Released in November, Josh Abbott Band's Front Row Seat debuted at #1 on the all-genre Billboard Top Independent Albums Chart and at #9 on the Top Country Albums Chart. The personal and unique sixteen-track concept album, which is divided into five "acts," chronicles a relationship from its joyous beginnings to its painful dissolution, something many, including Abbott, have experienced. In a year that has seen the band touring expansively as well as performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Abbott graciously took the time to answer some questions via email about the album, touring and more.
Front Row Seat is a concept record, which isn’t often seen much in music. Was it something you set out to do, or something that fell into place as you gathered the songs for the album?
Fortunately, it developed during the studio process. We already recorded several of the songs from Acts 4/5, 1 from Act 1, & of course our single "Wasn't That Drunk" from Act 2. Looking at them on paper I saw how they all told a different part of a love story, that was inherently very reflective of mine and so many others. So we picked out the rest of the tunes based on if they would flow in order; not only lyrically, but sonically.
The album received national critical acclaim from outlets like Rolling Stone, EW, Noisey, NPR and more. In addition to the well-crafted songs, do you think the utterly personal and mature nature of the project contributed to the response?
First and foremost, we're very grateful for the critical acclaim we received from those outlets and many more. I do believe the personal nature of the album drew intrigue. We all want our favorite bands to write about real experiences; it provides the personality of an album. I also think it's because we've been a band for a while now and naturally we've gotten better at our craft, therefore, we recorded a better album than before. We matured on this album. I can't say enough about how great it was to work with our producer Dwight Baker. He really gets us in a way no one else has.
Being that putting yourself out there on any record can be scary, I imagine it can be even more so when the subject matter is so extremely personal. Why did you want to give people a front row seat into your personal life?
Most of our fans already knew I had recently gone through a divorce. They were almost waiting for the songs that would transpire because of it. There's a couple of songs that didn't make the album because they were too personal at the time but I felt okay in releasing the realness behind what we chose for Acts 4/5.
Many of these songs, especially in the last two acts, can be almost gutting, especially if you’ve lived through the dissolution of relationships and divorce. Do you often perform them live as they must be emotional to sing?
“Amnesia” has become a staple in our set. As far as the other ones, particularly Act 4, it just has to be the right venue and setting. We're not going to play those at a festival during the day or a rodeo. When we get more of a theater venue, we make sure to play them, though. "Anonymity" & "Born to Break Your Heart" still tear me up.
“Anonymity” is almost poetic. Can you share the story behind that song?
Thank you, it's definitely my favorite on the album. It's a song of reflection and regret; I sat down and visualized a scenario in which if we could start all over, and I did it the right way, then we could be in this beautiful and relaxing environment such as a picnic. Secluded, safe, and hearts clinging to each other. She feels comfortable enough to take her skirt off and tan next to me. It isn't meant as sexual; it's meant as trusting. The last few lines kill me when I sing it live. It's a lovely ode to a beautiful soul that unfortunately I don't get to share life with anymore.
Divorce often unleashes a myriad of emotions in a time of turmoil. Have you found your peace?
Maybe one day, but not fully yet. I still have dreams about her every week. I wake up crying usually once or twice a month, which is less than it used to be. It's my fault and it’s that regret that haunts me. Some memories & emotions are too strong to disappear. The brain in the night can be a provocative demon.
I can believe that.
Switching gears a bit, “Wasn’t That Drunk” was, and still is, being very warmly received at radio. What will be the next single from Front Row Seat be and will it be released nationally?
"Amnesia" will be the next national single. It's the best song we've ever recorded. It's perfect. I love the experimentation we dove into with it: the nylon acoustic & baritone twin intro, the dark piano notes in Verse 2, & the twin electrics in the outro. It's our favorite to play live.
A couple of months ago you made your national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! I imagine that was a bucket list item that can now be crossed off?
Absolutely! In fact, it was one of my initial 5 goals when we got serious about touring. Kimmel and his whole staff were gracious and accommodating. I can't say enough about them! I started off flat but rebounded by the pre-chorus and I thought we did very well for our first time. I'm very proud of my guys for looking and playing like professionals.
Do you have any others that you want to be able to cross off as well…either something fun, or something more in terms of how you move forward with another album?
I'd really appreciate a national awards show to recognize us with even just a nomination. We've worked hard and made a fantastic album, but it's a competitive field and also we're not on a label, so it's tough to get those nominations.
Front Row Seat took you on your largest tour ever. While you’re incredibly beloved in Texas and elsewhere, is the focus now to keep building on a national level in terms of both radio play and touring?
That's always been the goal, but I do believe now that we're 4 albums and 8 years into touring, we're starting to see the crowds come out more across the country. Anyone that simply thinks we only play in TX/OK is misinformed. We embrace the opportunity to play our style of country from NYC to LA; even the Texas songs! People love them.
Absolutely. I've seen you multiple times in NYC and the response is incredible.
Summer is festival season, so what’s ahead for the Fall tour-wise?
Pretty much the same. We'll play almost every weekend all across the country. We have a west coast tour lined up in September. Our annual JABFest is Oct 1st, and that's always an anchor for our fall tour. Then we'll slow down some in Nov & Dec to enjoy the holidays and family time.
And lastly, I always like to know - is there anyone who you cannot stop listening to or recommend people check out?
William Clark Green is my best friend in the music business and one of my best friends in general, so I'm biased, but his album Ringling Road is fantastic as is his Rose Queen album. Flatland Cavalry is a neophyte but enormously promising band in Texas that recorded a fantastic debut album called Humble Folks...outside of country, our friends Kaleo are on fire as well as our buddies The Wind + The Wave. Both are killing it on the AAA charts!
For more information on the Josh Abbott Band visit their official website
Find them on Facebook and Twitter
Purchase Front Row Seat here