American Young are made up of Jon Stone and Kristy Osmunson, two artists who collaboratively can already claim song writing credits for hit makers Kenny Chesney, Lee Brice, Rascal Flatts and Blake Shelton to name a few. They are songsmiths in every meaning of the word; writing, producing and singing and their long awaited second album dropped at the back end of last year. This weekend, we will get the chance to see their brilliance up close and personal at some great intimate events as they celebrate being able to finally bring their music to a live audience.
When I caught up with them, Jon had been using his metal detector to explore for relics from the American Civil War and had found a treasure trove of things from the historic event. Collecting things like this is something he and his Father love to do and it seemed to perfectly illustrate why Jon and Kristy make such a formidable pairing musically. These are people that care passionately about where things come from, what makes them special and the evolution of things; particularly they care about protecting those things and this is what makes their music special. The music these artists create is modern Country music with one foot very much in the contemporary but the other firmly planted in what makes Country music great; the storytelling, honesty and harmonies that epitomise the genre. With protagonists like this, the future of Country music is in safe hands and their brilliant album proves this in bundles. I was thrilled to chat with Jon and Kristy and hope you enjoy what they have to say and then go get tickets to see the band live this weekend. If not, I can’t recommend the album highly enough.
American Young have won the British Country Music Association Touring Award in 2019 after being nominated for three years in a row and can’t wait to bring new music to a live audience.
EP: Since 2013, with your debut single which was favourably compared with The Civil Wars, there seems to have been a move towards a more diverse sound for this album. Still 100% a Country album, but with a diverse approach to each song. Was that a natural direction of travel or was it the influence of the co-writers on this record?
K: There’s a totally different band, different writers…
J: That was a natural evolution. It was more than just the song writing; it was the studio..
K: Also, we have travelled around the world…and also, babies (laughing); I had two kids with this band. All of my cells are different, that’s a very real thing…over those seven years we’ve changed as humans. We got rid of all our cells and became totally different humans.
J: It was a natural evolution and it’s fun to be able to do that. Sonically, this record grooves. There was really a lack of groove on the first record and this record is moving towards groove and our next record is just gonna groove harder. I want our whole set to do that. To just groove and make people dance and have a good time. All of it, it’s brand new music.
EP: I felt that! This album feels like a record that’s going to play really well live and I know you’ve won awards for your live performance, so that must be great to achieve that.
J: Yeah, I can’t wait to play, we’ve never played it. So we’re doing the whole thing in the UK.
EP: That’ll be fantastic.
J: There are some songs on there like ‘When the Whisky Don’t Work’; I mean that groove is so hard. I’m looking forward to when it’s all second nature, to when all these songs are second nature live for us and we just haven’t played them yet so it’s gonna take a little while for that to happen. But, you know, when those grooves set in live, it’s just gonna be so great.
EP: I guess that’s been the thing with the pandemic; a lot of bands have written music over the last two, two and a half years, and have not had the opportunity to kind of try them out with a live crowd so I guess it’s going to be a thrill to see which songs hit the button?
K: When we cut the album, it was really fascinating. We were the first project back in Nashville to actually come back post pandemic and book the session and all of our players were extremely cautious, so we had everybody in separate rooms, which is basically how you have to do it for sound separation anyways, but it was very different because a couple of the guys didn’t want to come into the mix room and listen; they stayed in their room with headphones and they didn’t want to be in the group at all.
That’s okay, and I feel like it worked well, it’s just that from my perspective the spirit in the room happens when everybody is playing together live in front of an audience. That’s when you really find out what the record is made of so it’ll be really exciting. This is the first time I’ve ever in my life gone about making a record where we didn’t start the process by playing live.
We usually write the songs, go play them live and then the album comes after that. With this one we were writing first. ‘Let You Down’, one of my favourite songs, we wrote over Zoom which is crazy. I was still, like, oh we can never have this happen because there’s a delay; you can’t really play music over Zoom well, but the song came out and it turned out well and that’s my favourite one on the album.
J: Yeah. I mean that song jams. As producers you learn to make records but writing songs is a completely separate art form than being an artist and that is a completely separate art form than being a producer; it’s a completely different art form.
EP: Because you guys both have a background in writing for other people and production, does that make it easier or maybe make it more difficult for you guys to write songs? Do you find that you have to change hats from writer to artist to producer?
J: It’s separated in your mind but the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone.
K: I think it’s a real challenge for us to decide. The 11 songs that were on there took five years to decide out of hundreds and hundreds, probably, a thousand songs.
J: But that’s the way it should be. When we talk about the themes of the record, you know, I would be able to point to three or four songs on the new record that are the corner posts to the record and everything kind of orbits around those songs, sonically, subject-wise and melodically, and our next record, you know, it’s going to be the same way. I’m a big fan of musical evolution and planning, but we really care about getting better. Not that we suck right now but if we continually strive to get better, it’s just gonna show in our records and in our writing.
EP: It’s funny that you should say that Jon because for me, as a fan of your music, it feels like you’re more interested in being very good than being very famous which I think comes through in the music. I think that definitely comes through in the second album because it’s very tight.
J & K: Oh yeah!
