Steel Magnolia Ready to Bloom in Country Music
Newcomer duo Steel Magnolia -- Joshua Scott Jones and Meghan Linsey -- are enjoying a rapid rise to success -- winning the second season of CMT's 'Can You Duet?' nearly five months ago, signing a record deal with Big Machine Records (home to Taylor Swift) and releasing their debut single, 'Keep on Lovin' You.' However, the two have been so busy with a radio tour, interviews and recording their debut album, they haven't had time to truly reflect and take stock on the past year.
"It's been more than we expected right off the bat, and it's kind of like being in the weeds," explains Josh. "You're working your butt off and every once in a while, you get a chance to look up and catch a glimpse of what's going on ... It's hitting us now."
The on and off-stage couple first met in 2006 when Meghan was a karaoke host at a club in Nashville's Printer's Alley. Meghan, from Ponchatoula, La., was opening for acts such as Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and others at age 15, and upon graduating from high school, moved to Nashville. Josh, originally from Charleston, Ill., kicked off his career in Los Angeles, playing such famous venues as the Viper Room, the Knitting Factory and the Lava Lounge, before following his destined path to Music City.
The Boot caught up with the two on a rare break from their recording sessions with famed producer Dann Huff, who has helmed projects by Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Rascal Flatts, among others. We talked to Steel Magnolia about keeping their impressive momentum going.
You both started your music careers at an early age. Do you remember when you realized this is what you wanted to do?
Joshua Scott Jones: For me, it was when I was about 8 or 9. I was the class clown, and the first time I got a laugh out of my third grade class -- it was for show and tell -- I just remember from that point on just thinking I want to be an entertainer. So I'd lay in my bed at night and think about playing in high school variety shows like the older kids, and then that would happen. And then playing college bars ... that happened; then playing in the city, and that happened, and so forth. It's a dream that you start working at, and the more you work at it, when you get the right opportunity, it comes together. I've always had it instilled in me.
Meghan Linsey: Ever since I was a kid, I'd lay in bed and dream about being able to do this. It was never a doubt in my mind, honestly, until I moved to Nashville, and then I was like, "Oh, God!"
JSJ: You have those doubts along the way, but it's weird ... even at a very young age, you think in your own mind, "I'm a superstar."
ML: I thought I'd be famous by the time I was 12!
Performing live is something nearly every artist says is icing on the cake, an addiction that they can't live without. Is it the same for you?
JSJ: I found that when we get back from a radio tour, just from being so completely slammed, and we get a couple of days off at a time, we're [thinking], "Two or three days, what are we gonna be doing with ourselves?"
ML: Well, we're both insecure people. [laughs] We love it. It's like our anti-depressant.
JSJ: It's great to feel that love back from the audience. We've been so lucky, and getting to meet the fans is our favorite part of the night. To go out and meet them and sign autographs and be able to do something for them, it's really cool.
Meghan, you moved to Nashville just days after graduating from high school. Weren't you just a tad scared of coming to the "big city" by yourself?
ML: A little bit. I'd been traveling from Louisiana to here, writing and recording, from the time I was 14, so I was familiar with the Nashville scene. But just to be away from your parents for the first time ... I think every kid goes through that when you go to college. To be chasing a dream like this is just something that you have to be prepared for because there is the negative, too, with it, and you just brush it off and do your best to keep your head above water.
You're experiencing a hit song on the charts. Are you able to breathe a bit easier now?
JSJ: I read an interview with Merle Haggard, and he was [saying], "Well, dammit, it took me 40 years to accomplish this or that." It just takes time. You've gotta enjoy the ride. I think we're finally to a point in our career where we can start enjoying a little bit of the ride now.
ML: Totally! Because we're not so worried about other stuff ... how are we gonna pay our heat? How are we gonna pay our rent? Having to go sing karaoke every night, which was fun, I'm not gonna lie. It was a good job.
You actually met at a karaoke bar?
ML: I moved to town and got a job at a karaoke bar, and Josh came in one night and we met and we've been together ever since.
Wasn't it Air Supply's 'All Out of Love' that made you think the two of you sounded good together?
JSJ: We'd like to clear the air on that! That was kind of a joke.
ML: It wasn't nearly as magical as our bio makes it sound!
JSJ: And PEOPLE magazine also wrote that my favorite song to sing at karaoke is 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves' by Cher.
ML: They did. I said it jokingly. They said, "What's Josh's favorite song to sing karaoke?" I said, "'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.' Just kidding!"
JSJ: I think I did it once just being completely silly.
How did you decide to pick 'Keep on Lovin' You' as your first single, arguably the most important song of your career?
JSJ: It came down to the top two finalists on the television show, and the record label came to us and said, "Hey, the winner's gonna have to pick a single." So they came to us with about a group of 20 songs, and we narrowed it down to about four. We played it for them right before the finale, and as soon as we did, a light went off. Everybody was [saying], "Wow! That fits. That's you guys." It's almost like that Tom Cochrane song, 'Life is a Highway.' It's got that feel -- it's not something you would turn when you heard it on the radio. That just jumped out at me, and that's a sign of a good song.
As a duo, is it hard for you to decide who's singing which parts? Or does it just meld together right away?
ML: We were solo artists before we got together. But I'd come in and sing some harmonies with him, so that's how it all started. So it's based mostly on [his] lead vocal with my harmony, and then obviously, I'll take the lead on a verse.
JSJ: It's funny, because she has the amazing singer voice. I'm more of a stylistic singer. So, it's like she smooths out my rough edges, and it becomes this one voice. That's the magic that happens, which can't be manufactured.
ML: It's a chemistry thing. We feel each other out. I always know where he's going on stage, even when he goes somewhere he's never gone before.
Being a couple off-stage, as well, does any of the personal stuff get in the way of your professional life?
JSJ: I asked Naomi Judd and Wynonna the same question: "We really don't get along when we're trying to work songs out a lot of times ... there's a lot of tension." And they said the same thing: "There's a lot of tension that went on musically between us, whether it's in rehearsal or just trying to figure out a song." But they said when they stepped on stage, it's like a switch turns on, and that's what happens with us.
ML: We're both so passionate about what we're doing that it's hard to get past that sometimes. When we do find middle ground, though, it's magical.
Was there a particular song that changed your life?
JSJ: I remember listening to my mom listening to Bruce Springsteen, 'I'm on Fire.' That song just did something to me. There's just those songs that have those melodies, and it's not even the lyric or what they're saying, but you can tell that there's a hurt or an emotion so deep that these people are singing about. It's almost translated into a melody, a feeling is. That's when you get something that crawls up your spine , throughout your body.
ML: The first song that I actually started singing along to -- the first moment that I realized that I could actually sing, was a Christmas song called 'Hard Candy Christmas,' [by] Dolly Parton. I remember hearing it and thinking, "Well, it's Christmas, and it's supposed to be happy and she's trying to get through something hard."
When the album is out, what do you want fans to go away with after listening to it?
JSJ: I just want all the emotion and the feeling that we've put into making the record and writing songs to translate. We want to make a complete record, from front to back, that takes you on a journey, and that you won't take out of your CD player for six months.
ML: We have so many different influences and so many different sides to what we can do, and we wanted to put all of that on the record. So the beginning of the record is very much new country, and it goes all the way down to more traditional stuff at the end. And the songs are true stories, true life. There's a song called 'The Edge of Goodbye' on there that's basically a song about a couple getting into a fight, and it's a true story ... But then there's 'Eggs over Easy,' which is this happy song about cooking breakfast together. It's just totally different stuff on the record.
JSJ: We just hope everybody's gonna enjoy it.