By Roger Sharman
I got to sit down and have a chat to Joshua Hedley about life, the state of Country music and facial hair, shortly before his incredible show at The Lexington in Islington, recently. Here’s the result of that discussion:
CL: Hi, Joshua. Welcome back to the UK. You were last here around the launch of Mr. Jukebox if I remember correctly.
JH: Hi, Yeah. I think it was 2018 or something.
CL: Actually, no it would have been 2019 as that was the first year of the Long Road Festival. All those years ago now, time has flown by. How you doing today, sir?
JH: I’m doing good. I’m a little jetlagged but you know, I felt worse and played more.
CL: You came over to play the Red Rooster Festival?
JH: I did. It was sort of a nightmare getting over here. We had our flight from Nashville to JFK delayed four hours and we missed our connecting flight to London. we got into JFK at 9:30pm and went straight to rebook a new flight and we didn’t get out of JFK with a new flight until six o’clock in the morning. In all we spent eight hours trying to rebook the flight here.
We got here, and pretty much unloaded our stuff at the hotel and then drove straight to Red Rooster.
CL: You headlined I believe. How was it?
JH: It was awesome, it was really cool. We were the last band. They have two stages; we were on the smaller of the two stages. But I thought it had the better vibes of the stages.
CL: Yes, they often are.
JH: As there was nobody else playing while we were playing, everybody at the festival watched us, so it was very cool to look out at crowd for my first show back in the UK in four years and see a bunch of people, so that was really nice and felt good for my ego.
CL: Your first show back for good reasons! So, you playing here tonight obviously, then you are up to Manchester tomorrow?
JH: I am yeah.
CL: Then off to Glasgow to play the night after, is that the end of the trip for you or are you heading off into Europe? I see that you’ve had lots of requests on Twitter to play these tiny venues in the Shires.
JH: Haha, yes everybody wants me to come and play for three people in villages in Bedfordshire.
We’re going off, I’m playing some solo shows in Scandinavia after Glasgow. I’m playing in Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
CL: Have you played in Scandinavia before? The Scandinavians are lots of fun, quite big drinkers, especially the Norwegians.
JH: Well, it’s so cold up there you have to have something to keep you warm right!
CL: You were at Red Rooster the weekend just gone, which was also the weekend of the Queen’s Jubilee. Did you manage to get involved in any of the celebrations?
JH: Not really, we walked around London yesterday. We went to some Indian barbecue place. My friend, Texas Joe took me to some Indian barbecue joint called Tayyab’s that had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had in my life.
CL: Yeah, I know Texas Joe, I’m surprised he didn’t take you to his restaurant for some barbecue.
JH: I know. Yeah, he’s closed on Sundays and Mondays now.
CL: That’s the best Texas Barbecue in the UK.
JH: It is good for sure, I’ve eaten there. I was there last time I was here.
After we kicked around Brick Lane. Visited some shops there and messed around there for a while.
CL: Around there is a big Asian community it’s the best place to get an Indian food. Anyway, the new album ‘Neon Blue’ has been out six weeks now, I think. What’s the reception been like to be back home?
JH: It’s been great. XM Radio and Outlaw Country have been playing the hell out of it. It seems like every time I get in my car and turn it on the radio is playing ‘Neon Blue’ So that’s pretty good.
CL: There has been a lot of really positive feedback on social media, I love it, It’s a wonderful record.
JH: I was really nervous to put a record out that was so different from ‘Mr Jukebox’.
CL: In parts it is really different. In other places, it’s not like ‘Country and Western’ for instance which I absolutely love, and ‘Down to my Last Lie’, which incidentally, the title and the song are just so clever.
JH: Thank you. I never wrote a cheating song before; nobody seems to write cheating songs anymore.
CL: That’s quite unusual in itself seeing as Country was built on heartache.
JH: I don’t know why; people are still cheating so I don’t know why they decided to stop writing about it.
CL: You decided to do things quite differently for ‘Neon Blue’ than for Mr. Jukebox, like for instance, you want that 90’s feel to it. You left the Hedliners behind? Are they feeling a bit sore over that?
JH: No, they’re cool. For Mr. Jukebox I put together a group of my buddies and we made that record at a friend’s home studio, it was cool. When I made the EP it was self-funded and self-released and that kind of became ‘Mr. Jukebox’, some of the tracks on Mr. Jukebox came from that EP, so I wanted to keep a sense of continuity about it, so I recorded Mr. Jukebox in the same studio, and with the same people that played on that EP, just so it all sounded together.
For this one, I wanted to go full out. I co-wrote the whole record, and it’s all session players on the record. It’s the guys who play on the new BS pop country stuff. They do three or four sessions every day. And I said ‘You’re not going to be playing that on this record. This is a country record for real’.
