Real Country Music
“Gimme That Girl” off of Old Things New, Joe’s 2009 release spent several weeks at number one. The success was followed by the single “The Shape I’m In”, a track found on both Old Things New and 2010’s Greatest Hits. The single did serve to maintain some of Joe’s momentum, but it failed to reach the top.
Speaking with Joe the day before the release of his new album, It’s All Good, we talked of the past year and a half and of his new offering.
“At the end of the day, overall, it was a success,” Joe says of Old Things New. “We had radio success, we had sales success, and it kept me visible and in front of the fans.” But Joe does allow that, “it could have probably done more. Of course we can look back and say that “Believers” shouldn’t have been the first single. And we’ve should have led off with “Gimme That Girl” and gone that way, you know, but hindsight is always 20/20…We’re all geniuses after that fact... But as far as the music goes, I think Old Things New was a good record.”
As for as a comparison to his latest, he flatly states that “the record we have right here is a better record for a lot of different reasons. I think that this record is probably the best record we’ve had out since Man With A Memory. And that’s saying something because I think we’ve put out some good records since then.”
“But this is probably our closest to Man With A Memory, with the vocal qualities and the song selection it turned out pretty good…”
After mentioning how I enjoyed the latest, I asked why a Greatest Hits package came before it? Joe was nothing but straight forward in his answer of “It wasn’t my idea…The label wanted to release a greatest hits package for lots of different reasons. Number one was that they wanted to make some money. Of course, labels are in it to make money. And they wanted to put out a product that would sell so many thousands of units immediately and put some money in the bank.”
“They didn’t have any concern with my career or what it says for my career. I think sometimes those things are really delicate. And sometimes those decisions are really key to what the public and the music industry’s perception of you is, and taking none of that into account, they released the greatest hits record that they wanted to make some money off of. There really wasn’t any kind of leveraging, or anything, like that, that I could do, so I had to go along with the plan and get on board...”
“Now of course, I stand behind the music…because I was the one inside the studio making that music. That’s my face and my name, and my voice, and everything…That’s me and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. But I just think the timing of it was a little less than desired…But, you know, labels do what they do.”
I couldn’t help but agree since its release made me scratch my head a bit when it was announced.
Joe added that “It was something that they made sense of in their business model…Taking nothing in account for what it means for me and my career long term… But you know that’s kind of what labels do, they look at dollars and cents for them and screw everybody else in the process…”
Hearing this, I asked, “Is this a sore spot for you?”
“No, I’m not sore about it anymore. It is what it is. Who’s to say that if I’m in their position, I’d do the same thing…if it makes sense for my business….I probably wouldn’t but…Labels do it all the time, I’m no different…I’m not the first guy who disagreed with something the label does and I won’t be the last…that’s kind of how it is…But it did one thing, it served the only purpose that they wanted it to serve…it made them some cash.”
Returning to the present release, I remarked that his name was missing from the writing credits. Joe explained, “I wrote. I wrote with Dallas (Davidson), and Rhett (Akins), and wrote with Jeff Beavers and Chris Dubois. I wrote with a lot of my favorite writers. But one thing I’ve always held true on is that long term careers are built on great songs and great albums. And the songwriting is a part of it, but to me it’s not the most important thing.”
“I want a career that has great songs and I want to have great albums. And at the end of the day, if I’ve wrote some of them then that’s awesome. I think that’s a bonus.
The new record is also without the bonus tracks of the last. The placing of a Colt Ford remix and a live cut following the very poignant “An Old Friend Of Mine” on Old Things New never made much sense to me as a listener. Joe agrees and points again at the label.
“I love Colt….and I loved what he did. I appreciated him working hard on it, because that’s a little bit of work. But here’s the thing, the label said, ‘We’re going to have this song remixed whether you like it or not, so knowing that, how do you want it remixed?’
“And I’m like, ‘I don’t want a remix at all. I don’t want any part of any of that stuff. So… they came up with a person to do a good re-mix, which was Colt Ford, who had been hot with some other things. And they decided that they were going to put it on a record whether you like it or not. Of course, me not being the record label president, what am I gonna do…But just know that it was not my idea. I had no part in that, and honestly I don’t think we needed it. But they thought it was a brilliant idea and come to find out they’re just wrong more than they are right.”
So I asked, “So, there’s no problem with the label? These are just working man like complaints?”
He agreed, and went further by saying, “We’re two different types of people here with two different kinds of thinking. I believe music is about integrity and about keeping honest to the artistic side of your self. And if you stray away from that because it puts five extra dollars in your pocket, then you’re really kind of a prostitute. And I don’t like prostitutes.”
“But I’m not calling the label a prostitute…I’m not calling the label a prostitute or anybody else a prostitute. I’m saying that that mentality of selling that part of you that makes you pure as an artist…selling that for an extra dollar is just wrong to me.”
