Steel Magnolia Reflect on New Music, Romance and Five Years Together
Steel Magnolia's Joshua Scott Jones and Meghan Linsey first met at a karaoke bar in 2006, and just a few years later went on to win CMT's 'Can You Duet?' and land a record deal. Since then, the on-and-offstage couple has toured with Brad Paisley, been nominated for an ACM for Top New Vocal Group or Duo and, as of Jan. 11, released their debut full-length album, which debuted on iTunes' Top 10 Albums chart.
They've know each other for close to five years now -- a realization that Linsey comes to during the duo's conversation with us -- but they're still a playful pair. When Jones sends out a questionable Twitter update to the band's fans, Linsey protests and insists that he sign his name on his own tweets. "He doesn’t have to censor mine," Linsey, laughing, tells Taste of Country. "It’s more like me censoring his, usually. But he makes me sign mine because sometimes I’ll be like, “Yay! I’m getting my hair done today!"
Lounging on the bed in their cozy New York City hotel room just before heading to their album release concert, Jones and Linsey not only open up about writing the just-released record, but also let us preview a rough demo recording of a promising, brand-new song they're already working on, 'You're on My Mind.' During one of the most exciting weeks of their career, Steel Magnolia sit down with Taste of Country to talk music and touring, their 'Grease'-inspired 'Last Night Again' video and one of the most romantic moments in their relationship.
There’s such an energy to this new album. Can you describe the progression of it?
Joshua Scott Jones: Originally, we wanted to make a front half of the record that was a new country sound -- new pop-country -- and towards the back half we wanted to make it pay homage to traditional country. And I think we’ve gotta do that in some ways -- maybe not as much as we originally thought we were going to [have to]. It is a good progression, I think. If you’re to listen to the first song on the record and the last song, back to back, you wouldn’t think they came from the same record, maybe. But I think the middle of the record really has a way of tying that all together. We got a chance to search for outside songs, meaning songs other people had written, and pick and choose a few great ones that really tied the record together, too. Luckily, Nashville’s riddled with really great writers.
Megan Linsey: We started out with seven songs that we had written, and then we kind of looked outside of those seven just to see, "OK, is there something we’re lacking on the record?" We kind of filled the holes that way.
Performing as a duo and also as a couple, do you pull inspiration from any other musical pairs?
JSJ: Oh, yeah. Before we were on the television show, we’d look up old videos of Johnny and June and the Everly Brothers, and I think I even got on there checking out all kinds of stuff -- Meatloaf -- just to see all the different possibilities and ways to go. Bonnie and Delaney -- we’re really big fans of them and their daughter. That’s the great thing, man, about having great music out there. You’re kind of a thief. You try to be a clever thief. You try to pick apart the best parts of what you like about things and put that into your own show.
Meghan, what is the most romantic thing Joshua’s done for you?
ML: Oh, this is so easy [laughs].
JSJ: She’s being honest, all right?
ML: No, actually, actually, he one year made me a cake from scratch and then he took this old vintage guitar and sanded it, painted it for me, and wrote on the back the initials “CBYDTY” -- it stood for “can’t buy you diamonds this year.” I thought that was really sweet. See, that was before we had … this was like when we heating our apartment with our oven and we had nothing. It was very thoughtful.
JSJ: I didn’t make the cake from scratch. I bought box mixes.
ML: Well, that’s from scratch to me.
JSJ: I went over to my buddy’s house and I made all these different cakes, and I layered and I cut it. But I forgot to ice the middle, so when you cut the cake it just kind of went … there’s all these layers of cake, and there’s no icing in the middle of the layers to hold it together. But there was all this moist, delicious cake.
The ‘Last Night Again’ video is so fun. Whose idea was it to go ‘Grease’ with it?
ML: It was actually our manager. We were on the ACAs on FOX. We performed ‘Keep On Lovin’ You,’ and we were trying to think of an idea to do something outside of just standing there with a guitar and singing. You know, it’s Vegas! So we were like, “Why don’t we do something that’s kind of theatrical?” She said, “How about ‘Grease’?” It just made sense for us to do that because our style is kind of similar to that anyway. It was easy for us to fit into those roles. It was kind of cool to use that as a teaser for the video.