J: I remember the first time we got an 8 by 10 of us, and I remember, I was backstage and I was like ‘Kristy, this is the most egotistical shit on earth, there’s a picture of me! I feel uncomfortable’
K: It took a long time for Jon to be ok with being an artist (laughing)
J: Yeah, I’m still not okay with it (laughing) because music for me was never ever a thing about fame. I think fame is the ugly side of music to me. Kristy is the best; people want to talk to her, talk about their cats and their dogs and their families and oh my god, that’s great but I just zoom out into a song I’m writing. It’s just like it’s a very, very weird thing; it’s weird to talk to strangers all the time for me.
K: I love it!
EP: (laughing) Tell me about it. So is that why you look so happy in the video for ‘Country Girls’ because you could be someone else?
J: Yeah, that was crazy. I mean that was probably the most I’ve moved in probably the last year. We’re making that video and we had to shoot that thing and we’re dancing and slapping around that mullet wig and it was fine. The thing is that we had a duty to make sure that the visual representation matched the record. When I listen to that record and hear ‘Mississippi Mud Pie’, it’s fun, we needed that.
K: Yeah, oh my god we need fun after the last two, three years.
J: Yeah I mean after our last record too. I love the last record but it was very much a singer songwriter record and that’s part of our charm.
K: And the pandemic just got heavy and there was no live music for a long time other than redneck bars down Nashville (laughing) …
J: Yeah, this record is definitely where we are. We’re having fun doing this. You know, we’ve experienced all these experiences and all these wonderful countries and all these wonderful people and all these venues. So now, it’s like, okay, this is fun shit. That first record was fine and it was a listening one; you know, you sit down in theatres and you listen to it and you go ‘that’s so touching’ but with this one I want people to be like ‘I want to dance to this’. It’s got a groove to it. The first record really had no grooves to it but this record has got some groove to it.
EP: Well I think this record manages to bring all of that together. ‘Say It to Me Sober’ has that groove, that infectious sing a long chorus and earworm but it still has really meaningful lyrics too. It has a groove and it’s a listening record too if you want it to be.
J: Yeah. And you know what, that’s one of the things that we’re not gonna lose… these things that we picked up as writers and artists. By making these records we’re gonna carry things from those past records on this record.
Our next record is going to have, you know, hints and touches of this one but we’re not going to lose our lyrical integrity, our melodic integrity. We’re just going to add to that. I tell Kristy all the time, they’re just tools in our toolbox that we’ve acquired and you see the greatest bands in the world and their fourth record is the best record they ever made because they carried all these three records and all this learning into say, ‘Hotel California’, or it’s Led Zeppelin IV; it’s a really, really exciting journey and it’s a fun one to be on and we can’t wait to come out there and really see how these audiences respond. Hell, I can’t wait to see how we respond.
We haven’t played any of these songs so especially songs like ‘Say It to Me Sober’ and ‘Let You Down’ and ‘Whiskey Don’t Work’ and ‘Country Girls’, how ‘Seminole Winds’ jams live. There’s some jams on this thing and I just can’t wait.
EP: That’s something I wanted to ask you about because you guys are involved in the song writing on everything on this record apart from the cover of that John Anderson song. It’s a song that has been covered live by Eric Church when he played Tampa because of what it’s about. Did you include that because it is still a message that needs sending nowadays as much as when it was written?
J: A lot of things..I think that we’ve always loved that record. John Anderson wrote that song by himself. That song has always touched us.
K: It says a lot about environmental impact that needs to be said especially for Florida.
J: It talks about extinctions that we’re faced with…
K: … and about Native American culture and that is very, very important and there’s so much that hopefully we’re translating to the next generation and, you know, I have a three-and-a-half-year-old that is so crazy when I play these songs, or play songs in general, and that’s the first time he’s hearing that music and that idea to me is just mind-blowing to me because life is just one song after another, that’s like a continuation. It’s fun to get to introduce the next generation to the music we grew up with.
EP: That sums up the record for me because you go from ‘Happy Again’ which is almost hymn-like and beautiful and then you’ve got the message song of Seminole Wind and then you’ve got the kick your heels up ‘Country Girls’ finish. It ticks all the boxes, doesn’t it? Did you feel that when you released it? Do you have any favourite tracks?
J: Well this record was being pressed when we wrote ‘Country Girls’ and we thought ‘Do we stop the press’ and everybody was ‘Yes! We’ve got to put Country Girls on this record’; it was the one song we were really missing as a whole.
K: (looking at the record listing) Ohhhhh! ‘Falling Star’, I forgot about that one. I love that song. It’s the craziest, amazing song. I was pregnant and about to pop, so full. Close to popping and we had written ‘Falling Star’, I had a voice note of it and I tried to play it to my husband with the voice note of the song on my phone and the craziest thing happens where I hit play and it was my son’s ultrasound audio.
J: That’s why you love that song ….
K: …and I was like, what in the world? Like, I have no idea how that happened to this day. I have no idea how that was and I still can’t find the original work tape, but I was hearing this little flitter flutter and anyway, so yeah, that’s my favourite. We should have put his heartbeat on the record.
EP: So you guys are coming to London soon…
K: Yeah, we’ll be there Wednesday. 28th and 29th of May, I think are the gigs? The Buck’n’Bull Saloon at Electrowerkz and then in Putney on Sunday.
EP: I love those small venues. They really give you a chance to connect with the band as well as dance. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been great talking to you, good luck with the album and the single and everything. And good luck with the tour. I can’t wait to hear these songs live.
J & K: Thank you. Come along and have a beer!