Singer hits backyards as music venues figure out reopening plans
By Joshua Maloni
Josh Wilson’s fans know he can play as many as 20 different musical instruments during any given concert appearance.
They expect he’ll perform hit songs including “Dream Small,” “Borrow (One Day At A Time),” “Before The Morning,” “Jesus Is Alive," “That Was Then, This Is Now,” “Savior, Please,” “I Refuse,” “Fall Apart” and “Carry Me.”
But they probably were surprised to learn just how prophetic his words could be, as the events of last year unfolded.
On “Revolutionary” – a song written before 2020 became, well, 2020 – Wilson sings, “Maybe you're not like me/Maybe we don't agree/Maybe that doesn't mean/We gotta be enemies/Maybe we just get brave/Take a big leap of faith/Call a truce so me and you/Can find a better way/Let's take some time, open our eyes, look and listen (yeah)/And we're gonna find we're more alike than we are different (yeah)/Why does kindness seem revolutionary/When did we let hate get so ordinary/Let's turn it around, flip the script/Judge slow, love quick/God help us get revolutionary.”
Wilson explained the origin of his ideas in a recent phone interview.
An ASCAP Writer/Performer of the Year award-winner – and someone who has toured with the likes of Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns and Matthew West – Wilson took “Revolutionary” on the road last year. Though he couldn’t perform the song at traditional music venues, Wilson brought it – and his new song, “Undeniable” – to the backyards of fans across the country as part of his “RV-lutionary Backyard Tour.”
An edited Q&A follows.
Q: I want to ask you about “Revolutionary.” Talk about a timely song for 2020. When you wrote that, however, things obviously were not great in the country … we certainly needed a lot more kindness. But we know that things would get a whole lot worse as 2020 went on. So, what was on your mind when you wrote this song? And what sort of reaction did you get?
Josh Wilson: Yeah, so, when I wrote it – you're exactly right. I was anticipating the 2020 presidential election, and I just knew that things were going to get heated, as they always do; things get polarized. And I think a lot of times – at least I feel this way – I'm led to believe that we can't have anything in common with someone who doesn't vote like us, or vote like me, or we can't be kind to someone who believes differently than me. And I just don't believe that's true.
I think we can be kind all the time. I love that quote that says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” And that means even when I come in contact with folks who don't look like me, or believe like me, or vote like me. And I wanted to write a song that encourages folks to be kind – no matter what – and that's including myself.
I know this is a challenge, you know, to be kind no matter what. And with an election year looming, that was the challenge that I wanted to give myself was just to say, “Look, we have a lot more in common than we do different.” And I believe we can focus on those things and still have civil disagreement.
I think, obviously, there's a lot of things we can disagree on, but do so in a civil manner. And as a Christian, I believe I'm to be known by my love. The Bible says, “They will know us by our love.” I used to wear one of those bracelets that say, “What would Jesus do?” “WWJD.” And I love the new bracelets that say “HWLF.” “He would love first.” And that's what the song says. No matter what, Jesus would love first – even in an election year.
And then, of course, the pandemic hit, and the song became pertinent for other reasons. You know, kindness matters. What would Jesus do in the middle of a worldwide pandemic? He would love first. When everything gets shut down and a lot of people lose their jobs, folks are getting sick, folks are dying – what would Jesus do? He would love first.
And then, of course, in 2020, there was a lot of racial tension and reconciliation that happened – and is still happening. And I was proud to be singing that song during all of that, too. What would Jesus do? He would love first.
And it was really neat to see the response to the song. What I love about it is folks would contact me on social media. And friends or family and folks at some of these outdoor shows I'm playing would talk to me, and it didn't matter whether they were on the left or the right or the center or wherever: They thanked me for the words. And it just reinforced the idea that I think we have a lot more in common than we are led to believe. No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, or the religious spectrum, I think kindness always matters.
And I was very proud to be able to sing that song all last year and continue to be singing it into this year.
Josh Wilson (Images courtesy of Black River Entertainment/Merge PR)
Q: Yeah, and you are one of the few people that I've talked to who actually did go out and perform live shows. I think this “RV-lutionary Backyard Tour” is so cool, and so unique. What was the genesis of that idea?
Josh Wilson: Well, I had been doing a number of livestreams and things, you know, when everything shut down; I was still trying to find ways to connect to my audience. But I just was so missing playing live music – and I know people were missing seeing it – and I thought, “Well, there's got to be a safe way to do this.”
And the weather was beautiful. And so, my manager and I just came up with a way to give an offer form for people, if they wanted me to come play at their house. Sort of the stipulations were that we were going to do it outside, no matter what. Rain or shine. I brought a little canopy I could stand under if it was raining. And folks could be socially distanced and masked and be as safe as they want to, but still hear live music.
It was my wife's idea. I had bought the RV to sort of be my way to stay as isolated as possible during all the craziness last summer. It was my wife's idea – she said, “Hey, ‘Revolutionary’ – that kind of sounds like ‘RV.’ We could name the tour after that.” And she and I kind of brainstormed a little bit; she came up with the idea to call it the “RV-lutionary Tour.”
