The Hangout Music Festival is more than a weekend of music at the beach for Nashville singer-songwriter Josh Farrow. He has been to every Hangout festival, most of them as a fan, and calls it the best music festival in the country. Last year his band played on the shuttle bus in one of the best sets that most of the crowd never saw, and he proposed to his girlfriend at the festival. This year he was picked by MTV to play on the Hangout stage.
“I was going to come to the Hangout Festival for my pre-honeymoon whether I won the contest or not, but I was dying to play on a stage here,” says Farrow. “One of the coolest parts of Hangout is being backstage. Last year Stevie Wonder walked past me, and he is my idol. I also saw Tom Petty backstage. That is the first time I had been around artists who were that big.”
Farrow is still new to festivals and appreciates the exposure. “It feels like everything is falling into place,” says Farrow. “I played at Merlefest last month and that was my first time to play on a main stage. The Hangout has already been big for me. Online sales are up, and Spotify listeners are five times what they were last month.”
Your voice is filled with character and emotion and can take you anywhere. Have those always been in your voice?
No. I started singing when I was 19, and I was trying to sing pop songs. I have never been trained, but listening to music and singing along helped me try different styles. I listened to Bob Dylan, The Band, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder and tried to mesh all of those influences together.
I have finally settled into a space where I am comfortable with my range, voice, and style and let the sound come to me. I am trying to progress my voice and make it better.
You play “Devil, Don’t You Fool Me” acoustic and electric, which do you prefer?
I like playing electric on it, but on the recording I play acoustic and give it a different vibe. In this environment, it is my favorite song to play on an electric guitar and it is as rock and roll as we can make it. Our Hangout set transforms from acoustic to rock and roll and ends with “Devil, Don’t You Fool Me.”
I am not a very religious person, but I wrote that song at a time when I was listening to gospel music like The McCrary sisters. Songs in that vein were running through my head and “Devil, Don’t you Fool Me” popped out in a few hours, and I knew that was it.
Do you have separate personalities as a songwriter and performer?
Yes. I try not to stretch too far on stage and be something else. I had to figure out how to act on stage, how to get the crowd into it and how to get myself to the crowd. There is more control in the studio and the vibe is whatever you put in.
You are a songwriter, but you gave it up for a while after the release of your debut album Southern Drag. What happened during that time?
It was the culmination of writing the record and putting everything I had into it. I was constantly writing and singing and re-doing guitar tracks. I co-wrote some of the songs with my producer, but I was still booking, managing, and promoting myself, and it fried my mind. I broke out of the depression through playing with the band and that brought the music together and back to life again.
I no longer have time to write every day, but I do write at least every week. I get ideas while driving in the car or in the shower and I have to write them down. When it happens with the band, it is sparked by energy and it is a musical idea first
You are working on your second album. Will you release it on your own again?
I am finishing up recording now and it should come out at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I have a good producer helping me and it is the best work that I have done. It is easy to record a record now, and there are no longer $500,000 budgets for just-signed bands. I have to figure out a plan to put it out because I am doing it myself. If you make a business plan for yourself, and make a business out of your art, why should someone else be in control? I want to be independent for as long as possible.
You grew up in Chicago but settled in Nashville over five year ago. What is your relationship with the Nashville?
I live in East Nashville and it is a tight-knit town inside of a city. Everyone plays and hangs out with each other and it makes me more creative to have great people playing on the album. It is also easy to get caught up in how cool you can be in East Nashville and putting image above the music. Putting image first is the easiest way to fail and lose everything and end up drinking in a bar every night. There is a temptation to compare and there is a lot of jealousy, but everyone who is working hard is getting opportunities. Every style of music you can think of is in our neighborhood. The music venues have good music every night.
I am always looking for new music in local record shops. I just picked up Sturgill Simpson’s record and it shows there is real country music coming out of Nashville. It is just good music.
When I listen to a song, I want to feel that song and be able to relate. Well-written songs are ones you feel like you are in and you wrote it yourself. You can sing it in the car with the windows down and not be ashamed.