Now/It's: An Interview with Joshua Hedley

If you're a frequent patron of the world famous Robert's Western World (guilty as charged), then you're likely familiar with Josh Hedley. Or if not through Robert's, then perhaps through his work as a hard hustling side man for the likes of Jonny Fritz or Justin Townes Earle. Or if neither of those two ring a bell, then perhaps through his Twitter account, which in and of itself reveals a man of many talents, interests, and hilarity. Even still, if none of these options have a rung a bell, then let me assure you, you will know about Joshua Hedley, because you need to. He's a talent unlike any other - equipped with a sardonic sensibility and a voice as rosined as his fiddle bow. Hedley just made his Opry debut, along with the release of his debut album Mr. Jukebox (out on Third Man Records), so things are looking way, way up for Ole Hed. He shares his thoughts on his new album, the surprise of learning he would perform on the Opry on the day of his album release, wrestling, memes, and plenty more. If you're looking to witness something special, he plays The Basement East this evening with support from Erin Rae and Cale Tyson.

Now/It's met with Joshua Hedley at the Red Light Management offices in The Gulch neighborhood of Nashville.

Joshua - I’d shake your hand, but I don't want to risk getting you sick….

N/I - It’s all good. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. I appreciate you still taking the time to talk to me.

Joshua - Of course.

N/I - Well how’s it going?

Joshua - I’m doing well, man.

N/I - Is it that post-SXSW sickness everyone seems to pick up?

Joshua - Yeah. I don’t know. I might have inhaled too much dust out at the Luck Ranch.

N/I - Maybe so. How was Luck Reunion, by the way?

Joshua - It was cool, man. Very cool.

N/I - Did you play one set? Or bounce around?

Joshua - Just the one set. I had three shows that day. So I basically played, hung around for a second, and then went on to the next one.

N/I - I figure things have been pretty non-stop now for the past six months? Or a year?

Joshua - Not even. It’s just now kicking into high gear.

N/I - Dang. How many interviews do you have set for today?

Joshua - I had one before this one, and then I have two more after this.

N/I - Is that a newer thing for you? Doing the interviews?

Joshua - For sure. I’ve never had a reason to talk to anybody before [laughs].

N/I - Really? Just in your own opinion?

Joshua - Well I was just playing fiddle.

N/I - Side man stuff?

Joshua - Right. No one wants to interview side men.

N/I - Well there are certain sects of people who are interested - like 650 AM WSM.

Joshua - Fuck yeah, dude, I love 650.

N/I - But there are people out there for that. Though I figure it’s a little different from tagging along to someone else’s interview just being there for whatever live portion there is. Is that strange?

Joshua - Nah. I don’t mind it, I’m just answering questions.

N/I - Well speaking of 650 AM - what was that Opry invitation like? What did it mean to you?

Joshua - Ah man, it was crazy. I never…. I can’t remember the last time I was that legitimately surprised by something. I had no idea what was going on. Corey… Corey Younts is like my best friend.

N/I - I heard you guys are pretty close.

Joshua - Yeah. And the only thing I knew was that I was coming in to DJ, and I was already excited to do that. I assumed we would talk about the record and stuff like that. So I had my back to this door, and I was just talking and I heard the door, and this big commotion behind me. Initially I was just like “What the fuck is going on?” I thought some intern or something was getting in the way.

N/I - Well with the studio being in the hotel, it’s not out of the question for someone to come and cause a ruckus on the windows.

Joshua - Yeah. I heard this big commotion and thought “We’re on the air! What’s going on?” and then I saw Corey and thought “Why is Corey here? Did he just hear me on the radio and decide to pop in?” That seems like something that he would do. But yeah, we just bullshitted for a minute and then he invited me play the Opry, and I was just speechless.

N/I - Sure. Understandably.

Joshua - I was just like “Yeah! For sure.” It’s a dream. And I said earlier in that broadcast that I wanted three things out of this record for it to be considered a success for me - to hear it played on 650, to play it on the Opry, and to sell it at Cracker Barrel.

N/I - So you’ve got two-thirds of that out of the way. All that’s left is Cracker Barrel. Obviously this all becomes more and more of a reality when you sign a record deal as a country artist, but was playing the Opry something you would have considered when you first moved here? Or was it always the Lower-Broad scene, just gigging out?

