Steel Magnolia

by Shawna Ortega

"I'm sorry, it's been a very long day," sighs Joshua Scott Jones. We can only imagine.

With an Academy of Country Music nomination for Top New Duo or Group, a chart-topping single ("Keep On Lovin' You"), and an iTunes #1 debut CD, all within 18 months of winning the top prize on Can You Duet (Country Music Television's answer to American Idol for duos), Joshua must be exhausted.

Let's not forget the pleasure of fork-feeding Big Kenny (of Country Music's Big & Rich) his own words. He was, after all, less than enthusiastic with their audition. "You've hit your climax with what your voices are capable of doing," he told them, just before voting "no" on both Joshua and partner/girlfriend Meghan Linsey. Those words could well go down in the annals of "He said what?" Lucky for them – and for country music fans – the other two judges put them through, where they proceeded to spot-clean the floor with the other contestants and emerge victorious.

Their self-titled debut CD, Steel Magnolia, was released on January 11, 2011, with 7 songs written or co-written by the couple themselves. And in typical Steel Magnolia style, it is already inking its notch of domination on the country charts.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): Any words about your current single, "Last Night Again"?

Joshua Scott Jones: We wrote that with Hillary Lindsey who wrote (Carrie Underwood's) "Jesus, Take The Wheel," and has had a bunch of huge, smash hits. She's a real cool girl, she's just really laid back. We knew that we had to write fill-up songs to put on the record and we went over there one afternoon and sat down with her. And she was just cool. It was like being at your buddy's house. So we sat on her floor and had a couple of beers and we wrote that song. It was a little bit of a fantasy thing, kind of like a love at first sight – it's a hook-up song. What I always say when we play that live, I say, "Everybody, this is a hook-up song. For those of you that haven't hooked up, your parents have. So don't worry about it." That's really the story behind that song. It's just a sexy, flirtatious, fun song that I think that most people can probably relate to.

Songfacts: "Ooh La La" is the song you guys chose to try out for Can You Duet. What caused you to make that decision?

Joshua: Well, we originally went in there, we played a Dwight Yoakum song. And then they asked if we had anything of our own. And that was just the first thing that popped into our heads. During editing they didn't show you that, though. They didn't show us playing Dwight Yoakum, they showed us doing our song.

Songfacts: But that's hugely complimentary, I think. They liked your song better than they liked a cover of somebody else's.

Joshua: Yeah, it was the first song we played and it's the first song on the record. So it's the first song everybody got to hear and I think that's kind of cool.

Songfacts: Very serendipitous. Did you have any say in that being the first cut on the new CD?

Joshua: I think that's always been a great opener for our live show. There's a certain energy about the song and it speaks a lot about our sound. So it's a good introduction any time we play out live, because it's back and forth, equal parts, come together on the choruses. And then the big finish for the bridge section kind of boogies, and then it hits that big note, and it just encompasses a lot about us. I think it's a great introduction song.

So no, I think that was always the consensus, to have that be the first song. There was no real thought that went into that. It's just the way it was.

"Ooh La La" originally started out based around guitar chords, the riff around that, it's just an inversion of B. I was trying to look for a different sound on the guitar, kind of like different chords. I was trying to find new territory that wasn't really familiar but still sounded good to the ear. So we started writing that thing and I actually started that one off in Louisiana, Meghan's home town in Ponchatoula. it doesn't sound like a Louisiana-inspired song at all, but that's where we wrote it.

So the next half of it we moved to Florida - we lived in Florida for two or three weeks on a horse farm - and that's where we finished the song. So Meghan's idea was to go back and forth with the vocal as far as male/female kind of thing.

It's about more of a fantasy, it's not how we met, per se. It's more of a thing about just everyday life, like maybe you're wandering around and you see someone that you really want to get to know, just from a completely physical aspect. And it's just about how people are timid and shy, or maybe intimidated at first, because you don't get to know people, you just get a notion of the way someone may or may not be by what you think about the way they look. And you've just got to have that courage to just take the first step and say something.

