Josh Card has been a true road warrior over the past few years. Playing both with his solo band in support of his upcoming album, “With a Heavy Heart,” scheduled for release on November 9th, or as a member of Whitey Morgan and the 78s, Card has been spreading music and earning his following, one fan at a time.
One year after releasing his debut album, “Josh Card and the Restless Souls,” Card’s follow up, “With a Heavy Heart,” proves that Card has not succumbed to the accursed sophomore slump.
From the opening fiddle lick on one of the the standout tracks “Suffer,” to the emotional, hard hitting “Forgotten Love,” to Card’s excellent rendition of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend,” Card delivery an excellent 10 track album devoid of any trace of fillers.
With songs personal to him and a goal of making a great country record, Card is sure to win over a wealth of new fans after “With a Heavy Heart.”
Read our interview below to learn about Josh’s start in music, his scarifies on the road, making the new record, and more!
Pro Country: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
Josh Card: Man, it’s all over the place. I’m not really held down to just one genre. I’ve played a lot of music in my life- different kinds of music, so my influences range everywhere from Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley all the way over to Minor Threat. We even throw in a little Black Sabbath during our set, it’s all over the place.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living? When did it become a real possibility?
JC: One thing I always tell people; I remember being a kid at four or five years old- most people grow up hearing music, like the radio’s on or it’s playing in stores, but I always really stopped and listened, it always stood out a lot more to me. I would stop and listen to the stories and listen to the songs, I just always listened to music very intently. When I got to about my teens, I started paying attention more to the guitars. I was listening to a lot of rock music at the time, so I really started paying a lot of attention to the guitars, and that’s when I wanted to start playing guitar myself. I got my first guitar at 13, and at that point, I decided it’s what I wanted to do.
PC: For several years, you were playing punk and hardcore music. What led you back to country?
JC: I never really left it. When I started playing guitar, my grandmother wanted me to take some guitar lessons. My grandfather played guitar in some honky tonk bands in Florida- grew up playing in the bars, and that’s how she met him. She wanted me to learn a little more traditionally. I wanted to jump around the room with my guitar playing along to rock ‘n roll songs, and she said, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get you some guitar lessons, but you have to learn some songs for me.” She wanted me to play Conway Twitty songs, some Johnny Cash songs.
I only took one guitar lesson. I was still obsessed with it, but by the time I got to my first lesson, the teacher said that I had already learned everything he was going to teach me. So I was learning those songs for my grandmother, and I grew up loving and listening to country music, but I wanted to play guitar so bad, that’s what led to me playing rock. When I was at home, I would always sing country music. Even when I was touring with the punk and hardcore bands, I was always writing country songs, so it never really left me. Two years ago, I moved to Kentucky, and I didn’t really know anyone there, so I wasn’t going to go out there and sing punk rock songs on an acoustic guitar by myself, so I would start playing all of the old country songs that I knew and the songs I had written.
PC: You had released music in the past, but what did you learn from recording and releasing the “Josh Card and the Restless Souls” album that helped you when recording “With a Heavy Heart”?
JC: It was a totally different experience, everything I had done before was done as a band. It was four or five guys writing together, sitting down together saying “We think the song should do this,” or “We think the song should do that.” Going into the studio for the “Restless Souls” album, it was the first time I really had control over what was being done with the songs. It was a great experience. You want your albums to be good when you’re playing punk rock, but you don’t even hear some of the slight imperfections when you listen to it. When you’re trying to make a country record, it’s a whole different experience. You’re paying a whole lot more attention to what’s being done. It was an interesting experience, it was early on, and I needed to get something made to have at shows. It was a little rushed and made on a shoestring budget. I was sick when it happened; we recorded it in this warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, at the top of the building. It was freezing in there, and I ended up coming down with a bad cold. That wasn’t the most fun experience I’ve ever had, but we needed to get something done, so it was a night and day difference between that one and the new record.
PC: How do you think you’ve grown as an artist and as a songwriter since you released that album?
JC: We recorded that album two years ago. Naturally, you’re going to grow in time, but since then, I’ve spent most of that time on the road. I played almost every night. I went from doing that in my spare time to relying on it as a living. That changes things. Everything in the past couple years has been more and more focusing on that turning point, like a “this is serious,” moment. I’ve been playing guitar for 17 years now, but a couple of years ago, I went back to telling myself I needed to practice every single day- I need to learn more about what I’m doing, and I need to learn more about my voice. That’s been the biggest thing, growing as an artist, growing with my songwriting, kind of re-approaching the way that I write my songs; it’s definitely been a growing process.
Playing with Whitey [Morgan and the 78s] was a big growing process. Seeing how he does things as an established artist has helped me a lot as well.
PC: You mentioned that music went from almost a hobby to your means of living. Was there any pressure- internally or externally, that you were feeling as you transitioned into making music for a living?
JC: Yeah, that was a pretty crazy time of life. At the time, I was working as a manager for a Harley Davidson dealership in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a great job and had a great salary. I had a baby on the way. During the middle of that, six months into the pregnancy, I walked away from that job just to play music. There was a huge internal stress going on. I did something that most people would call you crazy for- something that a lot of people have called me crazy for. I just believed in what we were doing, I believed in what I wanted to do, and walked away from a steady salary three months before my son was born. I trusted that I was making the right move, and so far, it’s been the right thing.
