There’s not a lot of room for pretentiousness in Lee County, North Carolina. In an area where brick manufacturing, cotton and tobacco reign supreme, there’s a feeling of “What you see is what you get.” That mentality extends to the mindset of Josh Phillips – a personality trait that caught the attention of independent powerhouse, Big Machine Records and is reflected on his debut EP, LEE COUNTY EP (THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS).
“I grew up in a really small town where we didn’t have everything, but we had everything we needed,” says Josh.
His dad’s affinity for old school Rock and Country – from AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers to Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. – kickstarted Josh’s love of music during his formative years. Unknowingly, that would later shape his sound as a singer/songwriter.
Following years of singing in the church youth choir every Sunday and guitar lessons beginning at age five, his mom reluctantly allowed him to stop taking lessons. “It sounds crazy now, but I just didn’t want to play. At the time, I was more worried about baseball than anything else.”
A standout on his high school’s baseball team, Josh went on to play in college with hopes of following his grandfather’s path to play professionally. Yet, a meniscus injury would end his athletic pursuits. “I think God works in mysterious ways because having that taken from me was pretty bad, but then it turned into music and finding a new love in something that I loved even more than I could’ve ever loved baseball.”
Josh picked back up the guitar and began writing, soon finding himself playing clubs in his Tar Heel State and developing a steady following. One night, through word of mouth and social media, he connected with another local musician who had dreams of making it in the music business … Luke Combs.
“We began to message each other on Twitter about doing a show together. After that, we'd just hang out and make a little money, drink some cold beers and play music that we loved.”
Shortly after watching his friend venture off to Music City and with the encouragement of family and friends, Josh knew that he too had to roll the dice and make the move. “You either jump and move back ten years later or wish that you had.”
Josh found the music mecca to be intoxicating – but he also faced the sonic challenge of conforming to something he wasn’t. He wanted to remain true to the blue-collar, rustic roots that were a part of his life, but the city could sometimes – inadvertently – influence artists to follow other sounds or trends in order to “make it.”
“The biggest thing for me has always been for people to understand that I’ve been where they’ve been. I’ve been the guy that has to work a little extra, so he can get a lawn seat at a concert, so when people from back home listen to my music, I want it to remind them of where we came from, how we live and how hard we work.”
His experiences are echoed on free-wheeling songs “Turn It Up” and “Outskirts,” while he can also turn on a traditional dime with the reflective “Long Way Home” and fan-favorite “In a Bar Somewhere.” The latter marks Josh’s upcoming single, which will be released March 8 via Big Machine Records.
With a solid foundation beneath him, Josh is humbled to be able to take his music to the masses. Following coveted slots on major tours with Brantley Gilbert and Luke Combs, Josh will hit the road as direct support for Tyler Farr on select dates Spring 2019. Yet, he knows that it goes much deeper than just him.
“It's definitely a God thing. It’s a lot of prayer and hard work paying off. It’s a testament to how I was raised and the friends backing me up along the way. You’ve got to follow your dreams and chase it. We only get one chance, that's why we're here.”