But to be clear he added, “I’m not a disgruntled artist or anything like that. I don’t want to appear to be bitter because I’ve had a lot of stuff to be thankful for. And I’m very, very thankful for all that stuff. And they do a lot of work for me. I don’t ever want to come across as being ungrateful for the stuff that they do do. But, you know, none of us are geniuses and none of us have this thing figured out…But I will say this, more often than not we need to back up and think about what’s right and what’s wrong...”
For those who have followed Joe’s career, tensions are no surprise. His catalogue has always shown the struggle to maintain commercial success and artistry. His thoughts of music and his beliefs are nothing new and the balancing act continues with It’s All Good.
The album begins with the summertime fun of “Take It Off.” This playful telling one to strip themselves of their worries with a list of things to take off is both country and pop in that “Gimme That Girl” kind of way. Certainly a winning track but delivered to radio a bit too late. And now as summer has ended so has its climb.
About the track, Joe admits that “the timing was a little late. Mark (Wright) had produced a version and we went in and changed it with Buddy Cannon and doing that cost a little bit of time as far as the release goes. Now…the song gets backed up too much and you have a Toby (Keith) and Trace (Adkins) song the label is really pushing and focusing on. By the time the summer was over, and by the time they could really focus on our song, the song had run its course. That’s kind of what happened here.”
At times the use of two producers on one album is a sign of trouble in making the album. Joe dismisses this notion as far as his new release. “I think Mark is a good producer and did some great stuff on this album. I think he did a great job. “Somebody’s Mama” is a great track. “How I Wanna Go” is a phenomenal song, and he did it well. I think Mark did a really good job. So taking nothing away from Mark, I think Buddy coming in gave me a little peace of mind.”
Speaking about one track in particular, “This Ole Boy”, currently a single for Craig Morgan, Joe tells, how “we didn’t know we were competing with anybody for a song. We just heard a Dallas (Davidson) song that was a little bit of a ditty. It was up tempo and it was fun. And we didn’t have any idea that Craig had cut it. But after the fact it was like ‘well crap we got a good track on it and it sounds good and adds tempo to the record but now there’s gonna be a bit of a cloud over it cause Craig cut it.”
I mention how I thought “How I Wanna Go”, “It’s All Good”, and “Somebody’s Mama”, “No Truck, No Boat, No Girl” were all great. Joe countered that there “has to be some fun and tempo on a record”. And he laughed a little as he said, “you know, if it was up to me I would make record that reached the $1.99 bin faster than anybody. Because I would just cut slower and mid stuff that you just wouldn’t find on a 2011 country record most of the time.”
“The good thing is that I get nine out of ten choices on a record, eight out of ten….that are just me only. The others are like ‘ok, I see the point in doing that one’….I believe that in this record world that we live in, the most difficult thing is to try to explain to the label why I got to be who I am. And how I’m not Lady Antebellum, I’m not Jason Aldean, I’m not Brad Paisley, I’m not everybody else out there. So there’s no reason to try and force that on me. So… they got to make dollars and cents out of the music they put out there, so they have to have their own opinions about stuff.”
Besides the choice in songs, and some of his finest work, Its All Good may benefit from other factors as well. Joe explained, “I think our visibility has remained steady and high, and of course, we haven’t had our dips and valleys near as bad as we’ve had them in the past. Of course, I wish we can have a number one every time out, but it’s just sometimes not possible. But I think we have maintained a constant presence with the fans over the past couple of years unlike we done in the past, where we’ve had success and then we dropped off the face of the earth. But we’ve maintained visibility and that’s good, going into the new record.”
Sensing that my time with Joe was coming to a close, I asked “What else should anyone know about the new record?”
Joe was again frank in responding, “The thing about where we live in today’s country music world is that the labels are so involved and impressed with what everyone else is doing. They are so enamored with everything everybody else has going on. Rather than to look in house and go ‘let’s bring out the best in what we have’, other than doing that, they look at what’s going on success wise with everybody else, and say ‘how can I make my guy, or my girl, do what they’re doing?’…‘How can I make our music sound like their music?’ To me, that’s just a bass ackwards way of doing it.”
“I think I am the way I am, and let’s come up with some creative ways to bring out the best in what I do. Toby Keith’s the same way. If you have that guy be like somebody else he’d probably punch you in the face. And I think that’s where the rubber’s going to meet the road eventually. And with this record, it’s a country record that doesn’t sound like Aldean’s record. It doesn’t sound like a lot of the other guys that are out there that are more rockin’. This is a country record for all the country fans out there and this is something I’m proud of.”
“And I hope that we sell some records. And I hope that the people know that this is a country record, and that they don’t feel like this is another wallpaper record. And that somehow they are interested enough to listen to this record and find out that it’s a traditional country record and a pretty good one.”