Joshua - I just came here to work. My only goal was to just not have a real job [laughs], I just wanted to play. I really thought I was just going to tour with Jonny [Fritz] and play at Robert’s forever. I was fine with that. I didn’t really ever go looking for any of this - it sort of just found me. It still feels kind of crazy. I’m still waiting for something to drop. It’s like “Why is this happening?”

N/I - I figure you’re kind of in a state of perpetual disbelief.

Joshua - Sort of, yeah.

N/I - Maybe not in an undeserving way, but because you didn’t so desperately seek it out, it’s just different. Why is that? Why do you think something could drop?

Joshua - I don’t know. I just wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t ever expecting anything like this to happen. It’s just weird because so many people move to this town just trying to get famous or something, and I never really cared about that. I just wanted to play music, and I figured since I played country music, Nashville was the place to be. I moved here and started working downtown, and got some opportunities from that just through touring with other acts as a fiddle player and that was sort of a comfortable life for me. It was like “Okay. Play my four hour shift at Robert’s, count my tips at the end of the night, and Jonny tells me what time to be at the van, and do the six week tour. Get paid at the end. Go home.” It was just a really comfortable regimented, “Here’s my life, it’s cool.” I was making enough money to support myself and it’s something that I enjoyed doing, so that’s a pretty dope life, and I’m cool with it.

N/I - I’d say so.

Joshua - And all of a sudden, it just feels crazy [laughs].

N/I - I’d imagine so, especially once the album is out on 4/20.

Joshua - I’m just like “What is going on!? How did any of this happen?” It just seems wild that anyone would…. I don’t know. I’ve been a side man for so long that it just feels crazy to think that anybody would give a shit about hearing my songs.

N/I - That’s fair, I suppose. But when you would tour with Jonny, every once and a while, wouldn’t he kind of push for you to play some of your songs?

Joshua - Yeah. That was the beginning of it. I would play “Weird Thought Thinker” or “Broken Man” and people would like it, and I’m like “What!?” [laughs]. I only wrote those songs because I thought of them, and then I decided I should write them, just because they were in my head. I didn’t ever think it would become a “thing,” or that anyone would want to hear them.

N/I - It just kind of needed to be prodded along, I guess. In one way or another.

Joshua - Right. I definitely went kicking and screaming into all of this - “No! My comfortable regular life is going away!”

N/I - Well if something’s been set for well over a decade, and all of a sudden, someone suggests something different.

Joshua - Well over a decade, or like my whole life. I started playing bars when I was ten. It’s been almost literally my entire life.

N/I - Ostensibly, it has. Of actual formative stuff, it’s your whole formative life.

Joshua - And now it’s just like everything is uncertain. I have no idea what’s going on [laughs].

N/I - Are you at a point where the next day is always kind of a surprise?

Joshua - Yeah. It’s just like “Oh, somebody from Colbert came out to see you play,” or “Rachael Ray has asked for me to play her SXSW thing, because she’s a fan,” and I’m just like “What!?”

N/I - Well it’s got to be kind of surreal to hear these names like Rachael Ray, or Colbert, or even the Jack White thing - has that felt normal yet?

Joshua - No! No [laughs]. Not at all. That’s what I mean by waiting for something else to drop, it’s like “Oh no, this is not actually real.” It just feels like this is supposed to be happening to a different Josh Hedley, and I just somehow….

N/I - Like some sort of Twilight Zone episode?

Joshua - Like they just got the wrong one. So then I’m like “Me!?”

Photo from Hedley's shared bill with Jonny Fritz at The Basement in July 2017

Photo from Hedley's shared bill with Jonny Fritz at The Basement in July 2017

N/I - You’re just feeling space until the real one shows up.

Joshua - Yeah. Exactly.

N/I - So with the songs on the record, if the songs that you wrote - like “Weird Thought Thinker” - were all songs that were just “in your head,” can that apply to all the songs on the record? Or newer versions?

Joshua - Most of them are newer. I had just written those couple songs and then I didn’t ever really write anything else…. I mean, a lot of it was because I was just drunk a lot. Once I got sober, I just started getting all these ideas. And I had a lot more free time, because I wasn’t sleeping until 5pm every day. The way it usually happens for me - and I don’t understand it, I don’t really consider myself a songwriter as much as I just consider it. The way it happens is that I’ll get a line in my head, and it’ll just sort of grow and I’ll start obsessing over it, and I can’t stop thinking about it, usually for a couple or few days. Then I just sit down with my guitar and the whole thing comes out.