Songfacts: Where did Meghan come in on the creation of this song?

Joshua: Maybe second verse, really. I think I was working up the verses and she kind of chimed in and was like, "Hey, let me take a verse here." And that's kind of how it happened and it just went back and forth.

At that point we didn't really get along when we wrote songs together. I think there was probably a lot of ego on my part, just because I'd never co-written before that point. Because I came to Nashville and I didn't realize the magic there was in co-writing and that it's better to write with other people and just get different takes and ideas on things. So I just didn't understand that. It wasn't that I was against it, it was just that I had never really done that before.

Meghan had a lot more experience with that kind of thing than I had at first, so I still had some artist integrity to shed in that sense, in that I thought that my ideas were cool and so I had to just really open up and just say, Hey, man, I'm not always right. And that was one of the first songs we wrote. I remember at that point it wasn't easy for me to just let things happen.

Songfacts: Let's segue, then, to the first song that you wrote together – or at least that's the rumor - "The Edge of Goodbye."

Joshua: That's absolutely true. We keep everything out there. We don't really lie about anything. So yeah, that was the first song we ever wrote together, and it was with our friend Julie Moriva. Julie has been a writer and she'd been coming back and forth to Nashville for probably 7 or 8 years. At that point she'd already been coming for 3 or 4 years. We stayed up late writing that song. I mean, way into the a.m. And we wanted to finish it that night, and we finished it all in one session. But I think it was an 8 hour project. Then for about a year and a half after that we were re-working it to where it finally got to where it is now. So it's one of the songs that it took a long time to really get the formula for it down, how we wanted to sing it.

And as far as where I sing, where Meghan sings, and then just whether it was going to be verse/chorus, verse/chorus/bridge, I think we played around with that for a long time. But I remember when we first started writing it, Julie had said, "Well, this doesn't sound like a country song. I want it to be a country song." And that was a little argument that we had gotten into about the song, just because it had this rap feel to it. The meter of it in the beginning, it's kind of fast and off the beaten path. But it worked out well.

Songfacts: Interesting the first song that you guys ever write together is a song about goodbye.

Joshua: Yeah, it's kind of ironic the first song that we wrote together and it's a breakup song.

Songfacts: And who threw down the idea for that?

Joshua: I don't exactly remember. I know that, for me personally, whenever I get into writing mode, I don't like many distractions. So a lot of times if you're in the zone or you feel something or you're inspired, the time is now. You gotta strike while the iron's hot. You can't let your emotions escape you. I think that's very important. So I have a hard time knowing who says what, but I know that I'm always in the moment trying to throw things out as fast as I can and seeing what sticks. A lot of times if things aren't sticking on the other writers in the room, I'll go ahead and try to bulldoze it into the equation anyway, and I'll ask for forgiveness later.

Now, this is all my point of view. Julie and Meghan aren't here to defend themselves. But that's just the way that it's always been for me. I think collectively, though, we just write really well together and everybody kind of keeps each other in check.

Songfacts: Do you contribute more to the composition side of writing these songs, or are you just as much a lyricist?

Joshua: I do write lyrics. I mean, that's what I was first is a songwriter. So as far as the musicianship, I'm still working on that. Especially to be on tours, like Brad Paisley and those guys. Those guys are incredible and there's just so many great players in Nashville, so it's kind of intimidating to play at a show. I've really had to step up my game musically, because there's a lot of weight thrown around as far as guitarists. Great musicians in Nashville; throw a rock, you'll hit one.

If you listen to the song "Glass Houses," that's one song that I did write alone. And lyrically, it's a pretty heavy song, honestly.

Songfacts: It's very powerful. Let's talk about that song. It sounds like it may have been very personal.

Joshua: I don't know how familiar you are with it, but to put it in a wider perspective, I'll just say it's about self-sabotaging and maybe behavior that you take on that is unhealthy. Something that you're doing over and over that's not working, but you continue on that path because that's all you've known and that's what you've become comfortable with. It could be about anything, including addiction or anything like that. There may be a few lines in there that let you know, maybe, in particular what the song may be about. But I think that just any kind of behavior like that or addiction, that's what it's about.

