Interview: Josh Lovelace

“I grew up listening to a lot of folk music, inspired by song leaders—those people who can stand up with a guitar and get people to sing, like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie,” says singer/songwriter Josh Lovelace, who is well-known as the keyboardist for Grammy-nominated anthemic folk rock band NEEDTOBREATHE, currently recording their seventh album and who recently announced a fall tour with Johnnyswim providing opening support. “Somewhere along the way, I started playing piano. There aren’t a whole lot of piano players playing in rock bands, and I was able to get some pretty cool gigs. The dream of leading people in song and doing something positive with it has always been a goal. When I started having kids, I’d sit in the living room with them and pick up a guitar, and they’d want to sing along and dance and I realized that there was power in that, that ability to get people on the same page,” he says. “So, I started writing songs for my kids about making everyday activities fun.”

Last year, Lovelace released Young Folk, a folk and Americana-leaning album geared towards children, but one that parents can (and do) enjoy just as much. “I wanted to do something that was silly and fun for kids, but not so elementary that the music couldn’t grow up with them, that when they’re eight or ten years old, they’ll think it’s still cool to listen to,” he laughs. “I’m so lucky to be in a band that pushes the envelope with honesty and being genuine, I wanted to continue in that with this project and not just make it a bunch of elementary pop songs.” Young Folk features tracks like “Eat Your Vegetables,” “Daddy’s Beard,” and one of this writer’s personal favorites, “Messy Bessy.” “That song was the tester, I’d play it around the house to see if anyone was digging it,” he explains. “My son loved that song. He was in the living room begging me to play the song, and I recorded him counting it off,” he recalls of his toddler son’s contribution. “I recorded the album in the basement of my house, and he would come down there and grab a microphone and just start singing NEEDTOBREATHE songs or Drew Holcomb songs, stuff we listen to at home. Then he started singing my song ‘Henry, My Son’ and it was too perfect,” he adds. “I put it on the record like that.”

Adults are responding as well; a showgoer in Knoxville came to Lovelace with tears in his eyes and said that album track “Climb A Tree” was one of his top five favorite songs. “I was super honored by that, and then I was like, ‘You gotta listen to some more songs, there are some really good songs out there!’ he laughs. “I love that.” He called on friends for musical contributions as well, bands like Spirit Family Reunion, Ellie Holcomb, and Ben Rector. “They were all really on board with it. We’ve been friends for a long time. Ben is such a funny guy, he’s good at loosening up a crowd, and he’s a great songwriter. I wrote the song ‘A Bear In The Woods,’ and my first thought was, ‘This song was written for Ben Rector,’ followed by ‘But he’ll never do it.’ I reluctantly asked him, and he said yes right away.”

When creating Young Folk, Lovelace enlisted the help of some pretty important figures in the genre. “I used to love Sharon, Lois, & Bram when I was a kid,” he says of the iconic Canadian children’s folk trio who were regulars on Nickelodeon. “NEEDTOBREATHE was on tour with Taylor Swift in Toronto, and on a whim, I reached out to them, to thank them for all they’ve done for kids. I got to sit and hang out with Sharon for coffee for about three hours,” he recalls. “Every time I’d be in Toronto after that, we’d grab dinner and hang out. I bounced ideas off of them for this record. I wanted them to be a part of it. Lois passed away a few years back, but Sharon and Bram came out of studio retirement to record ‘Sing A Song For Me’ for my album,” he says. “They’ve done children’s music for 40 years, they raised generations of babies with their music. It was a high honor to get their stamp of approval on this record.” Sharon and Bram also advised Lovelace on how to keep his children’s shows from dissolving into chaos, “I learned a lot from them, especially since this could be a one and done type of thing for me, making a kids’ record,” he says. “They were so generous.”

Moving from sideman to center stage brings its own set of pressures and fears, but for Lovelace, who used to pretend he was Bruce Springsteen as a kid, this endeavor felt like home. —“This record feels like something I was always meant to do,” he says. “I also love playing keys with NEEDTOBREATHE and the creativity that comes with that, it’s very inspiring. I’m so lucky to get to do the full spectrum.”

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Susan Hubbard

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