Josh Turner has established himself as one of the biggest artists in Country music since the release of his debut album Long Black Train in 2003.
The singer-songwriter, who hails from South Carolina, has released 7 albums and achieved a string of number one hits including Your Man, Would You Go With Me and Why Don’t We Just Dance. His latest album, I Serve a Savior, is a collection of faith-based songs that sees Turner embrace gospel and celebrate the importance of his faith in his life and career.
While Josh was in the UK recently, I sat down with him to talk about his first ever live shows on this side of the pond, his latest album and his distinctive voice.
Welcome to the UK. You finally made it. You must know that you’ve been on the top of a lot of wish lists these past few years…
Yeah I guess that’s a good thing. I was saying earlier that I’m glad that I did wait just to be able to establish myself more as an artist and create a demand over here. I was saying yesterday in an interview that with CMA Fest and a lot of different events back home we’ve had fans from all over the world come. I always seem to have a huge contingent of people from the U.K. asking, ‘hey when are you coming to London? When are you coming to Manchester?’ (laughs) all these places. We had always wanted to come over here but it just never worked out and we just never felt like we were in the right place to do it. I’m glad we finally made it happen.
You have a sold-out show here tonight in London, another show in Manchester and The Long Road this weekend. All day on social media I’ve seen people trying to get tickets for this show. That must feel good to have that kind of anticipation for your first visit here?
Absolutely. Yeah. I was sending pictures to my family of the venue here tonight and I was telling them the name of it. My momma was asking about the venue and I said, ‘well I don’t think it’s a church anymore, maybe it is, but I know it’s an entertainment venue now’ and she was asking, ‘are those pews?’ I said, ‘yeah’ and she said, ‘you’re going to go fill them up?’ and I said, ‘yeah I think I’ve sold it out so it’s pretty cool!’ (laughs)
Union Chapel is the perfect setting for your first time here in London given that your current album I Serve a Savior is a collection of faith-based songs and faith has been a large part of your career. Why did you decide to do this record at this point in your career?
That’s honestly yet another thing that I have been wanting to do for a long time but my main priority, once I got my record deal, was to establish myself as a Country artist. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life but I feel like I’ve been called to be a Country artist. I’ve tried to explain that throughout my career. I didn’t want to just jump into starting to do gospel records because there’s a lot of people who knew what I stood for and knew what kind of person I was. I grew up loving Country music… just being able to tell those stories and just the sound of it… it’s always been a soundtrack for my life and where I grew up. Establishing myself as a Country artist has been my main goal in the last however many years.
Then last year the opportunity to do this gospel record came about and it was a perfect opportunity and perfect timing for me to go in and do this because I’d been making a mental list of songs that I’ve been wanting to do for years. Then when Bill Gaither and his company got involved, I felt like that was the missing piece that I really never even thought of. I feel like it gave this record a lot of credibility. Being able to do the live performance DVD of the record, that’s probably my favourite part of this project because I’ve made records before but I’ve never made a live performance DVD. To be able to go in and play all these songs live and have my family in there playing stuff, and my wife singing harmony on some of these songs, and then the one-on-one interview with Bill Gaither I think really showed the fans why do things the way I do ’em. I think it’s a window into the world of Josh Turner.
You mentioned that you collaborated with your family on this record. Your wife and son co-wrote The River (Of Happiness) and the family sings on that. What was it like to have your family involved in your music?
It was kind of wild because this particular song, when I heard it I remembered it. They had written it a few years back, I think it was five years ago now back when my son was 8. I remembered the song but at that time I wasn’t making a gospel record. When it came time to make the record and I heard it again I was like, ‘man that’s actually a really good song and the subject matter is unlike anything else on the record’. I just didn’t feel like I needed to be singing on it, I just felt like it just needed to be them. The presentation of it was more innocent and natural for the boys to sing on it, and Jennifer to play, so that’s what we did. It was fun for me to step out of the spotlight there on that DVD and during that performance, and just let them do their thing. It was a little nerve wracking but at the same time they’re very talented and I knew that they could pull it off, and they did.
Are any of your kids starting to show an interest in following in your footsteps?
My oldest son, he’s kinda hinted at the idea of maybe getting into the music business, which he’s showing the passion for. I mean every waking minute he’s got a instrument in his hand playing something. It’s kind of starting to drive us crazy (laugh) but I can relate to that. That’s how you get better, that’s how you learn. That’s how you just hone your craft and refine your skills. Right now he’s just playing and he’s written some. He’s not really into singing at all so I don’t know exactly where he’s gonna go. He’s also good at baseball too so time will tell.
