Whether he's writing for himself ("Sinner") or others ("A Man Don't Have to Die" by Brad Paisley), Thompson's songs express the unrefined spirituality of regular guys; spotlighting people who live hard lives and harbor big questions, rather than pseudo-spiritual parishioner know-it-alls.
His hit song, "Way Out Here," paints a warts-and-all picture of rural life. Whereas many contemporary country songs reach no deeper than name-dropping sweet tea and sprinkling in some "y'all"s to characterize Southern lifestyles, Thompson paints the lyrical equivalent to a grainy aural documentary. You may not like what you see when you visit these folks, but they're the real deal, and they're not going to change to please you. With songs like "Way out Here," Thompson brings you way in there, right where he lives.
Josh Thompson: Man, it's really a feeling. You write so many songs, and it's like you reach this point of not being able to decipher whether it's good, unless you have some outside ears listen to it. But every once in a while you write something that just feels good and it feels right, and you know it's a great song. I wish it happened more than it does.
Songfacts: Do you have trusted people that will tell you if something is good?
Thompson: I do. I'm surrounded by people I trust in the music industry. When I look for an opinion, I tend to go outside the music industry. I'll reach out to friends or family that aren't in the music industry at all and maybe don't have the music industry judgment.
Songfacts: People aren't going to say, "It sounds like a single," they're just going say, "It sounds like a good song."
Thompson: Yeah. They're listening like a person listens that's sitting in a truck. So when they say it's good or they love it, then that usually tends to sway my opinion a bit.
Songfacts: You write a lot about where you live. How important is it as a songwriter to express a lifestyle?
Thompson: I think it's very important. Songwriters have a great imagination - that's what they do - but there are few things that you actually pull from that are your experiences that are truly yours: heartache, where you're from. Things that you've done and seen is where you're getting your material from. So it's very important to let that come out in the music. And I think it's almost impossible for any songwriter to not have those little elements of where they're from and what they've been through.
Songfacts: I have this theory that country music is evolving into more of a lifestyle genre than a musically stylistic genre because if you listen to the radio you'll hear everything from what sounds like southern rock to what sounds like pop. Do you think that that's maybe the direction that country music is going in?
Thompson: I think it absolutely is. I mean, you listen to the radio and there are so many songs that are strictly based on lifestyle - how it's going around, where you live and where you grew up and how the people act. I think it's definitely going that way.
Songfacts: Were you thinking politics at all when you were writing "Way out Here"?
Songfacts: Have you been approached by politicians, political groups at all?
Thompson: I haven't. No.
Songfacts: What would you say if somebody said, "We'd like to use your song for a campaign"?
Thompson: It would have to be one of those things where it didn't put me in a bad light at all. It would have to be for the right reasons. I try not to get into the political game at all, because I just sing and write songs. I try not to side with anybody.
Songfacts: Even though you don't try to be political, do political events ever inspire any particular songs?
Thompson: No. Not as of yet.
Songfacts: So this last election didn't make you think, "Man, I've got to write something about this?"
Thompson: No. I haven't been in that position yet. But maybe one day.
Songfacts: As a songwriter, are there songs that you're most proud of?
Thompson: Oh, yes. Definitely.
Songfacts: Which are they?
Thompson: "Way Out Here," I'm extremely proud of. The song I wrote called "Sinner" I'm proud of. Things that I've gotten recorded by other artists, I know I'm proud of those. Brad Paisley recorded one called "A Man Don't Have to Die." It was on the This is Country Music record.
Songfacts: That's a great song.
Thompson: Thank you. I appreciate it. I wrote some stuff for Aldean and for Gary Allen and for James Wesley, Jason Michael Carroll, Air Supply. [Laughs]
Songfacts: What inspired "A Man Don't Have to Die"?
Thompson: Loud preachers in real life were the theme behind that one. [Laughing].
You know, the people that try to point out to you that maybe your way of living isn't correct. There are a lot of people that are going through a really hard time in this country and they don't need somebody to tell them that they can look forward to going to hell when they die, because they're living it.
Songfacts: How did that get in the hands of Brad?
Thompson: That's a good question. I think his producer at the time, Frank Rogers, heard it. I played it for Brad and he loved it. We were thrilled.
Songfacts: How many of your songs do you write that are just for you and how many do you write having someone else in mind to record them?
Thompson: I usually don't figure that out until after it's written and demoed. I found a long time ago that if I try to purposely write for me or anybody else, it usually puts a strain on it. So I'm to a point where it's like just get in, write the best song you possibly can, figure it all out later.
Songfacts: What was the last song you wrote that you really loved?
Thompson: I wrote a song a couple of weeks ago called "Little Memory Goes a Long, Long Way." And I'll probably end up playing it today. But I love it. It's just one of those things, when I was done writing it, I felt great about it. I knew right away I had a great song.
April 11, 2013. Get more at joshthompsonofficial.com.
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