We filmed the video, and it was probably the most fun we’ve had on a video set so far. The first two, we were a little nervous. It gets easier when you do it a couple times. We just had fun with it. We just did it. It’s cool to actually be, you know, we’ve been out for a year and a half and to get to do these things again -- go to awards shows, film videos -- and actually be comfortable with it now, whereas before you were so nervous you can’t even think straight.
Was that scene in the video anything like the scene when you two first met?
ML: [Laughs] The one in ‘Keep On Lovin’ You’ was. That video was based around a karaoke bar, and we met in a karaoke bar. Golly, it’ll be five years in February. I was working, and he came in after work one night. That’s the story.
When you’re on the road together, what can you not leave home without?
ML: Yeah, that’s a good one.
ML: God. What else, Josh? I haven’t left home without this one in a while [points to her dog, Penny].
ML: I’ve had my dog on the road. I’ve probably had her two-and-a-half months and she’s pretty much been everywhere except for Jamaica. She couldn’t go to Jamaica.
When you were on tour with Brad Paisley, what did he teach you?
ML: I think we learned a lot just watching him. I think he’s very together. He’s an amazing entertainer and musician, but he’s got his stuff together too, you know? I think that a lot of musicians don’t because we’re all crazy.
JSJ: I kind of call him the Peyton Manning of country music. He’s just so prepared and always knows what the next move is. He’s really on top of it.
ML: There’s a lot to be said about that and just learning how to put your show together. Up to the minute, he knows what’s happening.
JSJ: He’s such a good musician, too. He’s so dedicated, and he writes and draws up all the art and everything too for his shows. All those cartoons he’s hand drawn. Watching those guys rehearse, you learn a lot. Their musicianship is incredible. You can learn a lot about who you surround yourself with and how to put on a show and how to be professional around Brad, too. It was great. It was a real blessing to be on that tour.
Who else do you aspire to one day go on the road with?
ML: I think Reba would be really cool. I love Reba. I have a lot of respect for her. We’ve gotten to hang out with a couple times and she’s just so cool. She’s one of those ones that I always wanted to meet, and then I met her and I wasn’t disappointed. She was exactly who you would think she’d be.
JSJ: I wouldn’t mind going back out with Brad. I think that’d be cool. Hopefully he’ll ask us back -- he said he would.
ML: I think we got spoiled 'cause he was our first tour.
JSJ: I’m a totally reactionary. I don’t like change. I like what I’m comfortable with. I’m always up for an adventure, but I like to know what I’m doing. I think if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
Is it ever difficult to perform a personal song like the new album's final track, 'Glass Houses,' for a crowd?
JSJ: Well, it depends on who you’re performing it for. I think there’s a level of wanting people to get the song, so it’s like when and where to perform it -- there’s a time and place for everything. I think as entertainers you realize that, you know, you’re not gonna crack jokes at a funeral. I mean, there’s a time and place to perform that song, as far as the venue goes and probably, too, as far as the set list goes. And I think with that song not being … nobody’s become familiar with the record yet. We try to play upbeat stuff. It’s more a songwriter, sit down and listen [to it] lyrically. It’s more of a poem, that’s what it is -- put into a song.
So yeah, it is [difficult] in that way. You want the audience to be fragile with the fact that if you’re trying to say something and pour out your heart, you want people to listen. I think that’s where it would become tricky. Just like if you’re going to tell somebody a story that means something to you, you don’t want them checking their phone or looking for their car keys -- you want them to listen to what you’re saying. It’s kind of the same thing.
Even though your first album is only just being released now, have you been working on new material?
ML: We’re always working on stuff. It’s harder now 'cause we’re really, really busy, but we try to get writers out.
JSJ: Here’s something that we wrote with this guy Richie Brown. I really like it [plays a demo of a midtempo new song, ‘You’re on My Mind’].
ML: We’re just kind of feeling it out. It’s so early 'cause we’re just releasing this record. So it’s like, we haven’t really, really thought about the next record yet.
JSJ: I have. I’m ready to record the second record.
ML: You’re also ready to sell out Madison Square Garden, so …
Watch Steel Magnolia 'Last Night Again' Performance Video