One listen to Josh Ward, and you'll instantly be reminded of the country greats of the 80's and 90's. The Houston native and country music traditionalist has seen an unprecedented seven consecutive #1's in Texas over the last two albums, four of those off his latest, Holding Me Together, with his new single "Change My Mind" quickly ascending the TRRR Chart in hopes of being number eight. In advance of a busy summer, which includes a West Coast tour with buddy Cody Johnson, Ward kindly called to talk about his roots, success, and more.
Similarly to Chris LeDoux and Cody Johnson you had a career in rodeo before changing direction to pursue music. How did you progress from that path to where you are now?
I’ve loved music from a very young age, and it has always been a part of my life. Even when I rode bucking horses, there was never a time when I wasn’t playing music for myself and my friends. When I finally decided I wanted to do music, I kicked the tires and lit the fires - played with a of couple bands, put my own together, hit the road, and here we are fifteen years later. I always said when I was younger I wanted to be that cowboy, but somewhere along the way I smartened up (laughing).
Well, it seems like you made a good decision! Your sound is very traditional, is that the type of music you were exposed to or drawn to from an early age?
I was raised on the greats - Haggard, Jones, Whitley – and they owned me. I'm not trying to copy what they did, but they were influential on me, and that’s the vein I fell into. It’s funny, I’ve been doing this for many years, and it was tough trying to get in the main scene, so I played bars and beer joints until people started taking notice of me. It was hard, but as Barbara Mandrell said, 'I was country when country wasn’t cool.' I was living that then, and now, we're seeing a turn-around where country is cool again, and I’m happy to be a part of that.
With seven consecutive singles from two albums, I'd say you definitely fall into the cool category. Do you feel that the success that you’ve encountered has been a whirlwind of sorts?
The ride to the success I’ve had, it’s been a blur, but I just keep my head down and go to work. It’s one of those things where I look at the numbers, as far as the #1’s, and it’s awesome. I honestly never thought in a million years I’d have one #1, much less seven of them. I have a great radio promoter, but we never had a huge record push, so to have all of this happen at a grass roots level is incredible. I appreciate being noticed and having people think I’m good enough to run up the charts, but at the end of the day the numbers don’t matter as long as the fans are there and they’re digging and loving on our music.
I really think a lot of our success we’ve had has to do with song selection. For me, it’s not just put a song on a record because it’s there to fill the #5 spot. I’ve always tried to put songs on a record that mean something or move me. If it makes me feel, I think it might do the same to a person who is listening. That’s the way I pick songs. I’m not going to pick it just because it sounds cool and that’s what’s in, or what everybody else is doing right now. I like to pick songs with substance. And if it’s a great song it needs to be heard.
Songs that elicit emotions are powerful things. Do you think that’s part of what draws people to the music?
I think it is. I listen to the fans because they’re going to tell you what they want to hear, maybe not outright, but they might tell you little stories – maybe they like a song because it’s what they danced to at their wedding or buried their grandpa to, or helped them through a breakup - that let you know you connected with them on an emotional level. Take "Last Night’s Makeup." I’ve had women come up to me and thank me for writing songs like that, songs that compliment women rather than songs that look down on them. People telling me these things makes me think that if I write another song along those lines, then possibly someone else will feel a connection too. Saying that might sound weird, but when I write songs, I don't write them only for me, I write them for the people - and I love my people.
The people obviously appreciate what you do because it looks like you’re on your way to your eighth #1 with your current single, “Change My Mind.” Did you write that one?
My buddy Matt Caldwell, who is an excellent songwriter, wrote it. He pitched the song to me when I was going into studio for Holding Me Together and when I heard the demo, it just clicked. And the more I listened, I knew it was going to be one of those songs that the ladies liked, a positive song where it’s not ‘Hey I’m trying to pick you up and take you home,’ but hey, ‘You’re beautiful and I’d like to spend some time with you.’ It was a great follow up to “Broken Heart,” and I am very happy to have that song on the record.
Circling back to song selection for a moment, you said you choose songs that move you. So, is it a gut feeling when you initially hear a song that you know you need to cut it or release it as a single?
I’d say it’s a gut feeling and I tend to use my gut more than I use my noggin (laughing). If I listen and it moves me or makes me think, then it’s peaked my interest. I’m going to continue to do my brand of country, but there’s really no method to the madness of how we release our stuff. When I tell people that I’m planning on maybe having one to two more singles from the album, they look at me like I’m crazy. They tell me people are only supposed to have three songs released as singles from a record then you move onto the next one, but I just say, ‘Why?’ (laughing) I was told I have a string of singles on this album, so I figure if every song is worthy of being a single then let’s see how many we can throw out there!
Since you have a few more singles, have you entertained the thought of another record?
Oh yeah, definitely (laughing). It’s one of those things where as soon as you get one out, you better be working on the next one. I’m pretty humble about what I do, but Holding Me Together was such a good record, yet it’s almost like I came out of the studio and the record was already being pushed, and I didn’t have enough time to soak it up. To me, it still feels like it’s brand-new, but unfortunately, we have to move on and do another one – which I’m happy to do, but it’s just so quick. And I feel like I have to be careful, too, with the next one. We set the bar high with Holding Me Together, and I don’t want to undersell the next one. I don’t want people to say, ‘You had a great record last time, so what happened with this new one?’ – that’s the fear of it. I have to make sure every song is perfect – and we have some good ones. The guys I’m writing with are great writers who think the way I think and the chemistry is there such that I can throw something against the wall and they’re going to know how to pull the emotion out of it, and likewise I with them. I want the record to be a roller coaster of emotions from honky tonk anthems to crying in your beer songs to happy, fun, loving on your girlfriend songs. That’s kind of a perfect record to me because I cover all the bases.
And that’s another quality that draws people to the music.
In addition to writing, you’re also busy touring and in August, you’re heading out on a West Coast tour with Cody Johnson. How did that come about?
Cody and I have known each other for years; literally since the start of both of our careers. If you want to talk about a rodeo cowboy who lives the lifestyle, that’s him to a “T.” Cody’s a great guy and the real deal. I love him, his family, and his crew and I can’t say enough good things about them. It’s going to be a fun run to California and who better to take it all in and share the experience with than one of my buddies. We’re very blessed to get to do what we do for a living and we’re so looking forward to it.
Both of you are known for your high-energy live shows, so the pairing seems like a perfect one.
Cody’s live show is electric - like Chris LeDoux on steroids, he never stops. My show is high energy too, but it kind of rocks back on its heels a little bit, but when both of those worlds collide on stage – and we’ve seen how it works – people just love it. I go in there and get the fire blazing and then Cody comes in and throws dynamite on top of it. I hope California’s got their door screws screwed in because we’re gonna blow them out!
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