Upon first glance, hand-holding husband and wife duo Joey & Rory appear as though they’re newlyweds or possibly even honeymooners. In fact, while he speaks, she gazes adoringly up at her husband, her eyes fixated on his face. And when she sings the songs he’s written, it’s apparent she’s the inspiration behind his words.
But Joey Martin and Rory Feek began their lives together many years ago and are continuing to the share the excitement of their recent success. Over the past year and a-half, they’ve not only become spokespersons for Overstock.com and finalists on season one of CMT’s Can You Duet, but they also landed their first record deal together on Sugar Hill Records. Their 2008 debut album, Life of a Song, produced fan favorite, tongue-in-cheek singles like “Cheater, Cheater” and “Play the Song.” Through it all, the singer-songwriters have remained sincere, authentic and humble.
“Gosh, if we move away from that, why are we even here?” Feek told CMT.com during a recent interview in Nashville after he and his wife had just finished touring the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. “They [fans] always respond to authenticity and genuineness.”
Recently, the two partnered with CMT One Country to assist charitable organizations such as Second Harvest. In fact, part of the profits from their holiday single, “It’s Christmas Time,” will be donated to help fight hunger.
“I think for us it was just important that we reach out, especially during the holiday season, to try and have the proceeds of what we’re doing go to help people who are hungry,” Martin explained. “It’s an awful thing to be hungry.”
Her husband, politely interjecting, added, “One of my brothers actually is at the mission. He’s been there for help for a good while. They get all of their food from Second Harvest, and so that’s one way that personally affects us in our lives.”
Furthermore, he said he felt inspired to write the single one morning while visiting his wife’s childhood home — a farmhouse in Indiana. He was moved by all of the memories and moments she had shared inside those walls.
“I just got all choked up and teary-eyed,” she said of the first time he sang the song for her. “It painted a picture of what my childhood Christmases were like.”
“It’s about Christ and Christmas,” he added. “Our faith is real important to us, and this is the time of year where you have so many different things coming at you that it’s easy to lose focus. For us, personally, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. And the song, it helps us, too, to remember what’s most important.”
What’s more, Feek also co-produced and co-wrote a project with producer Tim Johnson as part of a group made up of experienced songwriters in Nashville called the Song Trust. But what’s unique about this album, Merry Kidsmas, is that the entire CD is sung solely by children.
“As songwriters, a lot of the songs that we write, when all is said and done, become vehicles to help singers get more famous,” he explained. “Rather than let the focus of these songs be about the singers and their careers, we want the focus to be about the songs.”
Much like their single, a portion of these proceeds will benefit the United Service Organizations (USO). A veteran himself, Rory served in the Marine Corps for eight years and is well aware of the program’s impact. In fact, the project spawned from a song he and Johnson wrote in 2007 called “Bring Him Home, Santa” that gained national attention after a listener used the song in a powerful online video.
“It was really, really touching and made us cry,” Rory said. “Half a million people had viewed that by Christmas, and it was just an amazing thing for us to watch and to see the power of a song.”
In addition to these philanthropic projects, Joey & Rory have also been busy adding the finishing touches and tweaks to their sophomore album due out next April. As Martin described their upcoming new music, fans can expect a sound that’s “very acoustic” and “a little bluegrassy.” However, she says not much has changed from their first album, save more time devoted to songwriting and Feek being featured more as a vocalist.
“Of the entire record,” she said, “that’s what I’m most excited about — for people to hear how wonderful of a singer my husband is.”
The two aren’t interested in changing their traditional country style or sound, nor do they feel inside pressure from their record label to do so. But at the same time, they are anxious to succeed. And in a music industry that’s constantly evolving, achieving and maintaining success is not easy.
“That’s tough because when you do what you do — and you do it with all your heart,” Feek explained. “That’s sincere. That doesn’t mean it’s going to sound like everything else on the radio, and so sometimes when it doesn’t sound like everything else, it’s hard to get radio to be as supportive as you would like them to be.”
Take, for example, the words written boldly on Feek’s guitar. Before taking the stage at an awards show last year, he felt compelled to make a statement after viewing what a spectacle and production the night seemed to be. Feeling as though the show had moved away from the reasons he loved country music — for its “sincerity, authenticity and humility” — he quickly grabbed a white-out pen and jotted the words, “We Miss Country Music” on the front of his guitar.
“I know there’s room for all that,” Rory explained of the show’s production. “And there are lots of people who love it. It’s not our favorite, and so I think that caused us to grab some white-out and make a statement.
“That’s not a statement for TV,” he reiterated. “We’ve never taken it off, and we feel that way. In some small way, we feel like we get to try every day to play a role — or try to play a role — in bringing some of that back.”