“One of my long-term goals is to keep my sound one step ahead of the rest; I want to be what everyone else is chasing,” and with that in mind, 26-year-old singer/songwriter and RCA Nashville recording artist Josh Dorr hit the ground running with a bold and ambitious mindset for the release of his 2014 major-label debut, the four-song Josh Dorr – EP.
Produced by Jim Catino, the collection features three songs co-written by Dorr on an EP that underscores the lyric-driven, rock-edged brand of country that Dorr calls his own.
The youngest of three brothers, Dorr grew up in a close-knit family in the resource-rich oil and coal-mining city of Gillette, Wyoming, where the wide-open fields and rolling hills also helped to fuel Dorr’s love of sports and the outdoors. Football became his passion in high school and college, initially attracting attention from recruiters until multiple injuries had him rethinking his direction.
“I had a gut-check kind of thing, like, ‘Are you gonna keep rehabbing and rehabbing just to get back to where you used to be a year ago?’ And then finally, I just decided it wasn’t for me, and I had to quit,” Dorr recalls, but with an ankle on the mend and time on his hands, he picked up an unused guitar that he’d bought a few years earlier.
“I just started playin’, tryin’ to learn some chords, and that’s when my friend put me in this college talent show. My first time playing for anyone – I was too shy to even play in front of my friends or my mom – and I played in front of 700 people and thought I was gonna have a heart attack. Probably out of sympathy, they were screaming and clapping when I got done, and it was just the kind of adrenaline rush that I needed to fill the void of what football did for me. And it probably saved me from getting in a lot of trouble.”
With his college football days behind him, Dorr decided to join his friends and enroll at the University of Wyoming for what was to be the start of his junior year, only to find that all of his past college credits wouldn’t transfer, leaving him essentially a freshman – and at a crossroads.
“I went by myself in a college town, went to the bar at like 3 in the afternoon and just was sitting there, trying to figure out what my next step was gonna be, and this bar band was in there sound checking, and I knew who the guy was: his name was Chancey Williams.” As luck would have it, Williams grew up with Dorr’s sister-in-law, and the two struck up a conversation.
“He asked me what I was doing, and I told him my whole story, and he goes, ‘Well, do you like country music?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And he offered to get me an internship in Nashville. About a month later, I got the call, packed up my stuff, and drove to Nashville in the summer of 2010; my car barely made it.”
Back-to-back internships at a record label and a music publisher offered perspective on the music industry, and Dorr also started writing songs.
“I kind of caught the bug, ’cause I’d always written stuff, whether it was poems or short stories through school, but I didn’t really understand why I wanted to do it; I just kind of liked it. Now I get why I was doing those things; it’s because I was meant to be here writing songs, but it just took a little while for me to figure it out.”
Musically, Dorr was reared on country radio of the ’90s: “I’m a huge Dwight Yoakam fan,” he says, citing Garth Brooks, George Strait, and Brooks & Dunn among the voices that helped define his country listening.
“Some of my best memories growing up were just riding around in my dad’s truck – back when seat-belt laws weren’t really that big in Wyoming,” Dorr smiles, “and I’d be walkin’ around on the bench seat, and I don’t know why, but ‘Heartland,’ the George Strait song, is like a time machine for me. Every time I hear that song, I am standing on my dad’s seat in his truck.”
Dorr’s college-era listening offered more than the two clear radio stations in Gillette, exposing him to a range of talent that broadened his palette beyond country, including such artists as Tom Petty, The Wallflowers, Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams, and John Mayer.
“I love the storylines of country and mixing that with the rock & roll edge that I try to bring to my style of country.” Noting the openness of the country format, Dorr says, “It’s great for people like me because I’m not a straightforward George Strait traditional kind of guy; I grew up on that, but it’s just my own thing.”
Lyrically, Dorr also wants to build a candor into his songs, “saying things in a way that I want to say ’em, and not being afraid to say it.”
But musically or lyrically, it’s Dorr’s passion to create music that will endure: “We want it to be cool now and cool 10 years from now, and then 20 years from now.”
But Dorr hit a pivotal moment in 2012 when his apartment caught fire, leaving him with little more than a few clothes, a guitar, and the songs he’d written on a now-waterlogged laptop. Debating a return to Wyoming or trying to rebuild his life and bus tables or whatever he needed to do to keep pursuing music in Nashville, Dorr took it as a sign when his still-functioning laptop recovered to where he’d left it: on his music player, with the song “Fire and Rain.”
Dorr smiles, “That was a big moment in my life.”
Recommitted, Dorr’s renewed focus led to co-writes on songs that landed in the USA Network series Necessary Roughness, as the theme to the Pursuit Channel series Open Season, and on the upcoming album from Casey James – a song that brought him to the attention of RCA and helped earn Dorr his record deal.
And with the launch of his debut EP, Dorr’s sights are set on the long haul, and he hopes that listeners will become fans, and that the fans will have as much fun as he does, as he says, “I just want to throw ’em on my back and take ’em on the journey with me.”