When it came time to relaunch our 20 Questions interview series, I couldn’t think of anyone better to start it off with than Josh Abbott. He is the hottest act in the scene at the moment and a lightning rod for controversy. Josh has risen to the top of the Texas Music heap through hard work, business savvy and a knack to write songs that appeal to a wide audience. As always the 20 Questions are candid, revealing and funny. Josh does not mince words and brings a refreshing honesty to all the questions. He tackles the Randy Rogers comparisons, the Bart Crow incident, tells us where his music is headed and much more in this edition of 20 Questions.
1. As your level of success continues to escalate from our regional market to the national stage, what’s new and exciting in the world of Josh Abbott? I know you’ve been writing a lot, any plans already in the works for the next album?
Well, we still have a long way to go both regionally and nationally but 2010 was a banner year for us I think. Our album has gotten some really cool recognition, such as iTunes top 15 country album of 2010…and our singles have done outstanding. “Oh, Tonight” is currently flirting with Billboard and went #1 for us in Texas which was our second #1 from the new album! Crazy…as far as a new album goes, you can definitely expect to see some new material released in the fall. My goal and part of my business philosophy is to release a new product to the public every calendar year. We’ve done this so far with Taste EP in 2007, Scapegoat in 2008, Brushy Creek EP in 2009, & She’s Like Texas in 2010. So, I definitely will release some sort of an EP around September that will probably be followed by a full release in early 2012.
2. Duets seem to be a lost art in country music, yet you’ve had successful duets with Charla Corn and Kacey Musgraves. Do you write songs specifically to duet? Or, is it a case where you write a song and then think, hey this might work really well with a female voice on it too?
Great question! I didn’t write “Good Night for Dancing” as a duet but the minute I heard Charla’s voice in the studio I stopped the recording, scratched out some lines, and asked her to sing parts of it solo. I think that was a great decision because it turned an average song into a good song; something that as you noted, you just don’t hear anymore. Now “Oh, Tonight” was definitely written as a duet and I just knew Kacey’s voice was what was needed for it. In this case, she took a good song and made it outstanding. Props to both of them for really delivering a solid vocal performance.
3. Name association:
-Mike Eli-Eskimo brother…you either get that or you don’t. (laughs) In all seriousness though he was one of the first big names to really help teach me the business. Great guy.
-Bobby Duncan-Ryan Adams meets John Mayer meets Walt Wilkins…funny dude, avid sports fan
-Brandon Rhyder-Outstanding songwriter…I actually danced to “Freeze Frame Time” with my mom at my wedding reception.
-Steve Rice of No Justice-Crazy ass bastard! Hot wife…(laughs) love ya Steve!
-Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours-Greatness. When I hang with Evan and hear him sing, I think “this guy is going to be very well respected down the road.” He just seeps talent.
-Roger Creager-Party. It’s always fun to be around Roger.
-Kevin Fowler-Business man and probably the most friendly “A-list” guy I’ve met so far.
-Rich O’Toole- One of my best friends and was in my wedding. I hope his new single “The Cricket Song” is the one that carries him to the next level. I love that damn song and he really deserves it.
-Aaron Watson-Honky-tonk. Major props to Aaron for really being the only guy out there doing what he does.
-Jack Ingram-Super cool. I’ll never be as cool as Jack. It’s just not fair. keep on keepin’ on is beyond legit.
-Casey Donahew-Business genius and underappreciated by other industry people. He’s a good dude and he’s way more talented than people give him credit for. Is he Guy Clark? No, but none of us are! He puts on a great show and respects his fans. I think he’s a great friend too.
4. You have assembled quite the band of accomplished musicians around you. Tell us about each guy n your crew and what you feel they bring to the table.
Thank you for noticing that! I tell everyone straight up that I believe I now have one of the best bands/crews as a whole. It all starts with Preston “P-Tone” our fiddle player. He’s been with me since nearly day 1. This isn’t meant as disrespect to any of the other players on the scene, but he is in my opinion the best musician in Texas country. His fiddle playing is unmatched, and his guitar playing is awesome too. He plays banjo, mandolin, harmonica and sings harmonies. Not to mention he’s fun to watch on stage and the girls love him. The fact that he gets overlooked by awards nominators is a f*cking joke.
Ed is the drummer and was the 2nd guy of my current group to join up. He’s extremely solid on the drums and the easiest person in the world to have on the road with you, which is not easy to find.
