Outsider A-Side: Joshua Hedley Stays True to His Country Roots with Upcoming Album ‘Neon Blue’

by Clayton Edwards
(photo credit: Joshua Black Wilkins via New West Records)

If you’re looking for authentic country music in the modern age, look no further than Joshua Hedley. He’s the real deal. A lifelong student of the genre, Hedley cut his teeth learning Merle Haggard songs and has worked as a country musician his entire life. After years of playing fiddle on the road for artists like Johnny Fritz and singing classic country covers at Robert’s Western World in Nashville, Hedley dropped his first album in April of 2018. Mr. Jukebox was an exploration of the countrypolitan sound of the mid-sixties. The album’s title is a nod to the Florida native’s expansive repertoire of classic country songs.

This April, almost four years to the day after Mr. Jukebox dropped, Joshua Hedley will release Neon Blue which sees him diving into the 90s country sound. Ahead of the new album, Hedley sat down with Outsider to talk about his love of country music, the new album, and more.

Why Joshua Hedley Wanted to Make a 90s Country Album

Joshua Hedley: I love country music. I grew up playing country music. It’s quite literally the only thing I’ve ever done. My only job has been playing country music in smoky bars. Or, not smoky bars these days. I’m a student of the game and I like exploring the genre of country music.

I did it with my first album, Mr. Jukebox, I poked around sixties-era countrypolitan Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, Billy Sherrill type stuff. And, I knew I wanted to do something different with this record. I don’t want to make the same record twice. So, I took a look at who my fanbase is, who’s buying my records, who’s listening to my music, and I found that most of them are right around my age. So, I thought, “Let me explore the music that was on the radio when I was a kid – the music I grew up listening to – because it seems to be the music all of my fans grew up listening to as well.” That was 90s country.

From about ’89 to ’96 to me, that was kind of the last hurrah of fiddle and steel. That was the last truly traditional country era. It was the last time you could turn the radio on and discernably hear a country song. You knew exactly what it was. It was country music. So, I wanted to tip my cap to that.

Neon Blue Walks a Sonic Tightrope

Joshua Hedley: I wanted the songs to be traditional but I wanted them to sound new. If it’s played on the radio next to a Jason Aldean song or whatever, I didn’t want it to be too different from everything else on the radio. But I also wanted to stay true to myself and stay true to what I feel is proper country, real country. Along with my producers, Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson, I think we succeeded in accomplishing that task. I’m pretty happy with it.

Call Him What He Is: A Country Singer

Joshua Hedley: When I made Mr. Jukebox and started getting a lot of press, the thing that really stuck out to me was that in the majority of the articles and interviews, people would do literary backflips to avoid saying “country music.”

So, they would just make shit up. Like “Americana trad outlaw folkster troubadour Joshua Hedley.” And I’m like what the f-ck is that? Just say “country singer.” That’s it. Country singer, country musician. Country and Western. That’s it. That’s what I do.

I get that they were trying to distance me from, like Florida-Georgia Line and stuff like that. That’s fine. I am distanced from it. But, just because Florida-Georgia Line is country doesn’t mean that my Ray Price record isn’t also country. It’s a wide genre of music with many different styles incorporated into it. It can be more than one thing.

Takin’ This Show on the Road

Joshua Hedley: I have some irons in the fire already and I have some dates on the books – local, kind of regional dates. We tried not to book too far out when we were starting to work on this album cycle. At that time, we had no idea what was going on. You could book a three-week tour and then it could get canceled out of nowhere with all the COVID and stuff like that. Now that it seems to be calming down and things seem to be starting to get back to normal, or at least close to normal, we’re going to start trying to fill the books. I haven’t toured in like three years and I’m dying to get out on the road. I have been stagnant for way too long.

Joshua Hedley Got ‘Bugged’ Into Making His First Record

Joshua Hedley: Nikki Lane is one of the main reasons why I even do this as an artist. I was just a fiddle player for a real long time. She sort of bugged me into making a record. Every time I saw her before she’d even say hi she’d be like, “Did you make a record yet?”

She really pushed me into doing it. I owe a lot to her in that regard. She’s one of my favorite people on Earth. She’s the most motivated person I’ve ever met in my life and she kills it because of it. I have so many ideas and I never act on any of them. She has twice as many ideas and she acts on all of them. It’s wild to see. And her music, I think, is some of the best out there. I’m excited for her new record.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil: Signing with New West Records

Joshua Hedley: It sort of started during the pandemic. People had been asking for a long time like “When are you going to make another record. Do you have any new music coming out? When’s this? When’s that?”

I addressed it via tweet. I was just like I felt privileged that Jack [White] gave me the chance to make a record on Third Man Records. That wasn’t something I had in my plan for life. I really thought that I was going to play Monday nights at Robert’s and tour with Johnny Fritz and tour with other people playing fiddle for the rest of my life. I was happy with that. But, I had got this opportunity to make a record and I feel grateful and happy that I did. But, I don’t have a label anymore. Records cost money to make and I don’t have any. So, if you’re asking when I’m going to make another record, the answer is I don’t know if I ever will. I had no idea I would make the first one either.

George Fontaine Jr. at New West saw that and he emailed me the next day like, “Hey, do you want to make another record? We’d love to have you here on New West.” I signed on the dotted line. Now, Neon Blue is coming out on April 22nd.

Tradition is the One Constant for Joshua Hedley

Joshua Hedley: I’m always going to go with tradition. That’s me. It may not always sound the same. I made a 90s country record and 60s country record and the next record I do probably won’t sound like either of those. But the one constant is that it’s always going to nod to tradition. I’m always going to bow to tradition. That’s the reverence that I have for country music.

Pre-Order Neon Blue Today

Neon Blue drops April 22nd through New West Records. You can pre-save or pre-order your copy of the album here. If you’re a fan of 90s country or real country music in general, you’re not going to want to miss this one. While you’re waiting for the new record, you can stream both singles, “Broke Again” and the title track anywhere you stream music.