FOR several years now, the Josh Brannon Band has been touring the Southeast with their own brand of country music. The band’s sound strays from the current commercial norm and nods to the more quality mainstream output of the 90s as well as classic country from the 50s and beyond.
The Myrtle Beach-based band began almost a decade ago, and continues to thrive - recording albums and building an audience in the process. Ahead of their gig at Barrelhouse South on Jan. 5, we talked to Brannon about what led him to forming the band how he feels about the current state of country music.
How did the band get started? Tell me about the early days of writing and getting off the ground.
JB: I started writing early, and in about 2010 I met up with my fiddle player Worth King in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. We started playing as a duo and eventually put a band together after playing together for about a year. We’ve had a band ever since, and we write a lot together.
We try to write and record the best stuff we can put out there, and keep our country roots. We have more of a traditional sound compared to what the radio’s putting out these days. We put out kind of a demo record in 2010, and we’ve had two more since then.
Neon Lights is our latest record.
Who were some of your early influences? It’s definitely more of a classic country kind of thing.
JB: We listen to George Strait, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Clint Black, Clay Walker - we really love that 90s era of country, if you will. What we end up writing is the kind of music that we like and still listen to. There’s a market that we’ve found out there that really likes that kind of music, too.
We’re just trying to do our original thing, but we play a lot of 90s country if we play cover songs. But those are a lot of our influences. Some of the newer stuff I listen to is stuff that comes out of Texas. I like a lot of the Turnpike Troubadours stuff, Randy Rogers, and Jason Boland. And a lot of the great songwriters I like are the Jason Isbell types, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton even.
Obviously the older guys are influences, too. Waylon, Merle Haggard - he’s one of my favorites. Alabama is probably one of my favorite bands ever.
There are a lot of people that are spearheading this resurgence of more traditional sounding country, and even in some cases a more rock and Americana-influenced faction of the genre. Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and people like that are really doing a lot for the style as a whole. What do you make of that?
JB: For us, we struggled with it for a long time because we’d tell people that we play country music and they’d go, “Ew!” We’d have to explain that we don’t play what’s on the radio. Then we labeled ourselves, for lack of a better term, Americana. And we did it like it was a catch-all.
It still is a catch-all for something that’s not on the radio. If you say you play Americana, you could be bluegrass, folk, country, alternative rock - Jason Isbell is a rocker. His acoustic stuff is more folky, but that’s because it doesn’t have a Gibson SG behind it. But if you’ve got the 400 Unit playing behind him, it usually comes out as a rock song.
If you were to play our songs without a full band, that’s how they come out a lot of times. But the Americana term, for us, is sort of a catch-all for anything under that umbrella that’s not really on the radio. These days we’ve kind of labeled our own stuff “Genuine Country music.”
I think it is a catch-all in so many ways, but there’s definitely been a shift for a lot of listeners in what kind of country they want to listen to. You guys are definitely part of that shift away from the pop-country radio stuff, but hopefully that’ll ultimately be what radio listeners demand in the future.
JB: We’re hoping that’s the case. You can see those people now - people who who wouldn’t typically have Pandora or Spotify, and they’re listening to artists they wouldn’t have known about five years ago.