CL: How long did it take you to cut it as obviously those guys are on the clock?
JH: I think we did the main band tracks in four days, maybe. Yeah, it was four days. We did three songs a day. It took a little while to get overdubs and mixing and mastering done just because of people’s schedules and stuff. All in all, from work tape to finished product, it was two months, or something like that.
CL: That’s good going. One of the things I take from the record is it sounded like you had a lot of fun in making it?
JH: It was great. Those guys just know what they’re doing. There’s a reason why they play on everything, why they’re in the most in demand, because it’s just like Boom, they got it first time. It’s easy for them. It’s really wild, they just do it first take.
CL: Will the Hedliners return for the next album?
JH: I don’t know. I’ve never actually used The Hedliners on a record. You know, how things get twisted around and misquoted things, but the idea that I used my Broadway band on Mr. Jukebox is incorrect. I used some friends on that one. I would like to do a record with The Hedliners at some point, but right now I have no plans to. I don’t like to plan too far ahead. I planned too far ahead after Mr. Jukebox and then it took four years to make another record.
CL: My personal favourite tracks on ‘Neon Blue’ are ‘Country and Western’, and we were just fortunate enough to hear you do a wonderful rendition of that during the Soundcheck.
JH: Yes. We’re doing that one tonight for sure.
CL: ‘Old Heartbroke Blues’
JH: (Smiling and nodding) YEAH!!
CL: Also, the wonderfully entitled ‘Down to My Last Lie’ and ‘Bury Me With My Boots on’ (which probably tells you a lot about the type of Country I listen to!). Those are the older sounding tracks.
JH: Yes! ‘Old Heartbroke Blues’ is my favourite one. We wrote that one in about ten minutes.
CL: That’s such a good song, Ito me it encompasses what country music is all about. It’s the emotion and lyrics.
Anyway, Jack Ingram has said in the past all the albums that he’s released there is always a ‘Me’ song, meaning that on each album there’s a song that he doesn’t care if anyone likes, it just means so much to him that no matter what record company folks say, he’ll insist it has to be on the record. Is there a song on ‘Neon Blue’ and for that matter on ‘Mr Jukebox’ that makes you feel that way?
JH: ‘Mr. Jukebox’ for sure, that song is 100% autobiographical. ‘Weird Thought Thinker’ as well. That’s a total Me song. On this particular record, first of all it’s hard for me to think at all right now. I’m feeling a little sleep deprived, but ‘Broke Again’ is definitely 100% autobiographic. The “late night parties and neon thrills” that’s exactly why I’m ‘Broke Again’.
CL: Going back to the 90’s thing, you’ve said that period is the last time real country music was played on the radio in the US, we still haven’t got country stations here per se, not real country stations. It’s a bit strange to be honest as it’s the largest growing music genre in the UK. Yet we don’t have any national radio stations we’ve got a couple of digital radio stations. Morgan Wade is probably about as outlawry as they get really.
JH: Whispering Bob plays decent Country doesn’t he?
CL: Yes, he surely does, but it’s a show rather than a whole station. Where do you think Country Music is at today? What’s the state of it in your opinion?
JH: I think it’s doing a lot better than it has been. Certainly, on the underground side of things you have a tonne of really great artists doing things. Playing real country music. People like Charley Crockett. There are some lesser-known people like Kristina Murray, she’s really great. Kelsey Waldon is another. It seems that especially the women seem to be having a having a good moment lately, especially compared to the past.
CL: Yes, and we have Sierra Ferrell coming over shortly.
JH: Sierra’s killing it right now. I remember she just blew up out of nowhere. I don’t know what happened.
CL: She sold out one night in seconds and had to put on another date.
JH: It feels like I was watching her at Dee’s Lounge in Maddison, Tennessee, and then the next time I turned around, she was selling out like, like 2500 capacity rooms and I’m like what the hell happened here? I mean good for you. But yeah, what the hell
CL: We have had quite a lot of independent artists, a lot of Texan artists are really coming through now. I think social media has a lot to do with it and stations like Outlaw Country Radio and Gimme Country.
JH: I was the first radio show on Gimme Country, the very first, and let me tell you that was hard work! Putting together a two-hour weekly radio show, is a lot of work. I was surprised I thought I would just be able to throw a playlist together and just bullshit my way through.
CL: It is a lot of songs, that’s like thirty-five or thirty-six songs. Following on from the previous question I was listening to a podcast in the last couple of days. An old friend of yours I believe Clint Black with Tracy Lawrence; they recently released a podcast discussing the state of Country music. they were pretty positive about the future, they named dropped Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen. From the independents, Black name drops Cody Jinks, and of course he is one of the warmups for Cody Jinks at Red Rocks this year, going off on a tangent for a second, have you ever played Red Rocks?