This is our first record, so I still want people to come to their own conclusions at first. Down the road we'll have a sit-down or something and talk more about it. (laughing)

Songfacts: I want to also ask you about "Eggs Over Easy."

Joshua: "Eggs Over Easy," that was just fun-loving, a real easy tongue-in-cheek type song. We actually went over to our buddy's house - Steffon, he's a writer in Nashville. And we were just making breakfast. It was Sunday morning and I picked up a guitar and started playing the chords. And they were like, "We don't want to write a song." I said, "Well, you're going to." (laughing)

And he said, "Dude, how do you want your eggs?" And I just started spoutin' off, (singing) "Cooking you breakfast on a Sunday morning," and then we turned it into a relationship twist, because that's what we do. (laughing) And here's an interesting little fact: the dogs' names… we were actually over at his place and his dogs' names were Benny and Beavis. And so the original line was "Benny and Beavis layin' there beggin'. We got the K9 crew, y'all, you know what I'm sayin'." But we changed it to Patty and Rufus, which are the name of our dogs. Just kind of silly, but…

Songfacts: You guys have too much fun. (laughing) Out of all these songs, what one is the one that you are particularly proud of or that you would love people to just love it?

Joshua: Well, I think that all the songs on there are special. I think they're all our babies and everything. I think that the "Glass Houses" song to me, it's more personal and I think it's cool anytime that people can sit back and connect with that imagery and the metaphors. Maybe it's not a song that you'll hear the first time and go and love, but maybe a few times down the road when you're sitting in your chair or taking a bath, or I don't know what you're doing (laughing) just when you're in a listening type of mood. It's upbeat and fun. It's more of a poem put into a song.

I think each song on there is kind of cool and special. But I've tried not to listen to the record too much, because I don't want to wear it out to myself before it gets released. Maybe just partially, because I'm a little superstitious about that. It's a weird thing thinking that if I get sick of it now, nobody's going to like it. Maybe that sounds completely crazy. (laughs)

Songfacts: (laughing) Okay, let me give you an opportunity to talk about any of the other songs on here that you would like to say something about.
Joshua: "Without You" is a song – I started that one when I came home real late one night, or early, probably… actually. It was in the middle of a fight and I thought I'd lost everything that we'd worked on. So that's where that song started, the genesis of that song, the verses. And then I kind of stole the chorus from a song that I'd written with Meghan and Van Preston, and I inserted the chorus of that song into the verses of "Without You." And I just asked for forgiveness later.

Songfacts: Because that's your style, you told me. (laughing)

Joshua: Yeah. That's what you gotta do sometimes, you know?

Songfacts: Yep. Well, obviously you guys made up again.

Joshua: And "Rainbow," we were working with one of our friends, this pop producer from Los Angeles. He's originally from New York. His name's Tommy Hendriksen. And he had a friend in town named Chiama Eze. They were looking for records for Jason Castro, who was releasing a record, and Tommy had an in, he said he could get that song to Jason and thought that that would be cool if we wrote a song and tried to pitch him the song. And so we wrote that originally thinking Jason Castro, the guy off American Idol with the dreadlocks. And then we ended up playing it for (our label) Big Machine Records and they're like, "You should just put that on the record, we'll do what we can with it." And that was a fun one, too. So that's kind of the story behind that.

Songfacts: That one is the most country-sounding, I think, of all the songs on this. The lyrics, music, everything. The whole pink slip, my car broke down, my dog died, and all those things.

Joshua: It sends a message of hope, though, but it is all about being in low places, man.

Joshua spoke with us on the eve of their debut CD's release, January 10, 2011.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Teresa Lynn Johnson from West Richland, Washington You're the perfect combination !! I Love You Kids, and every single danged song that you sing!!! Perfect I say !! :)
  • James Jamieson from British Columbia, CanadaI love your music, the two of you have a great chemistry. Can't wait to get your CD. Loves
see more comments

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