A Conversation with Singer Songwriter Jonathan Singleton
|Jonathan Singleton – by Jessica Blankenship|
Turn on the radio dial and you might hear Josh Turner sing “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” or perhaps the suave Billy Currington belt out “Don’t.” What you might not realize is that the songwriter of those songs is also the lead man for a country music group rising on the horizon. Jonathan Singleton, who is known for his songwriting, singing, and guitar playing skills, is head of “Jonathan Singleton and the Grove.” They were recently in Lexington, Kentucky for a show at the Tin Roof. This past Friday, they took part of the Country Throwdown Tour stop in Cincinnati. I had the chance to talk with Jonathan Singleton about his experience on the tour and what fans can expect from the band and their music. You can purchase their 5 song EP at shows, as well as Amazon.com and I-tunes.
With Country Throwdown, there is such a diverse crowd listening. What do you hope to gain by doing this tour?
We’re still kinda getting our way up there. There’s so many people on this like Montgomery Gentry, Jamey Johnson, and Jack Ingram. Not to mention you get to see those play and learn something else from them, whether it’s what to do and what not to do. Most of the time, it’s been what to do. As people pass through, we’re playing kinda early and get to meet a lot of people who come up to the merch tents and talk with everyone. We’ve tried to take advantage of that and be really active with everybody. It’s just one more thing we’re excited to do. I think we were one of the first ones to jump on this tour when they said what they were going to do. We’re fans of the Warp Tour too. We don’t just listen to country music. We are aware of that and how they worked and build bands. That’s a big part of their idea; to get acts who needed a little more exposure and go out and do some stuff. Being ones of those bands, we’re glad to be doing it.
You mentioned that you’ve learned some things of what to do and what not to do. What is something that you’ve learned to do?
Jack Ingram has got a really good show. I’ve seen him a couple of times a few years ago. We made a point to go over and watch him play and how he works the crowd. We spend so much time balancing out musically what we do. We keep saying, “gotta get the music right” but then once you get the music right, there’s a whole slew of what tricks and stuff you’ve got to learn. Jack really good at that and we spend a lot of time just going out and seeing. They really are not tricks, he’s doing it for real. We spend a lot of time on the music. With his show, everything is dialed in from start to finish. We go see what other people are playing, what kind of gear they’re playing on, how they are getting to the stage, how they are getting stuff out, etc. We are learning 24 hours a day. Like in songwriting, I learn something new every day. I sit down and write and learn something every time I get up to play.
What do you like best, performing or writing songs?
I have to balance them out. I think we were off from December to now and did about 8 or 9 shows. I wrote five days a week. When this tour came, I was ready to take a break and switch it out. I love to do it. If I could do it, I would do six months of one and six months of the other. At the end of a tour, I start missing writing. If I’m sitting in a room, I can’t play, sweat, and scream.
You have written quite a few wonderfully written songs (Why Don’t We Just Dance for Josh Turner, Don’t for Billy Currington, Chasing Airplanes for Gary Allan). Who would be someone you would love to cowrite with?
Here lately I just wrote with James Otto and wanted to do that. I just wrote with Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers. Actually, James Otto, Warren Haynes, and I just wrote together. I would love to do things that are out of reach. I probably would never get to write with Willie Nelson, but I would love to. I did get to meet Kris Kristofferson and would love to write with him. As far as country stuff, I’ve been writing quite a bit with Little Big Town; they are some of my favorite guys. I wrote with Eric Church the other day, another one of my favorite guys. Another would be Dierks Bentley, I’ve been writing with him some. I’ve been lucky as far as that goes. Maybe it will come up one day with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, or Kris Kristofferson. With Warren Haynes, I saw him outside of the publishing office and thought “some lucky schmuck is writing with Warren Haynes today.” I went upstairs and they were like “hey this Warren Haynes is writing with James Otto.” I got nervous because I’m a huge fan of this guy. Sometimes you never know who you will write with.
Last year you were on tour with Eric Church and Ashley Ray. I actually caught the stop in Lexington at the UK Singletary Center last spring. That’s how I first heard about you. Do you think from that tour that you have gained fans?