Our lead guitar player is Caleb and he’s really done an incredible job of learning the studio parts and making them his own at live shows. I think he’s going to get even better as the years go by too because he’s so young.
Finally, our new bass player is the one and only James Hertless who was formerly with Rhyder. Again, no disrespect to everyone else but if you combine his bass playing and harmonies, I think he’s the best in Texas country currently. It’s hard to be amazing at either of those and he is at both!
Real quick, our crew rocks too. Dan Adams is one of the most respected sound engineers in our scene, and my tour manager Cody and monitors operator Trevor are as hard working as it gets! I’m so blessed to have them all.
5. You’re from west Texas and got your musical start in Lubbock. There have been several great singer/songwriters come out of or get their start in Lubbock including Pat Green, Wade Bowen, Cory Morrow, Joe Ely, Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly. I’ve heard some say that it’s because of the desolation and the fact that all you have to do out there is dream. What do you think it is about Lubbock that fosters budding musical careers and inspires people to pick up guitars and sing in the first place?
Hmmm, interesting question. You didn’t mention guys like The Maines brothers who have roots there as well as Joe Ely’s buddy in the Flatlanders and one of my favorites: Mr. Terry Allen…but back on point, I think what makes the Lubbock scene produce great talent is that everyone writes their own stuff. I mean, from the very start of me playing Tuesday nights at The Blue Light, it was expected I play a lot of originals as opposed to covers. So I think when everyone has that mindset of writing your own tunes, you begin to work on a craft that maybe other people from different parts of the state don’t grasp quite as quickly. It also doesn’t hurt that Texas Tech has the hottest women!
6. Much has been made of the comparisons of your band’s look and sound to that of the Randy Rogers Band. Do you attribute those similarities to being so heavily influenced by the RRB or just a matter of coincidence that y’all are chasing the same musical muse?
Shit, I love this question! Honestly, I think it’s 50-50. What people forget ,and even my website bio for that matter, is that I was listening to Pat, Cory, and Wade long before I even heard of Randy Rogers. But, when I first heard “This Time Around” off of the Rollercoaster album, I was like “damn that sounds awesome!” And then when I saw them play that same night at The Blue Light back in like 2004 and I just remember noticing how much energy they carried and how the fans connected. That’s what made me say “Okay, I think I want to do this too!”
But in the same sense, I really feel like we’re just so freaking similar. We’re both preacher’s kids that grew up modest, and we both are vertically challenged with a little scruff and a belly. We both have hyper fiddle players, and the list goes on and on…I mean I’d by lying if I said I’m not influenced by him because I’ve made it very public that he is one of my favorite songwriters. He took me in like a fraternity little brother and gave me advice, let me open shows, and I just look up to the guy. He was one of the first ones to call, actually HeyTell, and congratulate me after selling out Billy Bob’s.
That being said I think most of the comparisons are just a cheap shot from all of the bitter industry people who are jealous of our success in such a short window. People love to hate on other people and that’s all it is. I mean yes we sound similar but it’s not like I’ve ever stolen a lyric or chord progression from them. It’s called being influenced, which inherently deducts that there will be similarities. I hope at the end of the day, Randy and the band appreciate that not only we but also everyone in Texas country look up to them.
7. Favorite memory of the following towns:
-Dallas/Ft. Worth: Selling out Billy Bob’s Texas last month…hands down. One of the best moments of my life
-Austin: Last year’s Hills concert series when we packed the place out despite all of the industry people saying we don’t draw well.
-New Braunfels: Opening for EYB at Whitewater Amphitheater in the summer of 2008. I got really hammered, jumped in the river naked at night, and had a blast watching their show.
-Houston: I opened up acoustic for Wade Bowen at Firehouse Saloon back in Spring of 2007 before anyone outside of Lubbock even knew who I was. I ended up being booked briefly by Mustang Music because of it. Wade was super cool to me and always has been.
-San Antonio: Amanda, now my wife, and I were on a break in late spring/summer of 2009 and I really wanted to date her again. So I took her on a trip down there to “Fall In Love Again.” Hence the song on the new album.
-Oklahoma City: Not sure I even have one there…yet.
-Little Rock: I’ll say Fayetteville instead because I LOVE that town. We have continually built our crowd up, it’s a fun place to play, and we always do a shot walk before and after our show there. It’s awesome.