N/I - So you’re not necessarily sitting down with a guitar and waiting for something to come?

Joshua - Right. I never do that. The songs come whenever they come. And when I got sober, something unlocked, and those ideas just kept coming. I never sit down with the intent to write a song. I usually have a good portion of the song in my brain before I sit down with the guitar, and the rest of it.

N/I - That probably saves you some time.

Joshua - Sure. But that’s why I don’t really consider myself a songwriter. It’s just something that happens to me.

N/I - It’s more serendipity than intention.

Joshua - Yeah! It’s just sporadic moments of inspiration. Tom T. Hall was like “I have to write two songs before I leave the house today…”

N/I - Right. Very regimented. Structured. Sit down for two hours and if I don’t have x-amount of songs or melodies then it’s a lost day.

Joshua - I don’t know how people with publishing deals do that shit. To go in and be like “Okay, we have to write x-amount of songs today.” How do you just sit down with no ideas and come out with a song? How is that song going to be any good?

N/I - Well the song by committee thing only appeals to a certain sect of people. My not being a songwriter or musician of any type, it’s all totally beyond me. It’s all totally foreign.

Joshua - Well for you, it would be like someone telling you that you need to write a story about something, and you’re just like “I don’t know what to write about.” Or if you’re an artist, you have to paint a picture of something….

N/I - Before two weeks from now.

Joshua - Yeah. But then you’re like “I don’t know what to paint.” Not inspired.

N/I - Absolutely. So the album itself is pretty short, right? In terms of time?
Joshua - Oh yeah. I don’t think it’s anything more than 29 minutes.

N/I - Why is that?

Joshua - A couple reasons. I mean, just the songs lend themselves to being that short. That’s one thing. There still are ten songs on it, but I always think of something Justin [Townes] Earle said to me when we made The Good Life. It was the first record that we made together. He said he wanted to make a record where people could listen to the whole record on their way to work.

N/I - And that stuck with you.

Joshua - Yeah. In your morning commute to work, you can listen to my entire record, probably twice.

[Both laugh]

N/I - Sure. Depending on where you coming from, who knows how many times.

Joshua - People have short attention spans these days. And, I’ve never been an album person. Most of the shit that I like to listen to is like that.

N/I - Well that’s how most of that old country stuff was. Truly “classic” country in the 50s and 60s are singles based as opposed to albums. That’s why every one of those artists seem to have a million “Greatest Hits” records.

Joshua - Exactly. It’s A-side, B-side. I think I have more 45s than I have LPs. That’s how I like to listen to my music. I rarely sit down and listen to a whole record front and back. I’ll just pick out the songs that I want to hear. So I didn’t write this record as any sort of…. It wasn’t phases and stages. It’s not a concept record. It’s just a collection of songs.

N/I - That makes sense. Unrelated to all of this, I feel like I have to ask you about the John Travolta thing.

Joshua - [Laughs] Yeah.

N/I - Just in the way that social media is, you tend to notice random themes and what not. I could try and guess what it is, but I’d rather you explain.

Joshua - [Joking] I don’t know what you’re talking about [laughs].

N/I - I’ve done similar things, but not with a John Travolta meme.

Joshua - I don’t know. I’m just a weird person.

N/I - That’s perfectly fine.

Joshua - It really started when I was on a date, and they were playing Urban Cowboy on the TV at the bar, and the girl I was on a date with was talking about how hot John Travolta used to be and how weird he looks now. So just Googled John Travolta and all these weird images of him came up. Weird photoshopped images that people made. Then there was that one, that you’re talking about, and it just started with me annoying this girl.

N/I - Just to suck the wind out of her sails.

Joshua - Right. And then I started posting it, and people hated it, so then I just kept posting it. And man, I think I lost 50 followers in one day.

N/I - I understand.

Joshua - And every time I would post, I would make sure to repost the last one that I posted, because the image degrades the more times it’s posted. It’s like copying a tape.

N/I - Just gets duller and duller.

Joshua - More pixelated and gross looking. I don’t know. It just became a thing. People are either really into it, or they hate it.

From July 2017

From July 2017

N/I - Oh yeah. For a little while, I changed my Instagram handle to @DustinHoffmanOfficial.

Joshua - [Laughs] Oh god.

N/I - And if you Google images of Dustin Hoffman, I guess he’s notorious for doing anything he can to avoid paparazzi, so there are pictures of him peaking through plants or with bags on his head, and I’d just post a picture saying “Had a great time at whatever restaurant. Thanks for having us out.” Some people loved it and others hated it. So all that to be said, that’s what I figured the John Travolta thing was, just messing with people for the hell of it.

Joshua - Yeah. My new favorite thing is that I’m starting to get fake accounts, now.

N/I - Like people impersonating you?

Joshua - Yeah. There are two - one’s @hedjoshua on Instagram and the other is @joshuahedley1 on Instagram. And @hedjoshua is just posting a lot of pictures that I’ve already posted, I don’t get that. But the other one is dm-ing women, hitting on them, as me. And this girl dm-ed me saying “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, I’m sure this isn’t you, but this guy is pretending to be you and hitting on women.” It’s just really funny. It’s so clearly not me. The bio is like “I made this page to thank my fans,” and stuff like that.

N/I - Right. It’s likely in English, but there’s something about it that doesn’t tick right.

Joshua - It’s definitely broken English. I’m really tickled by that.

N/I - That’s an oddly surreal thing.

Joshua - The fact that somebody is catfishing people as me. Ridiculous.

N/I - Maybe it’s flattering?

Joshua - I guess?

N/I - As long as it doesn’t get nasty.

Joshua - Nah. He seemed pretty respectful. There were no dick pics or anything. If it were anything like that, I’d shut it down. But he’s probably a lonely guy.

N/I - Well trying to course correct things back onto the record, you’ll obviously be hitting the road more, which is nothing new to you - is your next year going to be road dogging it?

Joshua - Yeah. Nothing new. But it would seem that way. I just got back from SXSW, and I’m trying to figure out now - I’m supposed to leave for London on April 10th - but my friends just said they got two tickets to Wrestlemania on April 8th in New Orleans. So I’m trying to figure out how to go to Wrestlemania on the 8th and still fly out on the 10th [laughs].

N/I - So where did your love for wrestling come from?

Joshua - Just as a kid. I loved Hulk Hogan. I feel sad because I missed the Attitude Era. I was in middle school and thought it wasn’t cool anymore, so I didn’t watch it. But then I sort of got back into it in high school and my friends and I just watched it every Monday. It’s like theatre. It’s athletic. Those dudes and the women are just insane athletes. It’s nuts what they’re able to do.

N/I - What do you think of Ronda Rousey joining?

Joshua - I don’t know yet.

N/I - She hasn’t really done anything yet, right?

Joshua - Yeah. She gave a pretty nasty looking Samoan drop to Stephanie, and it was pretty evident why she hasn’t wrestled yet.

N/I - Still too much MMA in there?

Joshua - It was just like “That did not look okay.” [Laughs] It looks like it hurts when she does bills.

N/I - We’ll see. It’s a tag match at Wrestlemania, so I’m interested to see how much in-ring time she spends. I think it’s good for the brand and good publicity for WWE, but there are many women already in the WWE who have devoted their whole lives to being wrestlers. We’ll see. I hope they don’t put the belt on her right away. That’s all I care about.

N/I - I think that would be a little disingenuine.

Joshua - Right. Plus, we already have Brock Lesnar as champion, and he’s never there. So we don’t need another Brock Lesnar so we don’t see the main men’s title or the main women’s title on RAW ever.

N/I - That’s fair. Do you keep up with TNA at all?

Joshua - Not much.

N/I - Is Billy Corgan still involved with that?

Joshua - I don’t think so. They’re owned by some Canadian company now. They’ve changed ownerships….

N/I - A ton.

Joshua - Recently. That things a sinking ship. I watch all the WWE programming, NXT, I watch Ring of Honor. New Japan sometimes. And I try to go to any of the indie shows that come through here. There’s one that’s going to start taping here called Aro Lucha.

N/I - Is that luchadores?

Joshua - Yeah. I went to the first pilot taping here. It was really good. So I’m excited that they’re going to tape a season here in Nashville. So I’ll be there for sure.

N/I - So you’ll fly down to New Orleans?

Joshua - Probably drive down to New Orleans and maybe do Hall of Fame on Friday, Takeover on Saturday, Mania Sunday, Raw Monday, and then fly out of New Orleans to London the next day, Tuesday.

N/I - That’ll be a whirlwind, but well worth it, I’m sure.

Joshua - Fuck yeah.