Absolutely and Ashley has too. Eric Church fan base is a strong, strong thing. It’s amazing and Eric Church has the most die-hard serious fans. That’s what we’re working on. It’s a lifestyle for them. They wake up in the morning and put the Eric Church cd on. It’s a real serious thing. We got a lot of fans when we went on that tour. It picked up with the Twitters and Facebook. We’re trying to do the same thing. He’s doing it a million times better.
You mentioned Facebook and Twitter. Do you think being a new artist now that it is pretty viable that you have to keep in touch with your fans with them?
Yes, and we try really hard to be interactive and answer every email. We all do that ourselves and we’re all available. If there are suggestions, we listen. We really try to stay on top of that stuff and do it as much as we can. People get mad when you go away. They go “where you at?” Country Throwdown has been really good about that too with twitter stuff that’s going on. It’s a way to move people around fast now. You can reach a big group of people and move them in seconds.
You can send a new song to 50 radio stations, but if you put it on twitter about the song, you can reach thousands quickly.
It’s replaced the flyer. It’s the electronic word of mouth.
Can you imagine what Conway Twitty and Hank Williams would say about all this technology?
“That’ll never work!” (laughing)
Little Big Town had the Little White Church wedding today during the Country Throwdown. Have you had any surprises so far here in the beginning of the tour?
Just so hot it was down in Florida. Not really any surprises. It has gone to plan as far as that goes. It’s gone pretty smooth for us.
Are there any particular towns or shows you are looking forward to playing?
We’re looking forward to Chicago. We’re going to Mountain View, California, and looking forward to that. We do the last show in California and then we drive back from California to Nashville. I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to all of it. Chicago and here (Cincinnati) and Cleveland have really surprised us by how many country fans are in those areas, especially in Chicago and New York. It’s really surprising.
With your success in songwriting and being musically inclined with the band, what keeps you humble?
My band usually tears me down pretty much every day (laughing). The band really does keep everything level. My wife – we get to go home for a little while and realize we’re not as important as we think we are. We have been the band (The Grove) for ten years now. We know each other way too well to start getting big heads. We’re still building it up. The songwriting thing has been really well. The songwriting circle I run around with realize that we’re very lucky to be doing what we’re doing. It’s a dream for me and a lot of people. We keep each other in check and not tear each other down.
You recently released a 5 song EP. What can fans expect while listening to it?
We’re working on getting the whole thing out. The thing with the new EP is that we have a couple of things that probably won’t be singles on there. The live shows are the main thing. Our live shows are what we’re all about and we want to go out and play a lot of shows throughout the year. My goal when we started playing what that Dierks Bentley was playing 230 shows and I want to play 231. I still want to do that. I love playing in front of people and playing. The two are “When My Lover Comes Around” and “I’m Afraid of Storms.” They’re tunes that will never be singles but it’s the band, the live experience is what that’s all about. We have “Look Who’s Back in Love,” and “Probably Just Time,” the slow tune that we hadn’t put on anything yet. It’s just one of my favorite thing we do that’s a part of the live shows. We work it really hard and break it back.
After Throwdown, what are your and the Grove’s plans?
You know we’re not really sure right now. We’re hoping to get that record out. We may spend a couple of dates or months writing. Immediately plans are to go back to Florida on vacation when you’re on the beach and not up on stage. That’s the only immediate plan so far. We’ll definitely keep playing and do what we’ve been doing.
Do you have any plans for CMA Festival (Fan Fair)?
I really don’t know yet. They usually throw that thing really fast. I’m surprise by how quickly they put it all together. I’m sure there will be something this year. Last year we had the video shoot and we played four or five thing there. We played Wildhorse at 2 o’clock in the morning, so we closed the whole thing down. We’ll be down there for sure.
With the recent floods in Nashville, were you or any of the guys in the band affected by the floods?
The guys are all still in Jackson, Tennessee, which got hit too. It was pretty bad. I was kinda lucky as I was on a hill in east Nashville. My neighbors all had water in their basements. It was really frightening how quickly and how quick that could destroy some lives. Bellvue was the worst thing. In east Nashville, the river runs right beside it so the other side of 14th across Shelby, stuff was pretty much gone. We were really lucky because we were out of town. My wife was by herself with my dog.
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Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.