It was kind of fun to tie those two things together, and it ended up being a perfect fit. Between September and December, I played over 20 shows. And now that the weather's starting to warm up again, we're starting to book more.
Q: You've played all kinds of different venues in all kinds of different places. I know that, the bigger the house, sometimes the harder it is to get that personal interaction or that immediate response from individual fans. You know, it's just sort of a big wave of an audience. So, with playing in a backyard like that, I would think that that would be just so different – so unique – the responses that you would get must be so different.
I'm sure your fans like you regardless of where they see you, but I'm sure everything was just so much more immediate and much more personal. What did it feel like to be playing in the backyard and to be interacting with fans on that kind of level?
Josh Wilson: I loved it. It's so much fun.
It's actually how I got my start was coffee shops, little college gatherings or bars, or little church youth groups and things like that. Just small groups. I played a good number of backyard shows back when I was still in college – just anywhere someone would have me, I would play. And so it reminds me of when I first got started out.
And, yes, I love playing to a small audience, because you can take requests. There's a bit more banter, because I can hear what folks are saying and, you know, I can step off mic. It's just a lot more impromptu, off the cuff. It feels less planned and more spontaneous, which is fun. I can sort of mix up the set and, like you said, get a real-time feedback of how everybody's feeling about the night – good or bad. If a song is not going so well, you kind of know – you get that instant feedback. “Maybe I should try something different.”
I love it. It's been so much fun for me and, you know, hopefully this year, we're gonna be able to figure out some sort of normalcy again. Who knows when all of that’s going to happen. But – no matter what happens – even when I start playing back in bigger venues and things like that – I can plan to continue to do these VIP backyard shows, just because it's been so much fun.
Q: Nice. Well, when you do get back out to venues, and when you do get eventually back out to places like Niagara Falls, you do have a new song under your belt: “Undeniable.” It's getting a lot of love from Apple and from Amazon – little places like that. Tell me a little bit about the thought process in “Undeniable,” and how happy are you with the way it came out?
Josh Wilson: Yeah, “Undeniable” is a musical idea that I'd had for much longer than the lyric, actually. I've probably had the guitar riff for maybe three years, four years. And, for the longest time, I couldn't figure out what words I wanted to put with it. And recently, I was going across that verse in the book of Romans in the Bible. Romans 1:20, it essentially says that we can see evidence of God's presence in what he has created.
So, we talked about all of these outdoor things – whether it's a beautiful waterfall, Niagara Falls, or the Smoky Mountains, or the plains of Texas where I grew up. Any time I'm outside, I always feel closer to God. And I feel his presence more so when I can just get out into the natural beauty of his creation – the quiet – and get away from the business. And so, that verse in Romans resonated with me.
You know, folks have argued about the existence of God since the beginning of time – and for a lot of folks, the jury's still out. I don't think you can necessarily prove his existence; you can't prove his nonexistence. And so, to me, faith comes down to faith; belief.
I guess the closest I feel to God is when I'm looking at his creation, which is exactly what that verse says. We can see God through what has been made. And to me, the times in my life where God has felt undeniable is when I'm looking at what he's made.
Q: You are an award-winning writer. We've talked about two of your songs – two songs that are very poignant; very relevant; easy to listen to. What is the writing process for you? Is there a process; is there a pattern? How do songs come together for you?
Josh Wilson: I am constantly writing down song titles and lyric ideas here and there. I've got just a note app on my phone that I keep going; and if I get a title idea or someone says something in conversation that sparks an idea, I always write it down.
I don't really disappear right then and there and start writing a song, because often the circumstance doesn't allow it. I'm a dad; I'm a husband; and I don't just want to disappear from family time. But I do quickly go and just sing the melody into my phone or write down the lyric.
I sort of treat my writing process like a work day. I block off time to write, usually on weekdays – so, Monday through Friday. I start around 10, and I stop around 5. I'll revisit those lyrics and melodies and see sort of what inspires me as I'm going back through those.
So, that's kind of my process. I'm always collecting. And then I sit down during those work hours and write.
There are times that inspiration strikes, and I have to just disappear and get something down. But, for me, writing is the hardest part of what I do.
I love recording, and I love touring, and those are a little easier, because the songs already exist. So, when you sit down with that blank page, it's kind of daunting. And so, a lot of times it does feel like work. But once it's done, it's just so rewarding.
I love what Billy Joel says. He said, “I don't enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.” And I resonate with that, because writing is sort of the arduous part of it. Like I said, you're creating something out of nothing. But once it's there – you know, talk about touring and recording – and these other things are sort of the rewards of the fruits of that labor.
Q: Hopefully – maybe – we will have an opportunity to get you back out here sooner rather than later.
Josh Wilson: I'd love it. I'd love it. I am eager to get back out your way and come up see the falls.
Josh Wilson (Images courtesy of Black River Entertainment/Merge PR)