JJ Lawhorn isn't your typical easy-going country boy. Underneath his tough exterior, there lies a compelling singer-songwriter with a story to tell. Last fall, he experienced unimaginable tragedy when his best friend passed away following a truck accident. While many would focus on the bad, he has turned this incident into a positive experience, channeling his talent into his music. While his new single "Good Ol' Boys Like Us" was inspired by a separate occurrence, the sweeping ballad reminds him of his dear friend and how truly delicate life really is.
"It’s definitely a different kind of song that most people don’t release as a single. It’s a song that I feel affects people in a certain way that they need. It’s like a glass half full sort of song even though it’s doomy and gloomy," he shares in an exclusive interview with NashvilleGab.
On the decision to release the song as the album's (Original Good Ol' Boy) second single, he explains, "It was the culmination of a lot of things. ‘Good Ole Boys Like Us’ has always been a song that’s been real special to me. It’s a song about a buddy of mine that passed away in a truck accident. He flipped his truck into a tree. He was ejected through the windshield and died."
"It’s two of my buddies that are sitting on the tailgate in the [‘Sittin’ On A Tailgate’] music video: [they’re] the ones that survived the accident," the continues. "His death just devastated my community [back home]. He was a textbook example of how good people sometimes die young. That song was just me taking a negative thing into a positive thing. Why don’t we look at the glass half full instead of half empty?"
The message of the song is clear: "Even though our loved ones are gone, they’re watching over us. They’re our guardian angels now. We’re gonna see them again. It’s a song of hope."
Lawhorn details that the song just came to him one night after a hard day's work. "I come in one night (from bailing hay or something) and sat down at my desk in my room," he recounts. "I just felt like writing this song. I had this idea. When I was playing some chords, it just came to me. ‘Why don’t I take this song and do some good in life?’ And it was one of the quickest songs I’ve ever written in my life. I wrote it in 15 minutes."
But to be sure, he's also realistic about the results, claming "it’s not something that’s a ridiculous masterpiece. You look at some songs, and they’re super complicated. [This one] just tells a story and paints a picture. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written and so simple."
He then describes his relationship with his late best friend and where he was when he heard the devastating news: "He was my best friend and my first drummer in my band. I was freaking climbing around trees, whittling sticks and shooting BB guns with this kid when we were little. He was pretty much my brother. He passed away about three months ago. It was this tragic moment, a random accident. I was driving to West Virginia when I found out. I was going to play a show. It was completely out of nowhere and unexpected."
While he might not have a chart-topping hit under his belt (yet), he asserts that he doesn't do any of this for radio play. "That is what really helped me to decide that we should go through with this song at radio. I didn’t know if it was the right time to do all this. The song took on a completely new meaning the night my best friend died. I had to play a show. I couldn’t cancel the gig. I had sing this song and think about him."
He confesses that "this song has changed my whole life. It’s a constant reminder to myself, not just to other people, that, ‘hey, you’ll see these people again one day.’ Hell yes, I miss him, but I can’t focus on the bad."
As far as the music video, directed by Payne Lindsey, is concerned, he wanted to capture innocence and nostalgia. "I had this vision for the video of taking my best friend’s little brother and best friend and use them to portray us as kids," he describes. "That’s why you’ll see two little kids running around. We tried to replicate our relationship and what we’d be doing if we went back in time. It’s really cool. It’s almost like you see me in these scenes and the kids running passed me on the railroad tracks. I turn around, and they aren’t there. It’s memories of my friend and I growing up."
He adds, "I had this knife that was his. We tried to find something that was really general, something that every country boy would have growing up. Throughout the video, I’m looking at this knife and remembering skinning animals and carving trees with my best friend in places we used to do those things."
The clip is set on a farm in his Virginia hometown, and even features a cemetery. "It’s powerful imagery and having to move forward. In the last scene, I’m in a graveyard, laying the knife on a tombstone," he notes.
Even without a video, he admits that he has "already seen the effects of this song in [my] live shows. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘man, this song changed my life. You don’t know how much this means to me.’ That’s what I do this for. I don’t do this for anyone to get spins at radio. I just keep it real and try to help people."
"Good Ol' Boys Like Us" is certainly a significant departure from his previous singles, such as "Sittin' On A Tailgate." He explains: "This isn’t a song that’s about a party or about riding down the road with the windows down. It has no other purpose than to give somebody a better outlook on life."
On this video shoot, he says that it was a very different kind of experience for him. "To be honest, when you go into a music video shoot, you try to have your [own vision] of what you are trying to portray. It doesn’t always come out the way you want it to. Sometimes, producers and directors have a different vision. They’re shooting the video, and they want it to be an accurate representation of what they can do. Everybody has their own opinions about how things should be done and how it should look."
"The whole political thing of it gets between what you are doing or whether someone else likes it. I hadn’t had one time [before] where I was going to dictate everything. It was complete artistic freedom [on this one]."
On working with Lindsey: "He does a lot of rap music videos. He’s got a different background, but he shoots super intense. His videos have a different feel than all the other guys I’ve shot videos with. I was super excited about it. We collaborated well."
Of course, on the topic of current trends on corporate radio, he is pretty frank: "I don’t think [radio] should be about one kind of song or one kind of message. This [current] formula is beat to death. I feel like there needs to be an opening for things that are promoting meaningful themes. There should be a greater purpose. Throw me a freaking song that’s gonna matter to me 20 years from now. When I sing this song 20 years [down the road], it’s going to remind me of the same thing as it does now. Nobody’s gonna remember that party record."
Grab a copy of "Good Ol' Boys Like Us" on iTunes now! Also, the album Original Good Ol' Boy!
Photo courtesy of Average Joes Entertainment
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