Keys To The Country: A Q&A With Josh Charles
Many country artists would love to cross over into pop music territory, or even rock. Newcomer Josh Charles aims to bring piano and a hint of the blues to the genre. He took the time to talk with us about working with Dr. John, co-writing with Milton Brown, opening for Blake Shelton and how all of that comes together for his latest single “Wasted On Love” and his upcoming album.
You’re known for your skills on the keyboard and learning from Dr. John. What made you journey into the country music industry?
What I love about country music is the stories and the lyrics, the honesty that comes through country music. I’ve actually always had a Southern thing in my style, Southern influences: Southern rock, Southern blues, and I’ve always loved country music. It is just where it felt most natural for me to be after exploring all these other styles of music. Country’s so broad today; it comes with so many different genres. It feels like home.
Are there things you learned while working with another genre that you think will help you in the country industry?
What I’d like to do is bring the piano back into country music, like Jerry Lee Lewis did, when it was cool. The way somebody like Brad Paisley is known for being a virtuoso on his instrument and is also known for writing great songs and performing. That is kind of what I’d like to be seen as on the piano. I don’t see anyone else doing it, so I think it’d be a good place to be.
Do you play any other instruments?
I play guitar; I do write some on guitar. Keys are what I’m known for but I like to mix it up, especially if I’m playing live. I don’t want to sit behind the keyboard the whole time.
Who would you consider your songwriting heroes?
Springsteen, Tom Petty, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Bono and U2, are some of my favorites.
You recently opened for Blake Shelton. What was that like?
I opened for Blake last summer in my hometown [Kansas City]. It was an incredible, amazing experience. It was my first time playing in front of die-hard country fans. They heard me practicing in the morning and by the time I played it the next afternoon, people were singing along. I’ve gotten a lot of support from Blake’s fans [the BSers] and it just started really organically. And now I’m recording with Blake’s band. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever did. The country audiences are the best in the world. There’s no difference between you and that audience; you’re just getting up there to entertain them.
What was it like working with Milton Brown?
He was introduced to me by Clay Bradley at BMI who had heard me play in New Orleans. He asked if I had given much thought to going into the country market and I said absolutely but I’d like to write with people. He had him [Brown] in his office and he had heard my stuff and wanted to work with me. So he sent me a lyric and said see what you can do with this. I was expecting it to be a really profound lyric like from “Every Which Way But Loose” and instead he sent me a lyric from a song called “It Ain’t Over till the Flat Lady Swings.” I laughed as I wrote something and sent it back. He called me fifteen minutes later and said, ‘I think we can work something out.’
Ever since then, we’ve written all these songs together, never in the same room. The only one we have actually finished together was “Wasted on Love”. He comes up with a lyrical idea and I’ll write the music for it or I’ll come up with the music and we’ll send it back and forth. It’s been amazing in that respect. I feel so grateful and so lucky. Milton brought Jimmy Buffet to Nashville and he told me that I could be the same. Jimmy came to Nashville and was unique. Forty years later, he’s bringing me in.
Tell us about your new single.
“Wasted on Love” was an idea I had just playing around in my head for a long time. I sent it to Milton as a rough demo. We went back and forth on a bunch of lines until we nailed the story. We were set to go to Nashville to record some other songs and I kept thinking there was something special about that song. We went to BMI to finalize some lyrics to record the next day and I pulled it out. We had the story. It was this guy; he’s kind of had it. But then he transforms because instead of getting wasted on substances, he finds love and gets wasted on love. It transforms from a sad song to a happy guy.
Is there an album on the horizon to follow the new single?
We actually are currently recording what will be released. We were recording with [producer] Toby Wright and Blake Shelton’s guys. We just finished recording our basic tracks. This is his [Wright’s] first country record. Through my relationship with Blake’s guys, I was able to get them to play on it. Hopefully it will come out in the next month or two. We’re trying to create something new.