CL: It’s got to be a bucket list venue for you?
JH: Oh yeah, for sure. Maybe one day. Old Crow Medicine Show plays there a lot, and they’re some of my best friends so maybe I’ll get to hop on a show at Red Rocks with those guys someday.
CL: Is Chance McCoy still with them? They change line-ups so often I can’t keep up. They’ve consistently done that over the years, since Willie Watson, who I interviewed a while back now.
JH: Yes, they do. I’ll be seeing Willie real soon. We’re actually playing this new amphitheatre outside of Nashville. It’s Old Crow Medicine Show headlining, then it’s me and a band called Town Mountain and Willie Watson is also there, so hopefully he’ll jump up with the Old Crows and get a little reunion going.
CL: I didn’t really want to mention it, but we touched on it earlier. You’ve had your issues over the last couple of years.
JH: Oh, I’m always more than happy to talk about this.
CL: I’m glad that you all because I think that’s a part of the healing. How are you doing these days?
JH: I’m doing great. It’s always good to talk about it because somebody else who’s struggling might hear it. Somebody who didn’t think that they could get sober, could hear me get sober and think they can do it. So, I’m always game to talk about it. It’s been great. I’ve been sober two years now. Which is the longest I’ve ever been sober since I was thirteen and had my first drink.
Yeah, there’s no going back for me. I can’t, I can’t function. I was just talking about it recently. You know, there are people who can drink and take drugs and function in their regular lives. I think more power to them, but that ain’t me. As soon as I start drinking and drugging that’s the only thing I do. Everything else was takes the backseat.
CL: Were you at an absolute low, where you thought this is it? I have to stop otherwise?
JH: Yeah, I lost everything. My whole career just went. That’s why I haven’t been here. Also, because there was a worldwide pandemic, but my bottom dropped out before the pandemic. It’s taken some rebuilding, and I’m still rebuilding.
I was on tour at the end of 2019. I’m sorry, it was the beginning of 2020. I was playing fiddle for a guy called Jonathan Wilson and we were in New York City when we got the news that the tour was cancelled, and so I ended up having two days off in New York before I flew home, and I flew home, and I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t remember being in New York. It was just a blank and I’d never had a blackout before. I used to say that I blacked out so that I wouldn’t have to own up to my transgressions, but this time I actually literally blacked out for two days, then I went and partied for a couple of weeks in Nashville. Then the pandemic hit and everything shut down. All the bars shut down.
CL: That must have been really good timing for you. And I figured why that’s good timing.
JH: I figured, I’ve never been much of a home drinker anyway, I was always a social bar drinker. I figured I can’t go to the bar. I might as well take this opportunity to get sober. That was two years and two months ago.
CL: That was the best decision you’ve ever made in your life?
JH: Oh, yeah, every day I wake up without a hangover is more and more motivation to keep going.
CL: Wow, I hope anyone reading this can use it as inspiration to get dry. I also believe that you’re an absolute inspiration to those that are trying to keep drink and drug free.
JH: I appreciate that. If I can do it, anybody can.
CL: I’m so glad that you are able to open up about that, because it was the elephant in the room as far as I was concerned.
JH: Yeah. I’m always down to talk about it. It’s a big part of my life. It’s probably the most important part of my life.
CL: I’m so happy for you and proud of you, Joshua.
JH: Thank you, really, thank you!
CL: Just to round things off what have you got planned for the future, the immediate future, as you mentioned just before the interview that you aren’t big on making long term plans.
JH: Yeah. The immediate future is finish up my tour here, head to Scandinavia, finish up there. I got some shows in the southeast. I pretty much come back from here and drive straight to Texas, and then we route up from Austin and up to Athens, Georgia.
CL: Is that a full band tour?
JH: Yeah. It’s a full band tour. Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to bring the full band over here.
CL: Then you are playing Broken Spoke aren’t you. Which is the on at the same time as Americana festival in Nashville also.
JH: Yes, we are. Hopefully we’ll be at Americanafest too.
CL: What did you do to your beard, because it looks fine, we saw you say on twitter something like “I’m not coming to Europe, I’ve cut my beard off” hahaha.
JH: I cut a little bit off the sides. I’ve had a beard since I was seventeen. Nobody has seen my full face since then, I haven’t seen it. There was one time where I shaved it, just this bit off on my cheeks and left long sideburns and a goatee and I looked terrible. I looked like Larry the fucking caterer. I thought well, that’s the last time that’s going to happen. Some people could pull it off, not this guy. I have no idea what my face looks like anymore, but as far as I’m concerned, the less you can see my face, the better. I thrived during COVID Mask time. I look mysterious now.
CL: Anyway, thank you so much for spending time with us. I’m looking forward to a great show tonight.
JH: Thank you. Me too. Me too.