Photo courtesy of Josh Gracin
If you were anything like me, way back in 2003, you were glued to the FOX network and American Idol’s second season. While the grand prize winner turned out to be Ruben Studdard, there are a few other memorable names that emerged from that season, Clay Aiken, Kimberly Locke and a guy named Josh Gracin.
Josh Gracin wound up finishing in fourth place, but that certainly didn’t mean he took his marbles and went home, never to be heard from again. Not by a long shot. At the time of his American Idol appearances, he was an active duty United States Marine and after exiting the show, he went on to complete his four-year military obligation. After that, however, he began a musical journey that took off like a rocket. His single, “Nothin’ To Lose” shot up to number one and suddenly this USMC Veteran was a country music star. That may be the Josh Gracin you and I all remember most.
I had the chance to sit down with Josh at his record label and talk about what he’s been up to these days and let’s just say the word of the day is “excitement”. Good, positive things. Why don’t you all pull up a chair, grab a drink and listen in?
Think Country: I’ll jump right to the new music. We’ll start there and work our way backward. Tell me about the new songs. How about “Good for You”? Tell me about that one.
Josh Gracin: Well, David DeVaul was out on the road with me and I got into a really cool writer’s space with him and he sent me a song called “Good for You” and I was drawn to it right away. I grew up listening to Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green, all those guys, back in Michigan. That’s how I learned to sing, before country. I got into country around 13 or 14-years old. I have always wanted to do music that was a real cool blend of country and old school soul, so when I heard “Good for You”, it was just like a lightbulb right away. He and Robyn Collins were kind enough to let me take it and go into the studio and record it, and here we are. We recorded a few other songs and I was kind of worried about how they would take “Good for You” because it was so different, so for them to automatically pick that as a single against some of the other stuff that we did, I was extremely happy with that. It’s a very different song.
TC: It is very different, but it has a cool vibe.
JG: Yes, it does.
TC: Don’t you think?
JG: Yes, I certainly do. It’s one of those that you can just sit back and chill and listen to. It sits in that space and you just don’t hear a lot of that music right now.
TC: That song, you were not on a co-write on that, correct?
JG: No, I was not. David DeVaul and Robyn Collins wrote that. It’s one of those songs that you wish you would have written. It also gives you a blueprint to figure out how to write songs like that. How to fuse those two together. You have to start somewhere and this song came along, and now it helps. It kind of opens up the door into how you can kind of fuse the two genres together and make a song like that. So, we’ve been doing a lot of writing since then.
TC: So, you’ve kind of found “your people”?
JG: There you go, absolutely.
TC: That’s cool. I also see Robyn Collins is on “Nothin’ Like Us”.
JG: She’s on “Nothin’ Like Us”, yes.
TC: I did my homework a little bit. Sometimes I do that, but I like that song too.
JG: Thank you.
TC: I also read, and tell me if this is true, because you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, that “Nothin’ Like Us” kind of reminded you of you and your wife.
JG: Yes. It’s amazing when you have to go through a lot of life experiences to prepare you, or kind of put you in the right space for things that come after. I went through a really tough time in 2014 and I met her right at the back end of that, in the beginning of 2015, and it just opens your eyes as to this is how things are supposed to be. This is the way things should have gone. This is the way you should approach things and how you should say your relationship is, and when I heard that song… You know, that’s what makes country so great, it’s because you can hear songs like that and you can apply them to your life, and apply them to things you’re going through or that you will go through or that you have been through. There’s no other genre like that.
TC: No, and even if you didn’t write them. As a fan, how many country songs that I can apply my life to and I’ve never written a country song in my life, but I think, I could have.
JG: That’s exactly right, and ten years later, you hear that song and you remember where you were when you heard it, or what moment you applied that song to ten years ago. There’s no other genre that does that.
TC: Yeah, it’s beautiful. That’s a cool song too, I like it. I think they’re both good.
JG: Thank you.
TC: Okay, so, now you’ve got new music. On the road?
JG: I’ve been on the road touring constantly, that’s never stopped. I’ve always been out there, the schedule’s ever-changing, always growing, more show’s coming in, that’s always good. Some exciting things happening. Kind of see the puzzle pieces moving, see them coming together and forming and it’s going to keep it growing. A lot of good things happening.
