"Back in '93, I decided I could be most anything / Living wild and free, strumming hard as I could on those guitar strings." Those are lyrics from 'A Real Good Try,' a tune featured on Josh Kelley's debut country album, 'Georgia Clay.' The words are remembrances of a boy who dreamed about writing and performing songs straight from his soul, and Josh is proof dreams do come true. He wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on the new album, which is set for release on March 22.

Josh has been making music ever since he was a little kid, growing up in Augusta, Ga. During his early teen years, he and younger brother, Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley, formed the band Inside Blue, featuring Charles on drums and lead vocals and Josh on electric guitar. They released a five-song CD, with several of the tunes being played on local radio. The guys were offered a deal by soul legend James Brown, but decided against it, due in large part to the fact they would have to drastically change what they represented.

After graduating from high school, Josh attended the University of Mississippi on a golf scholarship, studying graphic design. During his junior year of college, he began writing and recording his own compositions, which he posted on Napster, eventually landing his first major label deal with Hollywood Records. In 2003, the singer released 'For the Ride Home,' yielding a Top 5 single, 'Amazing.' His second album, 'Almost Honest,' came out two years later, and contained his hit 'Only You.' Josh met actress Katherine Heigl ('Knocked Up,' 'The Ugly Truth,' '27 Dresses'), when she was cast as the leading lady in the music video for 'Only You.' Two years later, they were married during an intimate ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Parting ways with Hollywood Records made it possible for Josh to start his own label, DNK Records, on which he released four independent albums before heading to Music City to begin work on his first country album.

The Boot recently sat down with Josh in a Nashville studio to talk about his single and debut country album, both titled 'Georgia Clay.' He also opens up about growing up in Georgia with his little brother, sharing details of their mischievous ways, what he learned from touring with Miranda Lambert and his auspicious debut on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

The first single and title track, 'Georgia Clay,' resulted from reminiscing about your childhood with your brother Charles. How exactly did you pull a song from that conversation?

The song started with my producer, Clint Lagerberg, coming over to Charles' house. The three of us wrote the song together. We weren't even going to write a song but we were talking about my dad's old truck, and I asked, "Whatever happened to that old truck?" Charles said, "I totaled it when you went off to college. I ran through a red light," or something like that; it was ridiculous. Then I said, "If that truck could talk, what would it say that it had seen?" When we were kids that was like our rite of passage into manhood, being able to drive that thing. It would have seen my first kiss, it would have seen me siphon gas out of my buddy's wave runner so I could make it back home in that truck, it would have seen all these different things. It would have seen me buy beer with a fake ID, or actually, I didn't need a fake ID ... I had a beard.

If we were to ask folks back home in Georgia to finish the sentence "Those Kelley boys...," what would they say?

" ... really knew how to get away with sh--!" [laughs] We weren't troublemakers, but we pushed the boundaries in a very conniving way. Honestly, I think it helped make us the people who we are. You learn how to finagle, and you learn how to meet people, and talk your way out of things. My parents were pretty strict, but they gave us a certain little bit of a freedom, which was nice. At times, we would abuse it, for sure. But we were very respectful. And we never went to jail or anything like that, so clearly we weren't that bad. But we did a lot of fighting [laughs].

Who did you fight?

Whoever wanted to fight! [laughs]

What is it about Georgia clay that makes people wish for home?

Georgia clay, it really is a thing. It's deep, it's red ... you could build a house out of that stuff. It's just one of those things that makes it regionally specific. It's one of those lines that just feels like home.

You tried to break into country music before now, but to no avail. What happened to make you veer into the pop world?

When I was 21 and was at college at Ole Miss, I came [to Nashville]. I drove with two of my buddies who owned a studio, who were recording my music, and they had set up the whole thing. I did a showcase for four different labels, and they all turned me down. I was 21 years old, and they just said I wasn't ready yet. The truth is that I wasn't. But then ... all those bluegrass songs that I was writing, Hollywood Records found out about my music on Napster. I had come up with a little scheme using Napster and flooded the market with my music. Next thing you know, I had a record deal with a pop label out in L.A., and they changed all these bluegrass songs into pop songs. It was crazy. At the end of the day, you've got to eat and you've got to make money, and I had quit college to do this for a living. It was a great opportunity that I wasn't going to turn down. I learned a lot, but I'm a much better country artist than I am a pop artist. I'm able to write better songs than I was, just because the range for me is broader ... I'm having a great time right now, actually. Hopefully it'll all pan out, we'll see [laughs].

So, you feel like you're at home in country music? It's where you belong?

It's very freeing, it's kind of crazy. My mom used to tell me, "Write songs that people can relate to, and you'll go far." I'm afforded that opportunity as well, writing relatable songs [in country music]. I can write about my little baby girl. I can write about my wife. I can write about us moving ... I can write about things people can relate to. I think that's why the genre has got so much stronger. I'm glad they didn't let me in when I was 21, because this is the perfect time for me and my gabby self to be in country music.

The title of an album makes a pretty strong statement from an artist. Why did you decide on the name 'Georgia Clay?'

