Josh Turner on How Hawaii, the South & a Failed Relationship Impacted His New Album

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Outback Concerts
Josh Turner performs at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 8, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. 

When Josh Turner releases Deep South on Friday (March 10), it will be his first new album in five years. Nobody has to tell the South Carolina-born singer this fact, though. “They’ve been champing at the bit,” he tells Billboard of his eager fan base. “I can’t blame them, as I’m ready to get it out myself. It’s pretty gratifying to be this close, and have a record in the top 15 [“Hometown Girl” is currently No. 13 on Country Airplay].”

Turner says the songs on the disc are a reflection of where he has been since the release of 2012’s Punching Bag. “I think that this is just basically a culmination record of the hard work I’ve put forth the past four or five years,” he said. “I feel like we cover a lot of ground on this record. There’s some story songs, there’s some ballads, some up-tempo fun and energetic songs and all things in between. I’m pretty proud of the record, and the way it came together, and it’s been a long time coming.”

Turner’s albums have contained their share of positive love songs, and Deep South is no different. Yet, Turner stretches a bit with the mysterious vibe of “Wonder,” of which he says, “I’m very proud of that song. I wrote it with Mark Narmore, who is a big buddy of mine. I just feel like we nailed that topic. I feel like anybody who has ever been through a failed relationship will be able to relate to the story, and the emotions. I hope the fans will allow themselves to kind of get lost in the song, and not be distracted by anything when they listen to it because it really does paint this picture of this guy who is thinking back to his relationship with this girl that didn’t work out. In his quiet moments, he thinks about 'what if?' What would things be like if they were still together? Does she think about me in her quiet moments? Is she married? Does she have a family? Does she have a shoebox full of pictures that she’s hiding that nobody knows about? Obviously, there’s been no contact or communication there, but I really think it’s a bittersweet, thought-provoking song.”

Turner didn’t avoid the obvious question -- did he have someone in mind when he wrote the tune? “It’s hard to write a song like that without the actual experience, or the actual relationship,” he admits. “There was definitely a personal experience that went into writing that song. I feel like anybody who has been through anything like that will be able to relate to that one.”

Several of the song’s album pay homage to life beyond the Mason-Dixon line. When asked what it was about the south that stirred up so many different emotions, he said “I just think the area is so culturally rich, and we have a long history and heritage with a lot of pride of who we are and the way we do things. We take pride in the simple things in life. Things might happen a little slower, but that’s the way we prefer it. There’s good food, and tight-knit communities, great church families, and high school sports. It’s just a great place to grow up and be from, and I feel that Deep South encompasses everything I’m about as a person and as an artist, and helps everyone understand where I’m coming from. That was a big reason we made it the title track.”

Turner fans will no doubt fall for the pure simplicity of “Beach Bums,” which isn’t exactly about life on the ocean. “That one is kind of a misnomer. It’s basically a song about a young couple who either can’t afford to go to the beach, or live too far away. They have the weekend, and they decide to go down to the riverbank and just pretend that they are on some tropical island somewhere. They’re just making do, pretending, and having a good time being together.”

The disc closes with “Hawaiian Girl,” which Turner tried to keep very authentic. “That’s one I wrote in Hawaii when my wife and I were on vacation. I had no idea it would end up on the record, but when it did, my producer and I reached out to a group that I had fallen in love with over in Hawaii called Ho’okena. They put their own special stamp on it, and really made it a cool moment for the end of the record.”

2017 marks fifteen years since the Grand Ole Opry star first turned heads with “Long Black Train.” He said the industry looks a lot different in that time span. “This business is always changing and evolving. You have to stay with the times unless you want to get left behind. I’m always willing to evolve and improve, and do something different. I bore real easy. I get tired of doing the same thing over and over again.”

Of course, family life helps to break up some of that opportunity for sameness. Josh and his wife Jennifer are proud parents of four sons, Hampton, Colby, Marion, and Samuel. He admits that it’s tough keeping up with their schedules, let alone his. “It’s amazing how fast they grow. You blink and it seems like they are changing overnight. They have a busy schedule, with music, sports, church, school, and all of that. What I try to do is just cherish the moments, and try to take it one day at a time.”