TC: Where are you going on this latest bunch of shows?
JG: Everywhere. Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Colorado, California, Arizona, it’s just all over.
TC: So, you’re going every place. That’s great.
JG: Yeah, every place.
TC: Now, let’s go back. American Idol. Do you ever talk to anyone from your American Idol days?
JG: I do not. They’ve kind of spread, kind of went their own ways. I definitely pay attention to what they’re doing in the media, but it’s very few and far between.
TC: What do you do when you have those rare moments when you can be at home? What do you do to chill out?
JG: Well, I have my kids every other week.
TC: That’s good. Are they here in Tennessee?
JG: Yes, I have 50/50 custody so, you go a week without them and then the week they come over it’s just like, chaos (laughs)!
TC: How many kids do you have?
JG: I have four.
TC: What’s the age range?
JG: 16, 13, 12 and 10.
TC: Oh, my goodness, so yeah, they just glob on!
JG: You go from chillin’ and doing what you want, to waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, driving them to school, picking them up from school, homework, the whole nine.
TC: Four kids, that’s a lot of work, but I’m sure they love their time with you.
JG: They do, they really do. We have a blast every time.
TC: Here’s my one hard question. Lately the buzz in Nashville is about women in country music and how they’re having a tough time of it. As a guy that’s a country music artist, what is your thought on that?
JG: That is a tough question because that’s a political arena and my manager and my publicist know my views on things like these (laughs).
TC: So, your answer is, “No comment”?
JG: You know what, I will say this. The fans, especially when you have streaming, you have YouTube, you have social media, there’s so many different variables that go into it than there used to be, ultimately, the fans, sales, streaming numbers, that drives who’s who. You can’t deny that. I think whoever’s strongest in those areas, whoever’s selling the records, the tickets, doing the most streaming or has the most social numbers, they’re going to be on top, no matter if you’re a guy or a girl, it doesn’t matter if you have radio play or not.
TC: Let me rephrase the question then, I’ll make it easier for you. Do you enjoy female country music?
JG: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely!
TC: So, you’re a fan, no matter what?
JG: Oh, absolutely! I’m a fan of everything! I know that they shall not be mentioned in a bunch of circles because of what happened back in the day, but I was a huge fan of The Dixie Chicks. I love all different music. Maren Morris is one of my favorites right now.
TC: Oh, she’s amazing.
JG: I just think with technology today, there’s just a really good way of figuring out who should be at the top of the charts and who shouldn’t.
TC: It’s a whole different world, isn’t it?
TC: You were the first guy that I posed that question to. Unfortunately, you just happened to be the first guy I’ve talked to since I thought of asking it.
JG: Oh, it’s okay, I was born and raised with all women. I have four sisters, no brothers, all of my cousins were female. I was surrounded and grew up with females. I think it’s very important to have all different types of artists, whether it’s male or female or more country rock or whatever it is. I just think when you start dissecting, “Why isn’t this up here?” or “Why isn’t this up here?”, then I think you’re going down a bad slope because there’s a lot of guys out there that have phenomenal talent, phenomenal voices, phenomenal writing skills that aren’t given the time of day and are struggling just as hard to get noticed and get an opportunity.
TC: It’s possible that those guys just aren’t talking about it.
JG: Not talking about it, not having the right people, not having the right team, different type of drive, they think it’s just gonna happen and fall out of the sky. There are many different variables that go into things, you know what I mean?
TC: I think you’re probably right.
JG: I’m a guy. I had success in the beginning because I was on the TV show, let’s be honest, and radio kind of embraced me, and I’m in the ring, fighting and swinging and going as many rounds as I can to get back where I want to be, so I think it’s a struggle for everybody.
TC: It’s a tough gig, isn’t it?
TC: That was my only tough one. Now it gets easy. Let’s let your fans into your world a little bit. If I looked in your car right now, what would I find?
JG: A lot of kid trash (laughs). A lot of empty Sprite cans and Gusher packs. Well, the Gusher packs are from me. A lot of empty Sprite cans and homework papers that were supposed to be turned in and my nice little police radar because I have a tendency to have a lead foot, so you’d find that. The radio is dialed into many different genres because I love all music. So, a little bit dirty, a little bit clean, right in the middle I guess you could say. Back seat dirty, front seat clean (big laugh).