PC: You’ve spent a lot of time on the road over the past few years. How do you think that has contributed to your success that you’ve found so far?
JC: I think being on the road is everything. In this industry, if you’re a hungry artist, you’ve got to be on the road. It’s part of where your growth comes from. In the age of a five second attention span, where everyone has instant access to millions and millions of artists and new songs every day, I think it’s the people going out on the road and working that make it worthwhile. Coming to every town you can to share your music, that’s everything. I feel like that’s what separates me from the people that say they want to be a singer, but all they’re doing is sitting on Facebook and playing live, or making songs on a laptop and putting them out to the world. The road is sacrifice. Especially in our stage, we’re going through a lot of sacrifices to be out here, but it’s what we love and what we love to do. I’ve been gone for most of the past year and a half. My son was born last October, and between my band and Whitey’s band, I’ve been gone most of the time that he’s been alive. It’s not easy, but I believe in what we’re doing. Every night, it’s helping you hone in on your craft. It’s helping you get better as a performer. It’s more about the sacrifices you make and being out there with your fans getting them the music.
PC: When you were sitting down to write and record “With a Heavy Heart,” did you have a set plan or goal or did it come together as you were making it?
JC: It was mostly natural. My writing process is pretty natural. I never sit down telling myself that I need to write a song that day, and thinking about what it’s going to be in that moment. I write when something comes to me naturally. I usually get my ideas based off of a feeling or something that I’ve gone through, or something that someone around me has gone through. That’s where my inspiration comes from. The inspiration comes before the will to write a song. Writing this album, a lot of them just came about naturally. I had probably 30 songs that I had written over the last couple years, so when I was going into the studio, I sat down and narrowed those down to 20 of them, and then narrowed those down to my 10 favorites.
PC: What led to the decision of making “Choice to Make” the lead single on the new album?
JC: I wanted to put that one out first because I think it’s a good representation of the album. When you asked if it was a very planned thing, what I did know going into this was that I wanted to write a country music record. I feel like there’s a lot of- and I’m not saying this in a negative way against someone else- but there’s a lot of talk over the last couple years about real country music coming around, that this person or that person is bringing back real country music, and a lot of times, what’s being labeled as “real country music,” I don’t know that I can agree that’s what it is. That’s one thing I went in to this knowing; I wanted to make a country music record. I didn’t want to force it. Once we got in to the studio, whatever happened, it came out naturally. I didn’t want to cast myself into a mold, necessarily, but I had a certain path that I wanted to try to stay on. I feel like we did that with this record.
PC: “Forgotten Love” is one of the real standouts on the new record. Can you talk about the writing process behind that song and the vulnerability you feel when writing something that personal to you?
JC: Like I was telling you before, my songwriting comes pretty naturally. In 2014, my grandmother had a massive heart attack that led to her dying three times before they got her stable. That lack of oxygen to the brain kickstarted dementia for her, so for the last few years, we watched her dementia progress and grow to the point of not knowing us. Some days she would have good days, some days she would have bad days. Earlier this year was my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, so I woke up and called them to tell them happy anniversary, and I could hear that my grandfather was fairly distraught, and he just said that she didn’t know him that day, so he was basically celebrating alone. I got off the phone with him and wrote that song write then that day. It really just kind of flowed out. It wasn’t a forced thing, but it was something that was weighing heavy on me that I wanted to get out, which is how that song came about.
PC: Is it at all therapeutic to write about that experience in that way and see it helping others?
JC: It is. It’s something that I call the curse of the songwriter. A lot of guys like myself are more internal with something that we’re struggling with or something that we’re going through. A lot of people talk about their problems or their issues, but I think it’s a common thing amongst songwriters that we kind of bottle stuff up, and the song is our way of talking about it. It’s definitely therapeutic, and the fact that I’ve received so much feedback from people who are going through the same thing thanking me for that song has kind of been the whole goal. When I put the video out, I wanted to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, and that’s been the goal with the song and video.
PC: The one song you didn’t write on the record is a cover of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.” What drew you to that song and made you want to include it on the album?
JC: Man, just the feeling. One of the biggest things for me with music is the feeling. I’ve always been drawn to music for a couple of reasons, and one of them is the composition. I’ve always loved the lyrical content of what they’re talking about, but also the feeling and vibe of the song. That was one of the biggest things I wanted to focus on on this record. That song has always been a song of feeling, and has always vibed with me. When I heard Neil’s song, I could always imagine going down a highway in Texas in an old Chevy van, window down, hand waving in the wind. It’s just a really good feeling song, and it tells a great story, and that’s what I like to do with my own songs. I wanted to do one cover on the record, and this one was kind of an instant decision for me.
PC: As a whole, what do you hope people take away from the album after listening?
JC: I hope they’re able to see that I put my heart into it. I think it’s a record that country music fans will like. I also think that anyone who enjoys honest music will be able to appreciate this record, because it’s a self-written record, and I didn’t leave anything un-divulged. I put all of myself into it. I was honest about the things I was going through when I wrote these songs. I think a lot of it is relatable, every day things that people will experience.
That’s something I love- when I hear a song that someone wrote, and I feel like they wrote it for me. I hope that people can hear that in my music as well.
*Images courtesy of Josh Card and Josh Card Facebook Page*