Josh Kelley Talks ‘Georgia Clay,’ Life With Wife Katherine Heigl and Becoming a ‘Better’ Person as a Dad
‘Georgia Clay’ singer Josh Kelley will soon be hitting the road on a leg of Taylor Swift‘s mega-tour, but he was fly fishing in Florida with Justin Moore on a recent afternoon when Taste of Country caught him on the phone. Kelley answered his cell just as Moore had landed a “big fish,” and headed indoors to get out of the wind for our chat. “On the road, we pretty much do catch and release. You pretty much just let them go,” Kelley says. “We’ve already caught like three or four.” The singer opened up about which artist made him first fall in love with country music, what his next single is likely to be, life in the spotlight with actress/wife Katherine Heigl, and being a dad to their adopted special needs daughter, Naleigh — whom he reveals “has changed me for the better in every way.”
What’s the significance of ‘Georgia Clay’ as the title of both your single and album?
You know, it’s just like me being from Georgia, it just felt good. I said, “Guys, I think I’m gonna title the record this.” [It was] one of those moments that had to be, you know. It was actually one of the last songs I finished, too, so I didn’t have a title for the album yet — I just had an idea. We were trying to make sure that the album sounded cohesive all the way through and that every song made sort of an accidental concept. It turned out even better than I had imagined, honestly. We worked so hard. We worked for two years on this album, and it’s awesome to finally be at this point where this thing is finally out and we can promote it, and the first single has been doing great so far. If somebody had told me I was gonna have a Top 10 [with] the first song, I would have said, “I think you’re lying, man.” So we are very, very blessed. All we’ve done since we were kids — my older brother John and my younger brother Charles [of Lady Antebellum] — we were always jammin’!
What is the best story you’ve gotten from a fan that’s connected to ‘Georgia Clay’?
There was a guy from Georgia recently, and he said he was taking this girl he’d always wanted to date … he finally got a date with her, and he said he had his first kiss listening to that song. That was pretty cool, an unintended result. I said, “That’s awesome, man. Congrats, buddy!”
Do you know what the next single will be?
I think it’s going to be ‘Gone Like That.’ That is what’s looking like it’s going to be the next single, and it should be out sooner than later, I think. ‘Georgia Clay’ has been out there for 34 weeks now and it’s been doing great, and we’ll let it live however it’s going to live. I think it’s time to start moving to a new single, give this album some life, you know.
You got signed on to open for Taylor Swift this summer. How did you get word that you had gotten that gig?
I heard my manager walking down the hall screaming and yelling and she said, “You just got one of the biggest tours in the country: Taylor Swift,” and I said, “I am unbelievably excited, and my wife [Katherine Heigl] is going to be really excited! She is a huge fan!” Katie met her, but I haven’t. They met at the CMAs backstage.
Being married to actress, is life ever normal for you?
In Utah it’s very normal, yeah. In L.A. it’s real tough. We still have a house out there, so whenever we come out there it’s the paparazzi. Being from Georgia, you’re never prepared for anything even close to that. It’s weird ’cause you feel like you’re constantly putting your family’s life in jeopardy. They come around so fast, they cut you off, they run red lights. They put dealer tags on the back of their car so no one can track them, and if they get caught they always just go back over to whatever country they’re from. No joke! We’ve even tried wigs and to duck into cars, stuff like that. It’s hilarious! But it’s what it is.
Does Katie ever tour with you?
Oh yeah, she and the baby come out and we have a Pack ‘n’ Play in the back of the bus and we rock and roll.
How much cleaner is the bus when she’s on board?
A thousand times cleaner. I am a messy, messy guy!
And she doesn’t mind picking up after you?
No, she minds, but whenever she’s coming out on tour I wake up extra early and clean everything up.
How did you meet each other?
She starred in the video for ‘Only You.’ We met on the shoot. I was 25-years-old, I had just bought my first house — I bought it in Nashville — and I had moved back to Los Angeles to film the video, and I showed up that day and they’re like, “This is Katherine. She is going to be your leading lady in the video.” And I was like, “Great, wow!” I had known her work but all I had known was a movie called ‘My Father the Hero.’ I remember as a kid watching that movie I had thought she was really hot, so it’s pretty funny. At the very end of the shoot I said, “I want to invite you to dinner and I hope you don’t say no,” and she said “yes” and we’ve been together since that day. It’s crazy.
Watch the Josh Kelley ‘Only You’ Video, Starring Katherine Heigl
What do you do to make your relationship work?
You just make time for what you want in life, you known what I mean? I want it to work. I love my wife. I love my child. You just do it. I am always flying home, and they come out on the road with me every now and then. I’ve got a great manager who is really smart about putting in a lot of time for family time, and that really helps a lot!
Tell us about adopting your daughter Naleigh from South Korea. Did you know she had special needs before you got her?
We did know, and we were open to special needs. We checked off all the boxes of special needs that we felt we could handle, and she came to us with a heart problem. She had already had two surgeries in Korea, at 3-months-old and at 5-months-old. My dad is actually a heart doctor — he is a cardiologist and he’s checked on her a bunch of times, and he said that she’s 100%.
What about being a dad has surprised you the most?
Everything! She took us from being very much about ourselves to being selfless. Instead of living for my career and these weird goals, I’ve got a mouth the feed and someone to take care of and someone to raise. We live for the family now! It’s pretty great. I love it! She is definitely a daddy’s little girl too. I love getting her up in the morning and taking her to my studio, and we have breakfast together and all that stuff.
We love the lyric in the song you wrote for her, ‘Naleigh Moon': “I love the man you’re makin’ me.” What kind of man is your daughter making you in to?
A solid man! Better in every way. There’s no one word to all encompass that, you know. She has changed me for the better in every way. Awesome. I call her “Banana.” She loves it!
If you could spend 15 minutes with any country artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
My dad was a huge fan of Vince Gill when I grew up and he is now one of my labelmates which is so weird. I’d love to spend 15 minutes writing a song with him. I love his songwriting, I love the way he plays and I would love to write a song with him … and I’m hoping if you put that out there, maybe it’ll happen quicker! I have an agenda!
What’s the first country record you ever bought?
I actually bought Tim McGraw’s first record. I fell in love with it because I remember I got to slow dance in middle school to it with a girl I’d had a big crush on, and she let me grab her butt. It was ‘Don’t Take the Girl.’ I went through that whole album thinking maybe it will work for me later. It did!
Watch the Josh Kelley ‘Georgia Clay’ Video