TC: When you have kids, that’s generally the way that goes. Or at least that’s the way it should be.
TC: You’re out on the road. Have you ever had a city on your schedule that you had never been to before and you kind of dreaded going there, based on preconceived notions of how it was supposed to be, only to be pleasantly surprised by it?
JG: You know, I haven’t. Anytime I get a chance to play, and this might sound hard to believe, but I mean it, anytime I get the chance to play, no matter what the city is, I love it. It means the opportunity to get on stage and do what I love and do it with purpose. If everything went away today, I’ve achieved my dream. Whether people want to think so or not, I have. I’ve had hits on the radio, I’ve sold records, I’ve toured, I’ve made a living out of it. At this point, if I can do what I love to do, and by everybody who comes to watch me, gets taken out of their life for an hour and a half or two hours or however long the concert is, and just enjoys the moment and has something exciting and happy to talk about when they go home, on top of all the other BS that’s going on, that’s the main reason I do what I do now. I continue to do it because I just love that feeling of for however long we’re here, nothing else outside kind of matters.
Photo courtesy of Josh Gracin
TC: That’s a great way of looking at things.
JG: Well, you know, growing up, my Dad was an auto worker up in Michigan and he never got that outlet, 24/7, he never got that outlet. He never got a chance to get out and decompress. He was always working until six or seven at night and working overtime to make ends meet, and all that other stuff like that, and so for me to be able to do something that kind of gives people a moment to step back and relax and enjoy life a little bit, that’s a good thing for me.
TC: That’s something you love to do too, rather than something where you’re just standing there on an assembly line and doing the same old, same old every single day, right?
TC: I like your positive attitude. Nashville, you obviously grew up in Michigan and now you live in Nashville. Best things about Nashville? What do you like about it here?
JG: I love the fact that it’s in the middle as far as the map. I also love the fact that you get all four seasons here. I mean, I’ve lived in California, and don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but the days just seem to run together because it’s always sunny and 70, and the only thing that changed, pretty much, were the clouds, I mean, not many clouds in the sky, but in Nashville you have all the seasons, they change. Just the area, just the fact that you can drive down the street and see valleys and hills and houses built into them. It’s just a beautiful place to live and a great place to raise a family.
TC: I agree. Your dream project. You talked about if it all went away today you’d be okay, but let’s say in a year you had to retire. Someone said, “Josh, you have one year and then you have to retire.” If you had one year, what would your dream project be? Would it be a compilation album or a collaboration album or is there a certain goal that you would want to accomplish?
JG: Oh, wow, that would be tough. If I just had a year I would probably make as much music as I possibly can in that year. Maybe to go out over the next 10, 15 or 20 years, whatever it was and get everything out I could possibly think of creatively at that point if I only had a year, because again, I love making music. I love creating. I love every aspect of it. If things are going good or if things are going bad you can sit down and turn on the radio and listen and just escape a while. Music’s the universal language, it really is. You might not be able to speak different languages all over the world, but when people hear a song, they can connect with another person, so it really is the universal language.
TC: Have you played in the UK?
JG: I have not. Hopefully soon.
TC: So many of our Think Country followers are from the UK and over in that general part of the world, and I’m sure they will be happy to know that you would love to go over there.
JG: Absolutely would love to. That’s something we’ve been working on and trying to get together, so hopefully very soon.
TC: In your estimation, if you had to pick the best male country performer ever, who would it be?
JG: Ever? Wow. People are going to say, “Why would you choose him?”, but I would have to say, Elvis.
Photo courtesy of blink102.com.br
TC: Well, why not?
JG: If you look at the music they were considering rock back then, it’s pretty much now considered country.
TC: It’s very rockabilly by today’s standards.
JG: Yeah, so out of everybody, I’d have to say him.
TC: Okay, and best female country performer ever?
JG: Female. Wow. I have to think. That one’s a little harder because you have more iconic personalities over the years. Elvis jumped out just because it’s Elvis. Man, the first one that comes to mind is Dolly, right off the bat. If you’re talking about new artists, Maren (Morris), I’m a huge fan of Maren. If you’re talking about 90’s, Shania Twain, you know what I mean? It’s all over.