That was actually my idea for the title. I was sitting here thinking [that] 'Georgia Clay' tells so much about my past and my upbringing, and I felt that the country world needed to know: "Look, man, I'm a southern boy from Augusta, Ga., born and raised, this is no joke." It means so much to me to be from Georgia. If you talk to many people from Georgia, we're very very proud to be from Georgia, so it sounded and it felt appropriate. I also thought it had a pretty good ring to it [laughs].

What has surprised you about the country format?

I think the biggest one has been how family-oriented everyone is. I remember doing a show at the Ryman [Auditorium] for the label for CRS [Country Radio Seminar], and after everybody was done, all the artists stood on the steps. I'm telling you, it was like a class photo for high school ... it was awesome! You have Vince Gill and everybody up top and all of us newbies at the bottom. And I'm sitting here looking up going, "Man, this is crazy! It's awesome! We took a class photo." I go on tour with Miranda Lambert and Eric Church, and the three of us are hanging out every day, and this did not happen when I used to go out on opening slots with my other tours. Everybody pretty much quarantines themselves, and it's a weird hierarchy. The great thing about country music is everybody is very professional but also laid-back, and it's a little lower drama.

That is certainly a nice looking photo on the album cover.

Unfortunately, we had to put my face big on the cover because if you look on your phone at iTunes, nobody is going to see or even know what this album is unless your face is like straight up on the screen! What I wish was in it a little more is my truck. I'd just bought that brand new Ford F150, and we threw mud all over it to symbolize Georgia clay. It's these really cool shots and you can't use it because my head would be the size of a needle. So, that's one thing that's missing from it, but we still have the photos, and they'll be cool some day, in some other [way]. Maybe if we do a vinyl release of it, I can put the bigger one on there.

While there are songs about your life growing up in Georgia, there are also songs about your life as a husband and a father, as well. Tell us about 'Naleigh Moon,' which you wrote about your daughter.

Me and my wife adopted a little baby girl in 2009. She's from South Korea, and we got her when she was nine months old. I remember getting to hold her for the first time and feeling that acceptance from her, and then she turned me into as selfless as I'm capable of being, from a pretty selfish dude to start with. Her name is Nancy Leigh Kelley and we push the Nancy and the Leigh together, and we call her Naleigh. And, the moon part of it comes from her original name Mi-Eun. I'm too redneck to say that, so I just said moon. [laughs] Naleigh Moon, instead of Naleigh Mi-Eun [laughs]. So I wrote a song about her called 'Naleigh Moon,' and it's the prettiest song I've ever written in my entire life.

You toured with Miranda Lambert last fall, and you're getting ready to head back out on the road with her on the Revolution Continues tour. What did you enjoy about the trek the first time around?

She's awesome! She's a hard worker. I learned a lot from watching her show ... about what she does for the crowd, and how she'll make someone in the nose bleeds [section] feel like they're right in front of her face. It's a gift to be able to do that, and I would watch the show pretty much every night. I picked up a lot of little tricks and things that both of them are doing that I started even applying to my own shows. Not in an obvious way, just little, subtle things. She was a real sweetheart and she made me feel at home, and she showed me some pretty daggum good entertainment tips.

What were some of the more memorable moments on last year's tour?

What's cool is that she actually had this trainer come out with her, and he's this really cool dude. She was training every day and doing these different things, and I run a lot. I'm out there running and one of the days I come back from running after she's done her little workout, and she's shooting her compound bow at some fake animal or something like that. It was the craziest thing I've ever seen. I was thinking, "This chick may be the raddest chick I've ever seen on the block, dude." She is, by the way, also hitting the bulls-eye every time. It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen, because I'm out there thinking she's just a girl out there, running and doing jump-rope and stuff like that. Then I get back, and she's over there like [laughs] a freaking hunting machine.

You used to live in Nashville, but now you live in Utah. How did you get there from here?

In 2005, I bought my first house that I've ever owned, and I bought it in Cool Springs [located south of Nashville]. Then, when me and Katie got married, she was still doing 'Grey's Anatomy,' so I had to move back out to L.A. She could tell that I was miserable in L.A., and we both loved Utah and we had some land out there, so we built a house on it and love it. It's one of my favorite places in the world to be. But I have a feeling I will eventually live back in Nashville.

You recently made your debut on the Grand Ole Opry. What was that like?

That was amazing. I would say that my Opry performance was the most nervous that I have been in a long time. I don't usually get nervous before shows, but for that one I was because there's so much history there. People are expecting for you to be awesome, so you've gotta be. And then from the history in my family from watching the show on TV, there was a lot to prove as well. Thank God I was somehow able to snap myself out of it right before I had to start singing!

if(typeof AOLVP_cfg==='undefined')AOLVP_cfg=[];AOLVP_cfg.push({id:'AOLVP_641842515001','codever':0.1,'autoload':false,'autoplay':false,'displaymnads':true,'playerid':'89761511001','videoid':'641842515001','width':476,'height':357,'playertype':'inline','stillurl':'dynamic','videolink':'#','videotitle':'dynamic','videodesc':''});

More From TheBoot