-Stephenville: Hands down, it has to be Larry Joe Taylor Festival. This April will be our 3rd year to play and I can’t wait. We made quite a splash in 2009, and I thought we rocked it in 2010. Let’s see how killer this year goes. Mostly I just love driving around to the campsites and visiting with the fans.
-Shreveport: When we first started touring in 2008, we got ambitious and booked a tour to S.C. and back. Crazy, but it was a blast. We had to do it spring break week too because we were all still in college or grad school! But we stopped on an off night in Shreveport and had a blast. Lost a few hundred bucks but getting my friend Wes so drunk that he took off his shirt in the elevator, got kicked out of casino, and then I think he got in the fountain was just priceless fun…good times
-Corpus Christi: I played an acoustic show with Rich O’Toole last year I think and I rigged it with the bartender to bring him the worst shot ever. But his looked just like mine and after we took them I faked it being gross. He did not! (laughs) He nearly threw up, and then he started singing a new song. He got like a minute and a half in, and just stopped, looked at me and said “Abbott what the f*ck was in that shot?” I nearly cried I was laughing so hard. The crowd loved it. Rich is a good sport.
-San Marcos: Again, I think an acoustic show with Rich because we sold it out quick! Full band on a weekend is one thing but acoustic on a weeknight is another. I remember thinking “Hell yeah! I love this college town!”
-Odessa: Last year we played Crude Fest and there was a make-a-wish kid there named Julian who always wanted to be a rock-star. So he got to ride in to the grounds in a limo and get cheered on by people. Then he had an autograph session, which I still have the picture of him. We brought him on our bus so he could see what it was like, and then Johnny Cooper brought him on stage. He was so excited all day and you could see how truly happy his mom and family were as well. I love helping people out, especially in those types of situations. J-Coop was pretty stand-up too for jamming on stage with him.
-Amarillo: Like the 2nd time we ever played Midnight Rodeo there, we put around 1000 people there. It was 2008 and I just remember thinking that this was a sign of good things to come.
8. You are very sharp and heavily involved with the business side of your music. What do you feel are your strengths as it relates to this aspect of your career? Do you ever bring any ideas to management where they make you tap your brakes?
I appreciate you saying that. I really expanded my vocabulary, knowledge, and analytical skills while pursuing a masters degree in Communication Studies and it’s been great being able to utilize those skills in the music business. It’s the little things like patting a fan on the back or making sure you look them in the eyes when talking with them. If you show interest to a fan and let them know that you value them then their support for you will grow even more, and honestly at the end of the day we’re all just normal people with flaws and dreams. I hate seeing some of the artists in our scene “big-time” it and I think it really jades people when that does happen. I’m sure I’ve done it too because God knows no one is perfect but I hope the majority of people know that I truly appreciate their support.
As far as strengths go, I just think the ability to communicate interpersonally and to the masses is a great asset to have for a grassroots country singer. Also being able to analyze aspects of your business and determine if they are moving in a positive direction is crucial to running a successful operation, whether you sell paint or sing songs. It’s important to run cost-benefit analysis’s on sectors such as: merchandise overhead, radio exposure vs retail and ticket sales in particular markets, and even online advertising and it’s effect on live shows. These tools are out there for everyone to use, but only some are wise enough to utilize them I guess.
9. Who would you least like to face in a boxing match…Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao or Bart Crow?
(laughs) Nice…Tyson because he seems like a crazy son of a bitch! Manny seems nice and like it would take a lot for him to actually want to hurt me…Bart, well, I already know he misses! (laughs) Honestly, that whole incident was crazy but Bart and I laugh about it now. I was embarrassed because I’m all about camaraderie and that night didn’t help my cause.
10. You are one of the most passionate sports fans in Texas Music. To what do you attribute your love of sports? Aside from your beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders, who are your favorite teams? And, have your sports opinions ever come back to bite you at the merch table?
It’s probably because I sucked at them so bad in high school! (laughs) Seriously, I was so underdeveloped in my teens that while I completely understood the x’s and o’s, I just got dominated on the field and court. So I think following sports from recruiting to statistics is my compensation for being so athletically challenged. As everyone knows, I bleed red and black for my Red Raiders. It annoys me when people wonder why I’m not a UT fan! Well, because I’m from Lubbock and went to Tech dip-shit! I’d say that’s a good reason to root for a team, as opposed to all the Wal-Mart t-shirt fans who sport burnt orange for no apparent reason other than riding the bandwagon…I also root for the Texans because quite frankly they deserve a winning season already! And in the NBA, my allegiance is to the Mavs, mostly because I’ve become such good friends with the GM Donnie Nelson. He loves Texas country by the way!