TC: It’s different eras.
JG: Eras, yeah!
TC: Performers in different eras.
JG: I hope that changes, I really do, but then again it just comes down to the people, the fans. Like I said, you’ve got Dolly. The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain in the 90’s. Maren and Carrie Underwood right now, Taylor Swift, well, she’s not country that much anymore, but you know what I mean, but you were very right, it’s very era-driven.
TC: Then again, if you think about someone like Dolly Parton, she’s spanned a lot of eras.
JG: She’s awesome. She’s spanned a lot of eras and that’s why she’s the first female that kind of clicked in my head because she has transcended from when she first came out until now, so she’s always found ways to keep her name consistently in country circles, and not just when people talk about country in the past, it’s what she’s doing now.
Photo courtesy of Bankrate.com
TC: Right. She stays current somehow, which is not bad for a woman in her 70’s.
JG: Oh yeah. She’s a business woman. I’ve watched and read some things on her. Man, she knows. You don’t know that side of her until you read it.
TC: She’s slick.
JG: Very slick. That whole publishing thing that she did? Very slick.
TC: We all want to be Dolly. Well, maybe YOU don’t want to be Dolly, but you want to have Dolly’s brain. (We had a good laugh about that, but Josh nodded his head, “yes”, to that sentiment)
TC: We still have a little time. Artist bars in Nashville, everybody seems to have one these days. If you were going to open one, what would you call it and what would the theme be?
JG: The way my brain works I can’t just throw out a name, but it would definitely be a place where there would be different areas for different music, different flavors, different likes.
TC: That’s different. I’ve never heard that answer before. So, that’s a different answer altogether.
JG: It wouldn’t just be having this bar that’s country music. I would want it to be a place where everybody could go and relax and get away no matter what they kind of hook on to. A kind of place where if you want more of a low-lit darkness you’ve got that. My Dad, he’s gonna kill me for saying this, but when he’d get home, he used to go downstairs in the basement, all the way in the back of the basement, and the only thing you’d be able to see is the little red lit cigarette there in the back, and that’s where he would chill. That’s how he chilled.
TC: I think I know a Dad just like that. (My husband was there and we both looked at each other and laughed) I think I HAVE a Dad just like that.
JG: You know, he had this car chair because that’s what they made, they made seats for cars. He had this big, huge SUV seat, because you know, back in the 90’s what big monstrosities of seats those were, and he had it bolted to a swivel chair, and that’s what he used to do, sit back in that chair and chill.
TC: Maybe that could be your theme, have those type of seats in your little VIP dark area.
JG: Yeah, they could rip ‘em right out of the SUVs and have huge arm rests just like the SUVs.
TC: I can almost see that, but I’ve never heard that answer, different sections for different vibes.
JG: Maybe not different music because at some point they would run together, but a quiet area where you could just chill and watch what’s going on or whatever, and then a sportier one with all the TVs and the pool tables and dart boards.
TC: I would go to your bar.
JG: Well, there you go then.
TC: I have a new question, and I just thought of it today, and I have no idea where it came from. It’s probably stupid, but you seem friendly, so I think I can try it out on you. (He laughed and said it was fine to ask, so I went for it) If you were approached to be the next wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s at Opry Mills Mall, would you accept the offer?
Photo courtesy of Grand Ole Opry
JG: (He nods his head that he would accept the offer to be the next wax figure while smiling rather sheepishly)
TC: Yes, you would? Okay then, what pose would you strike for this? Would you want a guitar? Would you stand? Sit? Just be you? What would you do?
JG: I think just sit and chill in the SUV seat. The 90’s SUV seat like my Dad made. (We all laughed pretty hard at this point)
TC: There you go!
TC: Last one. When you “Think Country” what do you think?
JG: The story, the lyrics. Not the instruments that are playing behind it because those will always change, it will always be different. Different people trying different things, but to me as long as the lyrics tell a story and you can connect with that story, and it’s very detailed and it can put you in that moment, to me that’s country music. That’s what makes country, country.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country
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