He could multi-task and do both. There are plenty of Country stars that have started off in sports and switched careers…
Yeah… Charley Pride (laughs).
What I love about this record is how you’ve linked it back to the very start of your career with a live version of Long Black Train on there. You’ve also put a new version of Me and God on the record too. Was it purposeful to create that link and did you just feel that those songs fit neatly within the album’s theme?
We didn’t want to put the original versions of Long Black Train and Me and God on here because they had been done, and we felt like we had done pretty good live versions of them. I’m doing Me and God in a different key nowadays and my voice has just changed and matured over the years since I did the originals of those songs. I felt like having the current version of those songs would be more appropriate. They’re not studio versions but they were pretty close, I mean it was a great live performance. With the newly released UK version we also have I Serve a Savior and Without Him from a little event we did at a studio in Nashville where it was just acoustic and I thought that would be cool for the UK fans.
As an artist I tend to gravitate more towards full production because when you’re growing up and you’re wanting to have a record deal and be an artist, you don’t have the liberty to go into the studio and make a full-blown professional level record. That’s what your goal is as a young aspiring artist. It always fascinates me to see how much the fans love hearing songs that they know broken down into an acoustic version. It’s always wild to me because I always feel like something’s missing and it doesn’t sound right (laughs)… there needs to be drums, there needs to be whatever but they just love it just stripped down and raw.
I feel like with the Country genre, the fans are open to artists changing their songs and rearranging them for live performances. It keeps it interesting for them and presumably it keeps it interesting for you when you’re performing them night after night?
I think honestly, and I don’t say this arrogantly but this is something that I’ve actually had to learn myself throughout the years is that, once I started getting tour sponsorships and stuff I was able to afford a whole lot more production out on the road. We carried an 18 wheeler and huge set and lights and we even carried a huge video wall and video screens and stuff. We had this huge production out on the road when I would go do live shows. Then when the sponsorships ended I didn’t want to pay for all that stuff out of my pocket so I decided to quit taking video and all that kind of stuff out on the road, which was kind of scary for me because I felt like, in my own mind anyway, the promoters were booking us on certain shows because we were carrying all this huge production stuff. We quit taking the video out and we went out and did our shows and there was not a drop in ticket sales or anything. Not a drop in merch. It made me realise, wait a minute they’re not coming out here for the big video wall and the production and all that, that’s just icing on the cake.
A couple of years ago I fell on the bus and hit my head and got a concussion and passed out and ended up in the E.R. It was the first day of a 10-day run so I was not in a good place physically but I had these 10 shows in front of me that I had to do. I could have easily cancelled but there was nothing wrong with my voice, I could still sing. I literally went out and I did all 10 of those shows sitting on a stool. That concerned me because I’m felt the fans weren’t getting the full effect. Well they went just as crazy with me sitting on that stool as they did when I was walking around. That was yet another time where I learned, and I finally figured the whole thing out, that these people were coming to my shows because of my voice. They’re not coming because of who’s in my band or what kind of set I have behind me or what kind of video wall production I have or whether or not I’m walking around or sitting on a stool; they want to hear me sing these songs. It took me a while to realise that and it kind of took the pressure off. It made me feel better about just going out on stage and being myself and not having to worry about trying to win these people over with all these tricks and gimmicks and lights. Don’t get me wrong, I love having all that stuff, it’s a good presentation. I’ve done the full arena shows and I’ve also done those real intimate acoustic kind of things and people get just as excited about both.
You’ve got one of the most distinctive voices in the genre and you always know when it’s one of your songs when it comes on the radio. I don’t think a lot of artists can say that…
No, especially nowadays (laughs). I just knew from an early age that I had the ability to sing. I injured my voice in 1996, which ironically led to my first trip to Nashville. It’s not the way I would have written the story (laughs) but I went and I worked my way through that rehabilitation process of getting my voice back to health. When I did my voice became better after the injury than it was before and so I realised that it was just a blessing in disguise. From that point on I knew I had what it took to get a record deal and to make an impact and to stand apart from everybody else. That to me really gave me an added boost of confidence that I didn’t have before, and I was pretty confident before but just knowing that I’m gonna sound different than everybody else… it feels lonely sometimes but it’s a comfort at the same time, it’s kind of hard to put into words.
Josh Turner’s I Serve a Savior, the expanded edition, is available now through Snakefarm Records. Watch him perform I Saw the Light below: