Josh Kelley’s new album is being released April 23. HL spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Josh about what he’s learned about himself in revisiting his songs, how he’s staying busy with wife Katherine Heigl, and more.
Just 5 months after the release of his ninth studio album, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley has another album for fans to enjoy. Unplugged from Upstream Studios is an acoustic album that features 11 reimagined songs from Josh’s body of work. During quarantine, Josh produced each track himself and played each instrument featured in the songs.
HollywoodLife got the chance to speak EXCLUSIVELY with Josh about how this album — which will be available on Apple Music, Spotify, and more — came to fruition. Josh noted that this album is “not perfect,” but loves the “beauty in imperfection.” He discussed the song the stands out to him the most and how he adapted his performances during the pandemic. Josh also revealed how he and wife Katherine Heigl have been getting through the pandemic with their three kids, and whether his kids are into music like their dad.
You just released an album back in November, so what was the inspiration behind this album?
Josh Kelley: To be honest with you, my manager, Jordon Petty. She’s been managing for about a year, but I’ve known her longer than that. She has just become a real champion for me. It was her idea. I play every instrument. I record all my own stuff. I’ve been doing it like that since I was a little kid. She said, you have no overhead. It costs you nothing to do this. You do it every day anyway so why don’t you make an acoustic record, like an unplugged record. So it gave me something to do and kind of a purpose over the last two to three months. We just kind of cherry-picked a bunch of songs for the fans. The fans picked half of them, and then I picked the other half based on songs that do really well in live shows and ones I love playing live. That’s kind of how this came about. It was very organically out of the blue. You can always tell when somebody is having fun making something. It just shows in the product. I think that happened here. It’s not perfect. These are my mixes, my mastering, so I’m sure there are some audiophiles out there that are going to find some blemishes, but I think that there’s beauty in imperfection.
This album features reimagined songs. As you re-recorded and worked on these acoustic songs, what did you learn about yourself as an artist?
Josh Kelley: I’ve grown a lot. I have become a much better producer and a much more patient creator. I kind of let the song unraveling happening rather than overthinking or chase some other ideal that is not me. I just kind of let the story organically unfold. I think it speaks a lot to my process becoming much more mature.
When you look back at this album, is there a song that really stands out to you?
Josh Kelley: I would say “It’s Your Move,” the very first song on the track. When I sent it to my manager, she texted me back, “Oh, I was full-on bawling.” I think I was able to catch that song a little better this time. It first came out in 2016 with a leadoff single. Katie wrote and produced and starred in the video for that song, which is really great. But there’s something that happened in my studio here that day where I kind of slowed it down, lowered the key a little bit. The song was about Katie and I’s first real fight that we got into after we first started living together when we got married. We had never really completely lived together at that point because I’m a little old-fashioned. So when she realized how much of a hurricane I am to live with, I think it was like a real shock. So that song, there’s so much truth in it, and I think it relates to a lot of people. It was one of those things like, it’s your move. What do you want to do? Do you want to stick this thing out or not? And I’m so glad that we did because we’re better because of it.
The pandemic has been very tough on artists. You all haven’t been able to go on the road. It’s been a different world the past year. What’s it been like for you as an artist to not be able to do what you normally do in terms of being on the road and having that live connection with fans?
Josh Kelley: It’s been tough because that’s my real bread and butter. It’s how my music translates the best. I can try to produce a song a million different ways, and it still never comes across the way that it comes across live. I’ve always said that my live shows are always going to be better than the record. There’s nothing I can do about it, and I have really missed it financially as well. But you’re kind of forced to pivot and reconfigure what you do and redefine how you do it. To be honest, it helped me create a better presence on social media. I ended up doing all these Facebook live shows, all these Instagram shows. I spent probably 10 days straight during the very beginning of the pandemic learning how to make my online broadcast shows super pro with no latency, no problems, really high quality. I got some great cameras. So it forced me to learn something new, and now I figured out this other way to make an income doing these shows online. I don’t want to go too far into it because I created an angle that I don’t want anybody else to steal, but it has helped me financially for sure and to not be so stressed out. I started really freaking out. It’s like that saying: when people are down, you’re either forced to sort of make it happen or just crumble. I feel like Katie and I are the kind of people who want to find a way. There’s always another way, and I feel very fortunate and grateful that I was able to find it in some regard.
You released My Baby & The Band in November. Since then, have you been writing new songs?
Josh Kelley: Always. I’ve actually been writing with and for a lot of other artists. Over the last year, I don’t think my publishing company actually knew that I played like 16 different instruments and produce all this stuff. I guess I never really just let anybody know. I think everybody’s always felt that my records come from the music factory, but it all just comes from for me and I play all the instruments. Once my publishing company learned that my schedule has been gangbusters writing for other artists, writing for myself. I have a movie I’m about to do an original score for. It’s a good time and I certainly feel busy. It’s one of those things that you wish for.
Are the kids getting into music? [Josh and Katherine have three kids: Naleigh, Adalaide, and Joshua Jr.]
Josh Kelley: Honestly, all three of them can really sing, but I’m not going to force it. I mean, I surround them with it. If they fall into it one of these days and find one of the instrument suits, then I will stand behind that totally. We just try to surround them with the cool, fun stuff. I certainly am not going to be like a soccer dad about it, whatever that cliche phrase is, but I’d like to encourage them to definitely dig into the arts because it’s so good for the brain.
What’s it been like for you and your family to have been holed up in Utah on a more permanent basis over the last year?
Josh Kelley: We’ve been up here in Utah full-time probably since 2010. We love it here. There’s not a very big population here. There was a lot of fear during the pandemic. We were definitely nervous about what was going to happen, but we did get very lucky in the fact that we were up here in the middle of nowhere. We’re in the mountains and living a similar sort of homestead life that we were living before just heavily masked. It’s been great. Honestly, just to have this extra time for me to be able to help with their studies and actually really see where they’re at with how they learn, what they’re doing well in, and what they’re struggling with. To be honest with you. I think that was a positive. It’s been a little over a year now, and I think we’re all a little bit sick of each other. But we’ve been making a lot of music. Katie and I, one of the things that attracted us to each other is that we love doing things together. We love crafting, and we love creating. Over the pandemic, we got into a lot of new stuff. She’s a really great artist, and her painting has gone not just to another level, but like four levels better. I think she has a degree in herbology now. We just kept on creating and getting to new things and trying to keep our minds busy and stay away from the negative as much as we could, while still being present in what’s going on.
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