When you dig into American Young's latest self-titled EP, you'll be treated to perfectly polished pop-country, vibrantly peppered with rock flourishes and dark, electric guitar licks. As their new single "Wasn't Gonna Drink Tonight" demonstrates, their folk roots are simply a small component of their overall mainstream-reaching sound. Further on the record, they examine story-song structure, as formulated with the sinister "God Sends A Train," mixed with a haunting melody and searing vocal.
Their remarkable talent is evident throughout the project, and singer Jon Stone will be the first to tell you he knew after the first week of performing together that they had something truly special. "It was new and exciting and powerful. I’ve always been the kind of person that wants to be moved by something. I think we have the type of songs and the sound that’s moving," he shares in an exclusive NashvilleGab interview.
He continues, "My gift in music has always been to be presented with something and see what it’s going to look like down the road. I really knew the first time we sang what it was going to be and turn into. We’re interested in learning a lot and evolving. If you stay there, you’ll never stop."
Fellow musician and vocalist Kristy Osmunson recollects, too, "I think something happened. You see this glimmer of something. There’s different ways to reveal that luminescence. In two years, I’ve watched Jon grow in such a rapid pace that scared the crap out of me for at least the first year. I was just hanging on, trying to keep up. Then, I started getting so inspired. I saw this human being completely shed all this fear and baggage."
"The business side of music can be so toxic for your art," she adds. In developing a unique sound and presence, that separates them from the pack, she goes on to detail that it's all about focusing on "what we like and what we want." She recalls something Stone told her a few years ago, "[He] said something that changed my life, ‘if you are different and do you, there is no competition.’"
Stone certainly agrees, "You look at Eric Church’s record. No one can do that. It’s just Eric. Any artist that has ever done anything in our format or anywhere has always had something uniquely identifiable about them. You eliminate your competition by simply standing out."
The EP's lead was the plucky "Love Is War," a song that describes love with vividly imagery, ranging from a cannonball to a feather. Osmunson recalls a very personal connection to the lyrics, "My parents went through a divorce when I was about seven. Watching that kind of evolution that happens, I learned so much from that experience about when things go wrong and how people start being reactive. Sometimes, the crazier those reactive scenarios become–I learned (as I got older) that it’s a sign of how much passion is in the relationship."
"When people yell at each other, it terrified me, and that’s not always the case," she notes. "Sometimes, people yell at each other out of passion. That’s their way of showing love. Since then, my parents have become the best of friends. Watching the evolution of communication and how they’ve been able to talk to each other and express themselves, I feel like much of that is summarized on the song."
The acoustically-driven song has a univeral message that everyone can certainly relate to. "If you’ve had to work with someone on any level, whether it is friendship or partnership or relationship, there’s a real balance that has to happen," Osmunson explains. "And we get to love each other at the extreme of emotion. It’s felt at our best and at our worst. That’s what I do with John. I love him at his best and his worst. He does that with me, too. I think that song was a premonition of what was going to happen and what I wanted to build this duo on."
In addition to their own work, they've had cuts with many country superstars, including Lee Brice ("A Woman Like You"), Rascal Flatts ("Me And My Gang") and Blake Shelton ("Kiss My Country Ass"). While Stone and Osmunson are visibly honored to have those credits, it can be frustrating at times. "That’s something that’s been very interesting to address lately. All of a sudden, I’m watching it happen. This is the first happen for me. Jon’s dealt this for years, and he’s great at it. I’m hearing people want to cut my songs. It’s hard to digest it," Osmunson admits.
Stone weighs in, too, "It can be great, and it can be frustrating, depending on how it turns out. I’ve had songs recorded that were like ‘oh my gosh. That’s so great.’ Actually handing off a song to another producer is scary as crap. I’ve had songs where I thought, ‘this song’s gonna be a smash.’ Then the producer or whoever just doesn’t do it justice. That part of it can be frustrating."
"We’ve gotten to the point now where we are not interested in having any of our songs cut by anybody else. If I write a hit song, I wanna cut it. There are sometimes songs that are hit songs that aren’t necessarily for an act. There are songs that I want to record but mayb Kristy isn’t into or vice versa."
On songwriting evolution, Osmunson says Stone has pushed her tremendously. She explains the reason behind their trepidation with outside cuts. "Jon has pushed me to a place so far outside my comfort zone. It’s fearless," she says. "What I’m realizing is that it is an exciting place to be. It’s the vulnerability that comes with being a songwriter."
With the June-released EP, Osmunson has only one goal: "[It's to] get the most amazing women and men standing in front of our stage and listen to what we do. [I want to] attract a really interesting audience. That’s really important in this industry." Oh, and she says a little prayer for a full-length release to come this fall.
Stone, also with such songwriting credits as Jerrod Niemann's "Only God Could Love You More" and Kenny Chesney's "Seven Days," asserts that radio trends have little influence on their artistic choices. "I thoroughly love commercial music. I love all styles, but I’ve been writing commercially for so long that it naturally happens," he says. "The current trends, like them or hate them, are exactly that: trends. We want a separate identity. We want to be able to look back in 20 years and say, ‘look what we did.’ And it have nothing to do with anything else."
Osmunson chimes in, "We want to set trends, not follow them. We want to change the game, not play the game. [Another] goal is to encourage individual growth as possible and become the most amazing rockstars. I want to make that album that you put in your CD player–because I’m old fashioned, I’m a kid of the ‘90s, I bought CDs–and I want to be driving down the road, going somewhere."
Considering you can hear the influence on the duo's EP, Stone reveals that "we talked about recording ‘Abbey Road,’ the entire thing and just doing our interpretation on it. I mean, that record is perfect. The Beatles clearly made a perfect record. It’s inspired me so much that we’d like to pay homage to that."
Earlier this year, American Young took front and center in another medium: the iconic Guy Gilchrist-created Nancy comic. "It was really cool," Stone says of the opportunity to see their name in print. "‘Nancy’ has been around forever. Guy is a good friend and true believe of what we’re doing."
Osmunson recalls the first night they met the talented creator, "The night we met him, we had just played with Charlie Daniels. That was the best part of that whole comic strip moment. It was the point of origin for me; we had just played the Hard Rock down in Florida. It was fun. We got off stage and Guy was just sitting at the bar."
Grab a copy of American Young's self-titled EP on iTunes now!
Photo courtesy of American Young Facebook
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