Sunday, June 15, 2003
For Josh Kelley, there's something inescapable about Mississippi. The first thing one sees after opening Kelley's press kit is a AAA map of Mississippi with the city of Oxford highlighted and encircled. The map serves as a background layout for his biography, but also neatly connects his hometown Augusta, Ga., with his college stomping grounds in Oxford.
Even the cover art of his debut album on Hollywood Records, "For the Ride Home," carries local significance. The picture of Kelley was taken at the legendary North Mississippi eatery, Taylor Grocery.
Kelley came to Mississippi as an art student on a golf scholarship at Ole Miss, but soon found his niche as a songwriter, due in part to the locale. "The birthplace of my music is Oxford, Mississippi. I didn't start writing until I got to college. I had played music my entire life, but I didn't write music until my freshman year of college," Kelley said by phone in between gigs in South Carolina and Florida. "I definitely found my voice in that small town. Part of it was Oxford being such a chill, artistic, vibey town, for one."
Kelley built up a following there, packing out clubs like Proud Larry's and The Blue Marlin. At the same time, Kelley was recording his songs on his own. Getting them played on local radio stations garnered him a stronger following in Oxford, but his big break came through another avenue of self-promotion.
After recording these songs, Kelley would log onto online file-sharing networks and essentially spam other users to listen to his songs by messaging users who liked similar artists to himself. Eventually, one of these songs ended up on the hard drive of a Hollywood Records A&R representative. Last October, Kelley inked a record deal with the company.
For his debut album, Kelley was paired with producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer) and joined by drummer Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley) and bassist Tom Freund (The Wallflowers, Ben Harper).
Now, a year after gigging regularly on the Grove Stage at Ole Miss during freshman orientation sessions, Kelley is touring, opening for Third Eye Blind. He's even slated for a performance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" on July 8. Additionally, "For the Ride Home"'s single, "Amazing" is currently No. 19 on the Billboard Top 40 chart.
Kelley says the sequence of events has happened so rapidly that it's hard even for him to put it in perspective.
"Last August I started making the album, finished in December, started doing in promotion in January. Really, it's just been one thing after another. Rarely do I get a chance to sit down and think about it," said Kelley, who plays guitar, piano, organ and percussion on his album.
"Last night, I was laying in my bed thinking about the scale of things. It's pretty freaking crazy. Think about last year, I had just gotten out of my last class, now I'm opening up for Third Eye Blind. I couldn't have expected it. It was a goal always, though. But I never thought I would reach my goals quite so quickly," Kelley said.
Kelley is often mentioned in the same breath as artists like John Mayer and Dave Matthews. Though Kelley's vocal delivery and his album's slick production are reminiscent of the former, his sound is much more akin to fellow Southern songwriters Shawn Mullins, Edwin McCain and Monte Montgomery.
And for Kelley, that Southern element is something absolutely vital to his music.
"In music you hear in a lot of other cities like New York and L.A., there's a lot of angst. I think what makes my music so chill is that it's true songwriting, and there's some lap steel, dobro and banjo. I guess what makes it Southern to me is just that I'm Southern. I don't even know. It just seems like good ol' acoustic music," Kelley said.
Josh Kelley returns to Jackson on Wednesday, June 11, for his first show since his appearance at Jubilee! Jam. He is performing at Club Crazy 8 in Byram, opening for Third Eye Blind.
what a well-written article! I'm josh's sister...very proud of him of course! Keep spreading the word of his music--Josh really is "Amazing"!