JJ Lawhorn's entry into country music began in 2010 when he posted a video of himself singing on You Tube. Within a year, he had a publishing deal with EMI. This past July, he released his first album with Average Joe's Entertainment Original Good Ol' Boy. Last week he was in NYC for appearances on iHeart Radio Live and performing at Guys with Guitars 2. We had a chance to sit down and chat with the country newcomer, who was named one of Billboard's New & Noteworthy.
Congrats on the year that you have had. Can you say that it has been one of your best years so far?
Thank you. Yes, it has definitely been an extremely interesting year for us for us for sure.
Is there one thing that stands out as a highlight for you?
Probably just finally having the record come out. We recorded it about three years ago. We have been playing the songs, touring, doing the footwork and it is nice to see it finally all pan out.
Your mom is very musical. How influential was she in your interest in music, writing and playing guitar?
My mom got me interested in music in general. She was the choir director at the Baptist church & she could really sing and play any instrument. When I was 3-4 years old my mom would give me voice lessons, tell me if I was singing flat or sharp & would give me advice on how to sing from the diaphragm. I was always singing around the house and harmonizing with my mom. It was really a big part of my life to have my mom teach me and be an influence growing up. My parents also brought me up with great morals and values in a God fearing household. They instilled in me diligence and hard work, things that have helped me get this far & will help me get to the next level. If I didn't have the upbringing I had I wouldn't be where I am today.
Who would you consider your musical influences?
I pull my musical influences from a lot of different places, outside the country genre more so than
inside. I think good music is good music, a good song is a good song. Music shouldn't be bound by genres . Old blues is a big influence on my sound: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson. The old cats like Skip James, as well as Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn. Also, Hank Sr, Tubbs, Webb Pierce. I also listen to a lot of bluegrass like Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe & of course Waylon and Merle. I pull from all different genres but especially Southern rock like Blackfoot, Skynyrd and 38 Special plus some gospel thrown in. It makes for a very interesting palate.
It absolutely does. Can you tell us the story of how you were discovered on You Tube and what song was it that you covered?
I am not going to lie. When I posted that I was like I wonder if somebody will see this. I thought about it as we reached 100 then 1000 views. It was basically divine intervention. I was 16 years old at the time, I put a video response to one of favorite country singer's music videos that had come out, Justin Moore. I believe the song was "Like There's No Tomorrow." His producer saw it & got a hold of me and we exchanged a couple of texts messages. At first I thought maybe it was a joke, but when I saw the 615 phone number, I got out of agriculture class, went behind the greenhouse and took the call. My teacher took the phone from me and I told her 'do you know who I'm talking to, it's Justin Moore's producer' she told me 'I don't care of it's Jesus on the line, get back in class.' So I got my phone taken away, had to explain it all to my parents and then they took over from there. It's all just pretty crazy. Jeremy (Stover) came out to Virginia to hang out with me, see what I do, how I live and write some music in my barn. Then we made trips to Nashville, met people and started building relationships. Four years later I had a record and publishing deal.
Your debut cd Original Good Ol' Boy came out in July. It was produced by Jeremy Stover. On it, you worked with some of Nashville's top songwriters such as Ben Hayslip and Dallas Davidson. What was that like and was that intimidating at all?
It was not intimidating at all. I went into it knowing those guys had a higher caliber of writing skill than I had but, I went into it with the mindset to learn as much a possible. I am never opposed to take advice. We all have a unique style of writing, it's all about the chemistry between the writers & how you bounce ideas off of each other. Dallas & Rhett, I was extremely lucky enough to work with them. I went into it knowing too that I would fight for my lyrics. I want to leave my mark on all I do so it turns out the way I want it to. Dallas taught me one thing it was to write a song a day even if you don’t finish try to write song a day, you have to practice to refine your art. Of course now I cant do that every day because of time issues but I write a line down because you might use it later. It was an eye opening learning experience.
You wrote or co-wrote all 13 tracks on the record. Tell us about that.
I didn't want to talk about stuff I didn’t know about. I wanted to make sure I was actively engaged in writing. It
comes through and I feel like people get the authenticity because it is my life in songs. If you don't write and are singing, I don't feel like you can have the same emotion whether you are singing it better or not. To me, there is no way to have the same amount of raw emotion the person who wrote song did; you may be in similar circumstances but you weren’t at the same place emotionally as the person who pieced it together. God gave me the talent to piece words together and paint a picture for people and that's what I try to do.
Do you have a favorite song off of the record?
Now I don't like singing it because it is too emotional, but my favorite song is "Good Ol Boys Like Us." It is about a buddy who died in a truck accident. The theme is that even though you may lose someone that’s close to you, you can take hope in the fact that you'll see them again one day.
Your first single 'Stomping Grounds' is such a heartfelt song. It has received a lot of support from Sirius XMs The Highway and iHeart Radio. What does that support mean to you?
It is an extremely incredible blessing. I cannot explain how blessed and humbled I feel to have people back me. I always remember my Daddy's words that 'you are a product of the people you surround yourself with.' I went out of my way to make sure I have the right team beside me. What is happening now is crazy to me because I never thought I would do anything but farm for the rest of my life. I just want to thank everyone who is helping me along the way. John Marks and the Digital Integration Program at iHeart, have given me an extreme amount of exposure. The internet is a ridiculous outlet to interact with and get your music to the fans, but the assistance of radio has been crucial to my success.
Your video for 'Sittin' On A Tailgate' was a CMT Pure favorite and has over 674,000 views on You Tube. Why do you think your music connects with people?
I talk about things I have lived through, but not only what I would live through. I try to make it relatable. If you are a young kid in the country you have probably had a good time on the back of a tailgate. There are themes in my songs that everyone can relate to whether it be someone from the country or big city.
You have collaborated & toured with Colt Ford, is he or anyone else in the business someone you consider a mentor?
My producer, Jeremy Stover, is my biggest mentor because he definitely brought me into the game so to speak; taught me a lot about how it worked and what the process was. Colt and I met and just hit it off. We both respect people who are real and concern ourselves with content of character rather than what people look like. We do things differently but say a lot of the same things. He has been extremely kind to me by giving me advice & putting me in front of a lot of shows that he didn’t have to do. I consider Colt a friend.
The video for "You Can Tell A Man By His Truck" was released on November 5th. What are your thoughts on people who say there are too many truck songs on the radio today?
I wrote that song three years ago before the whole truck craze. My friends thought the song was so cool. A pickup truck is part of every teenager's life who lives in the boonies, so it is very relatable. It took a few years for the album to come out and when it did, that song ended up on it.
What are your plans for 2014?
Well, I have the Country Cruise in January, then a ton of tour dates. We are also working on the second album. We are hoping to shoot the video for 'Good Ol boys Like Us' and will release that as a new single in the Spring. We are just going to go out there, hit it hard and try and make our mark.
For more information on JJ visit http://jjlawhorn.com/