JOSH KELLEY HAS COVERED A LOT OF GROUND, both musically and geographically. The Georgia-born singer/songwriter landed his first record deal while attending Ole Miss on a golf scholarship. He scored his first hit with 2003ís “Amazing,” and relocated to Los Angeles, where he crafted a string of catchy pop-rock albums. But by decadeís end heíd moved to Nashville, where he scored another hit with the pure country sound of his Georgia Clay album. Now he resides outside Park City, Utah, with his wife, film and TV star Katherine Heigl, and their kids.
Fittingly, Joshís new music falls somewhere between polished L.A. pop-rock and Music City twang. “I just started making a new record this week,Ē he says. ďItís sort of like late-í70s Los Angeles meets Southern rock-country. Itís like James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, and Don Williams got stuck in a blender somehow. Itís very soulful, and itís the best stuff Iíve ever done.”
The acoustic and electric guitars have perfectly balanced tones, more so than any other guitars Iíve played.
Josh is working at the Valencia, California, studio of legendary engineer Jim Scott, and some of his excitement stems from the fact that, for the first time in his career, heís recording everything live. “That makes the biggest difference in the world,” says Josh. “Never again will I piece tracks together a little bit at a time.”
Whatís the appeal of that ’70s approach? “It sounds like your favorite vinyl album,” replies Josh. “Right before I went into the studio, I got on Netflix and watched documentaries on my favorite artists of the era: Elton John. Fleetwood Mac. Steely Dan. I never would have gotten what I did out of my sessions with Jim Scott without that inspiration.”
The old-fashioned, organic approach seems to suit Kelleyís soulful, unpretentious songs. “These days I want my songs to be real, relatable stories,” he says. “I spend lots of time on my lyrics, trying to make sure that the songs donít automatically fall into buttoned-down structures, but actually tell a great story. I donít want anything to be too predictable. I want to make three-and-ahalf-minute movies.”
In the studio and onstage, Josh plays his acoustic songs on Yamahaís A3M guitar, whose electronics simulate the sound of a miked instrument, even when recording direct. “I freakiní love the A-Series guitars,” he declares. “The pickup system just blows my mind. The first day I tried one in the studio, I put it on its ribbon mic setting, and my engineer freaked out, because it sounds so much like a finished record when you plug it in. Itís a warm, woody sound that reminds me of Jerry Douglas or Alison Krauss & Union Station. For the new recordings, I combine a miked sound with the direct-in ribbon mic sound, and it sounds so good! For live shows, I use only the direct line, and it sounds really, really dope. Thatís what I used this summer when I played on the Lady Antebellum tour.” (Lady Antebellumís Charles Kelley is Joshís brother.)
For his electric numbers, Josh straps on an electric Yamaha SBG1802, a hefty double-cutaway model. “That guitar just screams,” says Josh. “Actually, both the acoustic and electric guitars have perfectly balanced tones, more so than any other guitars Iíve played. In fact, the SBG1802 has such a great tone that Iíve even recorded it acoustically, just using a microphone.”
Josh also owns an original late-’70s Yamaha SG. “It sounds as mean as the devil,” he says, “It has a dark, beefy sound, and when you plug in into a nice old amp, itís the coolest sound in the world.” Josh says he writes on both acoustic and electric. “Sometimes writing to acoustic can get boring, so I grab my electric and plug it into a little Yamaha THR5 amp with built-in effects. It has some cool textural-sounding delays and things that have inspired some very cool songs.”
But Josh says his primary inspiration these days is fatherhood. “Iíve got two kids now, and thatís changed everything for me. Artists and entertainers can get selfish, because itís always about you. But now I do everything I do for my family.” In fact, his daughter inspired one of the best songs from Georgia Clay, “Naleigh Moon.” “Her name is Nancy Lee, but her nickname is ‘Naleigh,’” he explains. “Weíd just adopted her from South Korea when I was working on that album. The lyric goes, ‘I couldnít see past me till I saw you, my sweet Naleigh Moon.’”
“Having kids changed everything for me,” says Josh. “It made me a lot more selfless, and it made we want to write about things like thatóthings that are more real.”
(Photography Credit: Rob Shanahan)