Rhinestone Cowboy: An Interview with Joshua Hedley

At first listen, Nashville based country singer/musician Joshua Hedley seems like an “old soul.” His songs sound like they were fished out of an old milk crate of 45’s, with the same clean cut, polished charm of post-war country singers like Ray Price and Jim Reeves. His recent single “I Never (Shed a Tear)” even incorporates a chorus of cooing background singers. He sports Grand Ole Opry style rhinestone suits, wears a wide-brimmed hat, and writes songs about jukeboxes. Yet Hedley would not want to just be grouped in as a throwback.

Hedley is set to play this year’s High Water Festival on Sunday April 22 at 2:30. The last time he played in Charleston he was opening up for fellow country artist Justin Townes Earle at The Pour House. Hedley drove himself from Memphis to Charleston the day of the show, coming off of an alcohol relapse. For that performance it was just Hedley, an acoustic guitar, and his signature flashy cowboy get up. At High Water Festival he will be armed with a full band including bass, drums, and a steel guitar player to better emulate the sound of his new album Mr. Jukebox, which is set to hit stores and streaming services two days before his set at High Water. Mr. Jukebox is Hedley’s debut album, and is being released on Jack White’s Third Man Records label.
Also, unlike his last Charleston appearance, Hedley will be showing off his prowess with the fiddle, which he first picked up at age three. “No one knew why I wanted a fiddle, like a lot of people at that age I was hearing what my parents listened to, and my parents were mostly into 60’s pop and rock. I think I actually turned my parents on to country music” Hedley says. “Country songs are just what come naturally to me, and I’m not going to make music that I don’t want to listen to you know? I mean I like Ray Price. But I don’t want to just limit myself to country music in terms of what I hear, I’ll go from listening to Miles Davis to Three Six Mafia.”

Country music itself in 2018 seems to be a pretty divided state. Pop country songs about parties and good times are on the radio and backsplashing college football tailgates, and more traditional country songs about whiskey and heartbreak are on NPR, selling like hot cakes at independent record stores. Similar to hip hop, the disparity between the two takes on the sound have sparked the discussion of what is “real country music.” While Hedley falls into the latter school of the genre and is very much a “country artist” in the traditional sense, he does not think that the content or execution of the songs really play into what makes a genre a genre. “It’s about who’s buying and listening to it,” he says. “I mean who’s buying those Florida Georgia Line records? It’s a woman who lives out in the country and gets the CD from Wal-Mart, and her husband’s a farmer and they’re just working for a living. It’s country people. I don’t think that the whole “pop v.s. traditional” thing really matters because there are audiences for both. What’s coming off of music row is based in marketing and finance and I think people are starting to take notice of that. That’s why the more ‘traditional’ people like [Chris] Stapleton, [Jason] Isbell, and Margo [Price] are doing so well.”

Photo courtesy of Saving Country Music

Hedley also does not see any real need for putting down the country music that gets the mainstream airplay. “I used to get real angry about country music, but me bitching about Luke Bryan won’t make Luke Bryan go away. I can’t say what good country music is. It’s like in hip hop, A Tribe Called Quest is hip hop and 21 Savage is hip hop too.” Despite being a musician so heavily rooted in old school country, rap music does seem to really matter to Hedley. “In my sort of circle of Americana I don’t think that hip hop gets enough credit as an art form.”

And like a lot of rappers, Hedley has a keen eye for style. He has a few signature rhinestone suits, sometimes known as the Nudie suit after chainstitch artist Nudie Cohn, that he brings with him on tour. “I think image is a large part of music, you gotta look as good as you sound. I mean it’s a performance, not just an audio performance, there’s a presentation aspect to it.”

Joshua Hedley certainly has that combination of visual and auditory style locked down, and we can’t wait to see what he brings to the Lowcountry with his full band, brand spanking new album and eye candy fashion sense at High Water 2018.

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