Texan sensation Joshua Ray Walker and his captivating grasp on country music storytelling is exactly the kind of thing that fans in the United Kingdom have been yearning for. This was witnessed first-hand at this years The Long Road Festival where his energising yodels right through to his astonishing falsettos delivered a stunning introduction. This has not been Walker’s first visit to Europe but the festival appearance and forthcoming tour coincides with the release of his fourth studio album “What Is It Even” which comprises entirely of covers of songs made famous by female artists. During the festival we sat down with Joshua to talk about the project and his experience playing to audiences over here.
Thanks for taking the time Joshua, everything sounds like it’s already a bit of a hectic trip over here. “We pretty much went straight on stage to sound check when we arrived. We were in Denmark and drove to Hamburg because when we fly back, we have a show in Hamburg tomorrow. I think this like my fifth six AM flight in the last two weeks, that I have had since I got to Europe and have another two and a half weeks to go.”
Is this your first time over in Europe? “I toured Scandinavia in 2019 but this is the first time doing more of mainland Europe and UK stuff. I’m doing my first UK headline tour and my only experience in the UK prior to this was eating an English breakfast at Heathrow in 2019, so I’m looking forward to finding a greasy spoon and having a proper English breakfast.”
We’re here at The Long Road Festival, so what are you first impressions of this stunning site that we have got here? “The grounds are beautiful and the weather is really nice. I think when I left Texas, a few weeks ago, it was around forty-five or forty-six degrees if I did the calculation right so, it was very hot and I’m happy to not be sweating at an outdoor show. The people are very kind, they really listened and I was really happy with the turnout. I played an early set and it was a really good sized crowd.” For me, The Front Porch is one of the prettiest stages that you will find anywhere at a festival with the cabin, the smoke coming out of the chimney and everything. It was really cool to get to see you play for the first time and as an artist from Texas, there is “Texas Country” and “Country music from Texas” which are very different things to a lot of people and there is almost a clear definition between the two. Where do you pitch yourself in terms of what you do? How would you best describe the sound of Joshua Ray Walker? “Typically, my first initial thing is that I play country music because I feel like the genre of “country” has been appropriated to mean something new that I don’t necessarily fit in to. I don’t want to stop labelling myself as this thing that I feel very strongly about because I would rather people think of music that sounds like myself and others like me when they hear country music being used. If I had to do my elevator pitch and actually tell people what I do, I tell people that I write storyteller country from Texas.”
You’re based around Dallas aren’t you? “I was born and raised in Dallas, travelled around for years and then I settled back in the neighbourhood that I grew up in.”
Hopefully raised rightly as a Cowboys fan as well. “My dad was a big Cowboys fan but I got to say I was a (Pittsburgh) Steelers fan out of spite because we had to have something to argue about on Sundays.”
I have a similar thing with my soccer team here, where I became a Spurs fan because my dad and my brother are season ticket holders at Arsenal, who are our biggest rivals. It does sort of give you something to argue and bond over at the same time. “I agree, I think it’s weird when whole families love the same team. It’s very cookie cutter.
Completely with you on that, especially with colleges over there you hear people that talk about being fans of a college team because their dad was a fan after their dad’s dad was a fan because his dad went there. I know everyone else hates the Cowboys but fingers crossed we go well and we’ll out do the Eagles this year, that’s all that really matters. “I met someone from Philly today that’s playing the festival and we were talking about my experience with people from Philadelphia because I’m from Dallas and when they find out, they’re inevitably angry with me but I’m like I don’t know, I didn’t do anything. Ha ha” Away from life in Dallas, you’ve put a new record out recently, that is a cool different kind of project of all covers. Where did the idea come from of not just releasing a full record of recording other people’s songs but songs that were all performed by female artists? “I knew that I wanted to do a project that wasn’t original material. I wanted to do something to show more of my personality that was something fun and light-hearted. It had been a rough few years and I just wanted to do something enjoyable that was music related and didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of pressure but was a lot of fun. We toyed around with a couple of different concepts and this was the one that I guess, got the most momentum behind it. I had a really long kind of shortlist of songs that I wanted to try to work up and it was actually my drummer that was making a joke before one of our shows. There is this one drum beat that I’ve been trying to get him to play forever, which is this Gospel, cut-time beat that was used a lot in like jump-blues or if you have watched “The Blues Brothers” movie, it’s used a lot in that. I had been trying to get him to use it on a track forever and it just never fit but we were talking about Whitney Houston and stuff, then he jokingly started playing the beat on his lap. I was like actually I like that and he said no, I didn’t mean it but that was too bad because I want to hear it now and that is how we ended up playing that version of the Whitney Houston song that we did.”
So, it was the Whitney song that kick started the whole thing then. “That was what got me excited enough about the project, I was like I have to hear that song that way now and what other songs do I feel that same excitement about so, started building up the female record. I went through some songs that worked and some that didn’t, I love arranging music and pushing myself in the studio so, I really got to push myself vocally with that record. I didn’t really think of myself as a singer a few years ago so being able to try out these songs, they’re so hard to sing but of course they are by Beyonce, Whitney Houston and these amazing singers, was quite the challenge.”
I guess it must be really interesting and appealing to do something that you can have a lot of fun with but also by taking songs sung by these huge voices allow you to really push yourself and see what you can do. “Yeah, it’s not to say that making original records isn’t fun, that is my absolute favourite part of my job but now that people actually listen to me and what I do, there are expectations involved when making an original record. There are people that want to make sure the mix is perfect, the songs are great and all of this stuff, which is important because you should do that when you make a record but I really just wanted to go and have fun doing something.”
“What Is It Even?” is the new album from Joshua Ray Walker and available HERE. For all forthcoming tour dates, you can check out his WEBSITE and you can see what Joshua is up to socially on INSTAGRAM & FACEBOOK.
The Long Road Festival will return in 2024 to Stanford Hall in Leicestershire over the weekend of 23rd to 25th August where the initial release of limited early bird tickets have already SOLD OUT. Further tickets will be available in the future on their WEBSITE which you can be the first to know when by checking out their socials on INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks