October 4, 2010 at 11:12 am , by Ron Kelly
Music has always been a big part of Josh Kelley’s life, and it’s often been a family affair. As a teenager in Augusta, Georgia, he and brother Charles Kelley (now of Lady Antebellum fame) had a band called Inside Blue. They eventually charted their own courses and Josh went on to release six solo albums, hitting the top 5 with his hit “Amazing.” Then, while filming the video for his song “Only You,” Kelley met the woman who’d become his wife, Katherine Heigl. Now the two have a daughter, Naleigh, who they adopted from Korea last year, and the musical tradition continues.
“She’s got great pitch. I can go aaaaaaaaaa and she will find that note,” the beaming dad told me when he visited the LHJ offices last week for a private three-song performance that wowed our staff. “And I sit her on my knee and she can play the drums. I think music will come easily to her. It looks like it’s been in her since the beginning, so I’m pretty excited about that. When we first got her, the guy who flew her over from Korea said she’s going to be an opera singer because she held the same tone the whole time she was on the plane. And it’s like a 17-hour flight!”
Kelley is doing a little soaring of his own these days, having landed a much coveted opening spot for the CMT On Tour dates this fall, featuring red-hot headliner Miranda Lambert and special guest Eric Church. All this while his debut country single, “Georgia Clay,” has broken into the top 40 on the country charts. The nostalgic but upbeat tune was a big hit when he performed it for our office. Check it out here, along with two other songs from Kelley’s upcoming CD, due out in early 2011. For more of my chat with Kelley, read on after the jump.
How’d you get word about landing the CMT on Tour gig?
My manager called me and she was all excited. She said, “We’ve got the best news. You just got the opening slot for Miranda Lambert!” I was freaking out because I know how important that is as a new artist—especially when you have your first single out. To have a tour behind you is huge. Honestly, I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.
Any added pressure on you opening for arguably one of the hottest acts in country music right now?
No added pressure. I just want to learn. I’ve been watching a lot of different shows lately. I saw Sugarland the other day, my little brother Charles’ show [Charles is one-third of Lady Antebellum] last night. I saw Kevin Fowler play, who was Texas country, and that just blew me away. Amazing! So I’ve been learning a lot. Every time I watch a huge artist perform I always take something away from it and try to take little tidbits and make them my own. So I’m more excited about learning and enjoying the show than anything. I don’t really get nervous with music. I get nervous on the first tee of a golf tournament, but I don’t get nervous with music for some reason.
Even though you’ve been making music for a while and have 6 CDs already under your belt, this is technically your first country album. How are you approaching being a new artist in a new genre?
You just gotta be humble and work hard, man. No matter what you do in life. I think that’s kind of the recipe for it. I think in my career, I’ve been developing for years now. I originally got signed in 2003 and I probably wasn’t prepared for it then. The music was probably more mature than me. It takes time to get good at performing and to get better at songwriting and it just takes time to develop. So I think I’ve just been preparing myself for this. It’s a great moment to say that, you know, this is 100% J.K. now. All I’m trying to do now is work hard, stay humble and make sure I meet and greet everybody. Shake hands and say, “Look. Check it out. I hope you like it.”
So what can people expect from the CD?
It’s an 11-song album and it’s pretty autobiographical. In the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve gotten married, I’ve moved and I have adopted a little baby girl. There’s been a lot going on and I pretty much wrote about that. I think it’s a nice little timepiece that we’ve finished here. It’s exciting, man.
And how about the video for “Georgia Clay.” Can you tell us anything about it?
Yeah, we shot it a few weeks ago. I know it’s gonna be good. Wes Edwards shot it in high speed, something like 1,000 frames a second. Something like that. Man, it’s so crazy. It’s really vivid and really supercool. It just looks kind of magical. One of the lyrics is “when I pull that blue tarp off of that time machine,” so they did 1,000 frames a second of me pulling this tarp off a truck really fast. It shows it in slow motion, all this dust coming off and it’s just nuts, man.
Is it true that “Dada” was the first word your daughter said?
Well, she calls everybody Dada so it didn’t matter. I’m the original Dada. Maybe that should be the title of my next album: The Original Dada. The Notorious D.A.D.A. She says a bunch of stuff now too, man. She’s the cutest little girl. But I don’t know if I could listen to Dora the Explorer one more time. It’s so funny we do our little daddy-daughter thing and I always try to get her up in the morning, and I take her down and I make myself a bowl and her a bowl of Cheerios and we sit there and watch SpongeBob Squarepants. And I think I like SpongeBob more than she does, but it’s our little thing. She sits there, she’ll sit on the couch with me … and I’m probably creating bad habits because she’s supposed to go in the highchair but, you know, she’s with Dada. She’s supposed to be able to kind of hang out. She sits there right next to me and she does not move. It’s amazing.
How about your wife [Katherine Heigl, whose movie Life As We Know It comes out this week]? Does she give you any feedback on the music you’re working on?
She lets me know if she doesn’t like a song for sure. And I kind of do the same, but in a different way. We’re definitely both each other’s fans and critics. I think it’s kind of healthy. It’s superhealthy. It’s respect. Believe me, the day that she stops criticizing my music I’ll know that something’s not right.
What’s the toughest note she’s ever given you on a song?
She’s never harsh. She just lets me know. To be honest, to tell you the truth, she likes most of the music. I think over the years now, I’ve figured sort of my template to writing and it’s pretty consistent now. So I think she likes most of the stuff.
Here at LHJ, we have a longstanding slogan and column called Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman. If we were to do a “Never Underestimate the Power of Katherine Heigl” installment of that column, what would it be about?
I would say that she’s an amazing business woman. I was in the other room one day in Utah and she was on this business conference call with, like, 10 different bigwigs. And she wasn’t just holding her own, she was holding court. She knows what she’s doing.
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