11. Who do you hate more: Craig James, Mack Brown or Rita Ballou?
(laughs) Great question…I don’t hate Mack Brown at all. In fact, I respect the hell out of him. He has such a smooth communication style and demeanor that it’s hard to dislike him.
And despite the popular beliefs amongst idiots, I do not hate Rita Ballou at all. I actually think she’s pretty funny at times and honestly it’s nice to get a fan’s perspective on things. It’s very rhetorical that she has such a popular blog and it attests to how great our scene is about getting fans involved in the process instead of just being laypersons. I do think she’s a bit brash at times, and I don’t necessarily think her blog helps the health of our scene but all in all she seems like a sweet woman who just loves Texas country and I truly respect that. It would be great though if she’d cut me some freaking slack every now and then!
Craig James is probably the highest on the list, but I really don’t hate him. I don’t really hate anyone. But Craig really seems to be arrogant and it’s ridiculous that he bitched so much about his son being in a storage shed. I did shit as a pledge that would make that look like a checkers game. He was a big reason Mike Leach got fired; and while I’m a big fan of Tuberville, that was complete bullshit. If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him that too.
12. Stories behind the following songs either the inspiration behind them or the story of writing them:
-She’s Like Texas: Delayed in the Chicago airport, I did the movie cliché thing and sat down in an area kind of by myself and started writing a song about how great Texas girls are, and more specifically Amanda, who I ended up marrying this past November. People give me shit about the teeth as white as cotton line but I was inspired on that phrase by a line from Song of Songs where the author compliments a girl for a white teeth and a pretty smile. I also catch shit from the bluebonnets line but honestly I have that one coming. My bad!
-Taste: 2005, driving home from The Blue Light, finishing up my last semester in undergrad. Decided there needed to be a song about sex that embraced the idea and described it instead of hinting around it like so many do.
-Oh, Tonight: Duet I wrote in 2006 with a girl named Sunny Helms who is now a writer in Nashville and engaged to former Longhorns star and current NFL WR Jordan Shipley. She’s a sweetheart. I always loved the song but I didn’t feel like it matched the rhetorical theme of “Scapegoat” so I shelved it until the newest album….funny enough, it was the last song we chose for the album too. Thank God I did!
-Brushy Creek: Wrote this with my wife Amanda about the creek that runs behind her grandparents land in Round Rock. The last verse was a foreshadow though she never picked up on it, because I always knew if I proposed to her it would be down there….and I did!
-Here I Stand: One of my earliest tunes, written with a college buddy. It probably could use another edit but I always liked it. I don’t think this song was done justice on the album. Maybe I’ll redo it one day because the lyrics and metaphors really are solid.
-All of a Sudden: Wrote this one week or so after Amanda and I took the infamous break in 2009. I pretty much wrote the whole thing before my very first writing session ever in Nashville but I wanted to get a second opinion so a couple people helped fine tune it.
-I Just Wanna Love You: Wrote this in the tradition of Don Williams, or really Bob McDill who wrote a ridiculous amount of hits in Nashville, and particularly “Turn Out The Lights, and Love Me Tonight”.
-Road Trippin’: I based this one on my memories from college with friends and fraternity brothers. I loved college and road trips were one of the best parts. Funny enough, I pitched this to Donahew after I wrote it but he wasn’t sure it would be a hit…thanks buddy (laughs)… I still give him shit for that every now and then.
-Good Night For Dancing: This is another one about my college days of going to Blue Light and Wild West just to dance and hear live music. Charla made this song.
-Miss You Again: Seriously, this is one of my oldest songs. Wrote it about an ex from long ago. Still a fan favorite at live shows surprisingly.
-Evil Woman: About an ex…enough said! (laughs)
13. If you were put in charge of a musical festival and given an unlimited budget…where would you have it, and what five acts would be at the top of the bill (living or dead)?
As you know, I’m very business minded so this is a tough question for me. The Beatles would have to be the headliner somewhere like New York’s Central Park and not because I’m some fake ass fan. Yeah I’m talking to all of you who know like five Beatles songs and insist at parties that you “love the Beatles”…no you don’t. If you loved them, you’d know all or most of their songs like I do for the artists I love such as Chris Knight or Aerosmith…where was I? (laughs) Oh, yeah the Beatles would have to be the headliner because they’re the biggest band in the history of music in my opinion.
