After a seven-year career as a songwriter in Music City, Josh Kerr shifts into a new role as artist with the upcoming release of his debut studio album, How Do You Remember Me. It’s taken a while to get here: Kerr says that when he first moved to Nashville and began to pursue songwriting, he had no ambitions as a performer.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be in a band. I listened to the Goo Goo Dolls, The Fray, Lifehouse and Kings of Leon on repeat,” Kerr tells Country Now. “Being the lead singer of a band was kind of in my wildest dreams. However, I gave up slightly on that dream when I went to college, until my family moved to Nashville and I realized that being a songwriter was an option. I started writing songs with other people, and that’s truly when I fell in love with it.”
Over the course of those years, he started racking up hits, putting his stamp on tracks such as “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Dibs” by Kelsea Ballerini, “Never Comin’ Down” by Keith Urban and “My Girl” by Dylan Scott. Kerr’s new project is inextricably informed by the years he put in as a writer, and in fact, every song on How Do You Remember Me predates his career as an artist.
“Every song on the album was actually written before I even decided to do the project. I was listening through my catalog of hundreds and hundreds of songs from over the past seven years, and realized the rate at which songs get recorded could never equal the amount of songs written,” he explains. “The vision for this record was to showcase who I am as a songwriter and as a creator, so it was vital to the process that all the songs were mine.”
To that end, Kerr co-wrote every song on the album, and produced the project himself, too. At this point in his career, he wouldn’t cut an outside track. “A songwriter wouldn’t truly benefit from me doing that unless a song went to country radio,” he points out. “I would feel too guilty taking a potential cut on a major artist away from someone.” Even with his artist’s hat on, Kerr’s mindset is still informed by his place in the songwriting community.
Speaking of that community, How Do You Remember Me is brimming with co-writes and collaborations with Kerr’s peers. “In Case I Never See You Again,” the newest track shared off the forthcoming album, came out of a writing session Kerr had with HARDY and Jacob Davis — two of his fellow hit songwriters. Both have experience as performers under their belts, too, and HARDY is currently climbing the country charts with his first single, “Rednecker,” but Kerr says that Davis and Hardy’s expertise as writers was what truly made magic that day.
“Jacob Davis and I were out on the road on the Black River bus with HARDY for the weekend. We had already written a great song, and then ‘In Case I Never See You Again’ just kind of fell out. I remember singing some semblance of the first phrasing of the chorus that HARDY and JD took and perfected,” he recalls. “The way the two of them can shape a lyric around a melody is insane. HARDY sang the vocal, and he has a way of making everything sound even better. The two of them being artists didn’t really affect writing the song at all. That’s probably because they are both prolific No. 1 songwriters. They are both amazing artists, but they’re even better songwriters first.”
Elsewhere on How Do You Remember Me, Kerr celebrates the duet format with two male-female vocal collaborations. One features British singer-songwriter Amy Wadge, the other fellow Nashville stalwart Heather Morgan, while the project’s ninth track, “Only,” also includes a sweet cameo from someone country fans might find very familiar. Kerr says he loves male-female vocal pairings, both sonically and as an added element to a song’s storyline. “When I started brainstorming the project, I knew I wanted to incorporate that into the album,” he notes.
Much of the music on the new album takes a look at heartbreak through a rearview lens. In the project, Kerr’s penchant for crisp visuals and cinematic, nostalgic details emerges as his calling card — though the singer says he didn’t start collecting songs in order to make a heartbreak album per se. “When I was putting together this project, I was making lists of songs I loved that no one had put on a record yet. There was no theme at all in the beginning,” he relates. “But when I decided to cut ‘How Do You Remember Me,’ I knew that was the title of the record. It definitely does create an intentional theme, but it’s more than just the theme of looking back and heartbreak ballads.
“This record was created over seven years of my life, in different seasons, paired with co-writing with so many different kinds of people, yet somehow it all fits,” Kerr goes on to say. “…That’s what this record is about. Writing songs that I love, with people I love, that I hope the world loves. And of course, I do find that I naturally gravitate towards heartbreaking ballads. Even before I was writing songs, I was listening to a lot of sad ones.”
Be that as it may, Kerr is far from heartbroken these days: He recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend Tae Dye, of country duo Maddie & Tae. “I am so insanely happy and she is genuinely the best ever. I’ve way out-kicked my coverage,” he jokes, adding that especially since both he and his bride-to-be are seasoned songwriters, it doesn’t feel counterintuitive to be singing sad songs during such a joyful time in his life.
“The reason I can perform all these songs and put them out into the world is because I finally found my champion. She understands what it’s like to perform heartbreaking songs because she is an artist,” he points out. “It’s amazing to have a partner that understands the artistic aspect of the separation of a performance and true feelings.”
After all, the tracks on Kerr’s album may have come from his pen, but that doesn’t mean he’s currently living all of their stories. “I also think it’s important to note that while a lot of these tracks sound like true stories, some of them aren’t my stories. This isn’t a collection of songs about my life as much as it’s a collection of songs that I love.”
How Do You Remember Me will be released November 8.