was a lot of over there. After I left, Rascal Flatts followed, too. You know, we left, and they folded shortly after.
NG: What is it like trying to balance your family with your career?
JG: It’s definitely hard, especially since getting this new label off the ground. I’ve pretty much been home for the last three months, which is the most I’ve ever been home in eight years. I got used to staying home and going to my son’s baseball practices and games. So now, heading out and getting busy is gonna be tough, but that’s life. That’s the way it is. Yea, I’m not home on the weekends, but I’m home throughout the week. I’m married to a great woman who’s handled it before when I was gone and [is able to be] a mom and a dad.
NG: You are now signed to Private Label Studios. How did that come about?
JG: I was working behind-the-scenes to try to find somebody with the pockets and the drive to wanna get involved with music and kind of change the landscape. There’s a lot of people that come along saying they want to change the face of the music business. So, you hear that anytime somebody else starts a label. It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s not real. The same stuff is being done behind close doors. It’s more of a PR ‘what you like like’ machine than what you sound like live and the music you do. I really wanted to focus on the music, the relationship between the label and the artist and the freedom [to be] able to write and produce and do the music you want to do. I mean, obviously, at some point you gotta look yourself in the mirror and go ‘maybe I can’t write songs as good as I thought.’ With what I’ve done in Nashville and what I’ve seen that works and doesn’t work, it’s kind of like a puppet mill. They go through so many artists. There’s no kind of personal relationship, and I feel like the most talented people aren’t getting a shot because they don’t know somebody…or they don’t look a certain way. To me, playing an instrument or singing is about the only talent that I know of, undoubtedly, [you have] to be able to pull it off. You can’t fake singing, but you know as well as I do that in technology, you can fix it live now, too. It’s just gotten crazy.
NG: You have a new band, as well. What do you look for in musicians?
JG: I look for the guys that are hungry. Those guys that not a lot of people are looking at, that maybe have not had a shot yet with a big-name artist. That’s the way I’ve always been. Most of my guys I started off with play with Taylor Swift now. My drummer that I’ve had for a long time, he plays for Randy Houser now. I wanted to find the same kind of players that hadn’t had a chance to shine in Nashville and be put out there on a major stage. I’ve put a great band together. I do have two veterans. One, Mike, my guitar player, who started with my from the very beginning when I first started eight years ago, played for Jason Aldean for a little while and then got out of music all together. He need to kind of recharge. My keyboard player, Jeff, was part of the Dancehall Doctors. He played with Tim McGraw for 19 years. So Tim went to Big Machine and kind of retooled everything and let him go. I was very fortunate enough to be able to snag him up and have him play for us.
NG: You have an EP coming out this fall. How far along is the process right now?
JG: We recorded five songs already, and we’re not sure whether we’re gonna do an EP or an album. The cool thing about being at this kind of record label is you can do out-of-the-box things. Like Luke Bryan, I think he released 3 EPs before he released his newest album. It actually has songs he previously released with a couple of new ones. It’s very smart. So, we might go that route. We aren’t sure. That’s why I like where I’m at; the door is kinda wide open. If I need to go in and record five more songs, I can do that in two or three weeks. There’s no red tape to go through. No pecking order. No waiting in line.
NG: Are you doing most of the songwriting for the new project?
JG: I am. I’m trying to collaborate with some people in Nashville, but being a solo artist for the last eight years and…I wouldn’t say withdrawn, because that’s not my personality, but the people I had around me kind of kept me that way…so, I really haven’t made the relationships I should have in the last eight years, which is fine by me. I kind of started from the ground up as far as networking. I’m trying to get out there to write with different writers and just get my name out there. I think that with the single being released and ‘Redemption’ (the album before), [on which] I wrote and co-produced everything, as well, [being] out there for writers to hear and listen to and start wanting to reach out and write with me is gonna help big time.
NG: When you write a song, what are you inspired by? Do you usually have a lyric, a melody or just a general idea/theme?
JG: It differs. It really does. Sometimes I go in there with a melody; sometimes I go in there with lyrics and an idea already. As far as what I write about, [I’m inspired by] just life experience. Sometimes, when I’m done writing a song, it’s about something I thought I had forgot about. It’s definitely a surreal thing for me when I do finish writing a song. It’s an amazing thing to me, the whole process is.
NG: Now that George Jones has passed, there is a void in Country Music. Who do you think is the best living country singer now?
JG: Oh wow. I think the way society is, you don’t know. Unfortunately, you don’t know until you lose someone like that. I think if you look at history with anything, [like] presidents. With presidents, they get totally destroyed in the media during their presidency and then you come out and find, 15 years later, they were one of the greatest presidents. It happens all the time. I think George’s passing is another shining example of that. Yes, we know him for many great things while he was alive and doing music. But he was also known for a lot of negative things. Now that he’s passed, and he’s such a legend of Country music, people are going to be able to focus solely on his music. My whole point is that it’s very hard to be able to look at some people and those still doing things and now look at them and say ‘he’s another one of them.’ You have your people that sell a lot of records. You have your people that may not sell a lot of records, but they tour. Then you have those that may not sell a lot of records or tour but have a lot of hits on the radio. It’s different.
NG: As we all know, you were on American Idol. Have you watched it since then?
JG: I haven’t. It’s been whirlwind since I got off the show. I’ve never really had time to sit down and watch it. When I’m not on the road, I’m home. I do follow it in the media somewhat as far as the changing of the judges and who’s getting eliminated. That’s about it.
NG: Any advice you could give to the new generation wanting to audition for shows like that?
JG: I would just say take any shot you have. Think long and hard. You got to have a different kind of personality and mental toughness to be able to come from those shows and succeed beyond. I’m an example of that, too. I had great success right off the bat, but I would also be naive and arrogant if I felt like where my career was four years ago is the same [as now]. No. That’s the great thing about Country music, as well. You go through ups and downs. It’s always been like that. The good thing about me is I started young. I’m at the age right now that some of the biggest artists started. You take a look at Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney. [They] all had their first major hit at the age I’m at right now. It definitely takes a different mentality. You’re gonna come out with that stigma. Yea, you’re gonna have a fan base, but that fan base is also used to seeing you for free on television. They’re used to hearing you sing music for free. When you go out there, and you try to tour, you’re selling tickets, selling records, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s really weird [how] the human psyche is. Even though they don’t know they’re doing it, they’re thinking in their heads ‘why am I gonna pay for something, when I just saw it for free on TV? How is it gonna be any better?’ It really takes a strong mind to look past that and keep plugging. The most important thing is a great live show. You need to have great music. That’s what’s gonna make it happen later on down the road.
As the phone call was about to end, he wanted to clarify his stance on the music business.
JG: I wasn’t trying to be negative. It’s kind of hard to describe this business. A lot of artists shy away from describing it. I don’t because I think people need to know about it. It is a different kind of animal. It is true. It’s more about who you know, looks and the money [you] have behind you than anything else, unfortunately. That being said, there are also other things…the great side of music, once you [get a] foothold and move forward…that is just having that audience to…change things. You kind of having to play the game before that. That’s the one thing I didn’t know. I tried to come in here and do things the way I felt they should be done. You can’t always do that. If you want to do that, play the game first. Then you’re in the position to make things happen.
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