When songwriter Josh Mirenda (“Somewhere On A Beach,” “They Don’t Know”) sings “Til the Neon’s Gone,” it’s more than just a love song – and more than just a tip of the Stetson to a classic barroom accessory.
Mirenda’s wife, the former Kayla Joslin, is a vp for Joslin & Son signs, one of the last Nashville signage companies that creates custom neon branding. The firm’s handiwork can be seen up and down lower Broadway — hanging outside Alan Jackson’s AJ’s Good Time Bar and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, for example — creating a sort of crossroads for the Mirenda household’s vocational choices.
Thus, “Til the Neon’s Gone” is the perfect amalgam of their overlapping worlds: a country song that owes its hook to bright signage and a forever pledge. “Obviously I had her in mind when I wrote it,” Mirenda says.
Kayla was not, however, the first element in “Neon.” That initial piece was the forward-leaning chorus melody, a series of phrases built on repeating eighth notes and gentle stair-step movement. Cowriter Ashley Gorley (“You Should Probably Leave,” “Give Heaven Some Hell”) fashioned the passage in 2018 or 2019, when he and Mirenda were in the process of writing a different song – probably, Mirenda thinks, with Rhett Akins (“To Be Loved By You,” “Slow Down Summer”).
During that particular appointment, Akins was pulled away by an important phone call, and while he was gone, Gorley created what became the “Neon” chorus melody — reminiscent of the easygoing, midtempo ballads (such as “I Just Want To Dance With You” or “Ocean Front Property”) that became a George Strait trademark. Mirenda recorded it, and they went back to work on the other song when Akins’ phone call ended.
One or two months later, Jon Nite (“Break Up In The End,” “I Hope”) popped over to the Mirendas’ new house to work in the upstairs writers room. Mirenda had a simple title, “Neon Gone,” that he thought had potential as a rockin’ Jason Aldean-style piece. But Nite thought it had deeper potential if it became “‘Til The Neon’s Gone.” That title could have easily been adapted to an all-night tryst, but Nite thought it held more value as a symbol of lasting commitment.
“It could be like a lifetime love song, meets whiskey, meets the bar, meets neon,” Nite says.
They texted Gorley to get a blessing on using his chorus melody, then linked it to a series of enduring night-club aesthetics: “I’m gonna love you ‘til the neon’s gone/ ‘Til there’s no whiskey left in honky tonks/ ‘Til there ain’t dirt roads in country songs/ And steel guitars don’t play.”
Mirenda followed that with an image that shows he has a realistic view of the performer’s life and the fickle nature of a fan base: “And when that crowd forgets that we’re around/ And you feel like those lights ain’t shinin’ down.”
“In the music industry, there’s peaks and there’s valleys – probably more valleys than peaks, if we’re gonna be honest,” Mirenda says. “When you’re hot and you’re on a run, it’s easy for everybody to be on your side. And then when you’re not, it’s easy to be forgotten. And you can incorporate that into life outside the music industry. There’s highs and lows in every relationship, and that’s just [me saying], ‘Hey, when it’s a low point, I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere.’”
That shower of images as a metaphor for commitment is, unintentionally, a play on a time-tested ideal, where forever gets compared to seemingly stable pillars of life and nature. Randy Travis had several songs with that ideal, including “Forever And Ever, Amen” and “Deeper Than The Holler.” Other examples include Restless Heart’s “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” Ed Bruce’s “Love’s Found You And Me,” Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer” and Stevie Wonder’s “As.”
The verses came with other classic touch points. Nite crafted the primary melody, which starts on an after beat on its way to the next bar of music, similar in fashion to the verses in Pat Green’s “Wave On Wave” and Garth Brooks’ “That Summer.” Nite also supplied the opening lyrics — “I’ll keep you swayin’ ‘til the last dance/ You can be my Mary Jane” — an obvious nod to Tom Petty.
“When I was coming up in music, playing clubs and stuff, I’d always close with [‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’]” Nite says. “One of my favorite memories is I played that song in the middle of Indiana at the end of the night for, like, 500 people in this bar for a wedding reception. The whole place was just jumping up and down, hands up in the air. It was pretty nuts for a kid that didn’t know what they were doing.”
The verse ends by twisting a signature Strait stance on cowboys: “Good ones don’t always ride away.” A bridge ties it up nicely, with a note about the guy’s boots taking the lead (a tie-in to the “Last Dance”) and about his hands “layin’ you down / ‘Til the day they lay me down.” That really says forever.
Nite sang lead on the guitar/vocal, then built it up to a demo that got shopped around Music Row for a bit. One artist seemed enamored with it, but failed to cut it for an album project and let it go. Shortly after, Mirenda signed a recording deal with Average Joes, and he kept “Neon’s Gone” for himself.
Mirenda produced it, too, though COVID-19 posed problems for the recording process. He sent the tracks out to be built one instrument at a time by six musicians, including two associated with Aldean: guitarist Adam Shoenfeld and bassist Tully Kennedy. Shoenfeld contributed crunchy guitar chords that vaguely simulate a Petty recording, and Kennedy laid in an essential pulse while finding key moments for adventurous fills.
“I love Tully Kennedy as a human being and as a friend, but when it comes to bass, he’s an artist in his own right,” Mirenda enthuses. “That guy is unreal.”
Nite’s original key was a perfect fit for Mirenda’s voice, and it took little time for him to apply his commercial, moderately grainy, tone. “Out of all the songs that I’ve done, that was the easiest song for me to sing,” Mirenda says. “I think we did the whole thing in two passes. The hardest part was doing all the background vocals and all the ‘oohs’ and stuff at the end where it sounds like a girl. Obviously, I’m not a girl. So those took me a little bit more time.”
Average Joes made “‘Til the Neon’s Gone” his first official release to country radio, issuing it via PlayMPE on Jan. 21 as the most obvious introduction. Given the song’s connection to his wife’s signage enterprise, the sentiment he brings feels natural and authentic. And the opening verse, with its Petty and Strait markers, provides an unofficial road map to understanding Mirenda at a musical level.
“All the songs are me,” he allows, “but that was the most ‘me’ song ever. I wanted my first impression as Josh Mirenda the artist — to fans, anybody else out there listening — that this is what you’re gonna get. If you like it, come on.”