Before them I’m going: Aerosmith, Steven Tyler is legit as it gets. Pink Floyd, because every concert needs an overpaid jam band, Bruce Sprinsteen because Wade and Rich will fight me if I don’t, and Ryan Adams because he’s our generation’s Bob Dylan except he can sing a lot better. Yeah I said it. It’s true.
Quick side note: if I did a Texas country concert, it would be in Fort Worth thanks to the influence that 95.9 The Ranch has. And my 5 bands would be from top down: Pat Green of the old school, Randy Rogers Band, Cory Morrow, Wade Bowen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
14. You’re an avid hunter. What’s the largest deer you’ve ever snagged? What’s the most exotic game hunt you’ve been on? What’s your favorite thing about hunting?
Hunting has been a great way for me to bond with my father who could care less about sports outside of Texas Tech football. I’ve actually never shot a huge buck but recently I shot a Gold Medal Red Stag. I think it’s important that people know I don’t just go out to a blind and wait until the feeder goes off and then shoot some unsuspecting animal. That’s for p*ssies!
We spotted the red stag, followed it for hours, crawled on our hands and knees carrying gear in sub 30 degree weather, and then finally I got a good shot. It wasn’t easy. It was actually hunting. And I only like to kill animals I will eat as well. That seems to justify it to me but everyone’s different I guess.
15. You recently went on a songwriter’s retreat with a large group of guys. What inspired you to take part in that? What are your thoughts on co-writing in general…is it something you enjoy or something you force yourself to take part in?
I put that trip together because I decided that there needs to be more events that allow the Texas singer/songwriters to mingle and get to know each other despite age or location or style. I’m tired of some people in our scene being so distant from other artists. People need to quit acting like f*cking rock stars and realize no matter how big you are in Texas, you are still very small in the grand scheme of things. The best moment of that week was when I saw Larry Joe Taylor and Cody Riley visiting and laughing and sharing stories. That moment will inspire me to do this as much as possible.
I used to dread co-writing because honestly I didn’t think I was good enough to try it. But now I’m very comfortable with it. I actually love it. Wade told me a couple years ago that I needed to start doing it so I could perfect my songs with someone else’s opinion. He was absolutely right. So now I love co-writing with whomever I can!
16. You’re still a relative newlywed…how has being married impacted your career? What did your wife’s family think about her marrying a musician?
(laughs) Well, they definitely had their hesitations and concerns and rightfully so. I mean Amanda and I were on and off several times before we got engaged. But I think once I wrote a song about her grandpa and they saw me at live shows, they realized it wasn’t just some pipe dream and that I was talented enough to make a decent career out of it. They’ve been excellent and Amanda’s been awesome for the most part about my crazy schedule…the only thing I’m worried about now is if I can write a sad love song! (laughs) We shall see!
17. What’s the best hangover cure you’ve found?
Don’t drink…seriously…but if you’re hungover, try drinking PediaLite and eating protein based foods. Not even joking about the PediaLite. It hydrates quickly.
18. Rapid fire:
-Bobby Knight or Marsha Sharp? Bobby Knight is one of my heroes.
-Golf or fishing? Fishing because I’m much better at it, and it’s cheaper.
-Summer bluebonnets or fall cotton? (laughs) I deserve that…cotton because I’m from Lubbock.
-Best chicken fried steak? Hmmm…I don’t know… but my favorite actual steak is Cagles in Lubbock. Awesome!
-Twitter or Facebook? Facebook. I have like 20 times more followers than Twitter and since my mom’s on Facebook I have to censor myself more than Twitter (laughs).
19. We’ve been asking folks this question for nearly eight years…what is your favorite George Strait song and why?
It has to be either “Amarillo By Morning” or “Texas” because I think they sound Texas country. But I recently wrote a tune named “Dallas Love” that we’re going to pitch to him so cross your fingers on that one. Odds are slim to none but I gotta try.
20. You’ve been able to reach a rather sizable audience as an independent artist. What do you feel makes your music different from what the major labels are releasing?
It’s not forced down anyone’s ears. If you like our music, it’s because someone probably told you about it. And I think that grassroots music in general has a certain charm to it. It’s kind of like when picking out a place to go eat at. Do you prefer the corporate over-priced big business places like Olive Garden or would you rather eat at a locally owned, small business place that people are still discovering? I mean there’s just something satisfying in not only supporting the little guy, but also in telling your friends so you can be the first to say you listened to someone before they got big.