The creative mind of American Young’s Jon Stone is elsewhere. While he waits on a Tuesday morning for his duo partner Kristy Osmunson, he sits at a table at Whole Foods in Nashville’s Green Hills with his chin in his hand, chasing down an unfinished lyric in his head that kept him up late the night before.
The song that is heavy on his mind is a new tune called “What Are You Workin’ For?” about a Hispanic immigrant who works his fingers to the bone in America to send money back home to his family south of the border. It’s a song with a strong message that reminds listeners that not every paycheck made in the U.S. is blown on a good time over the weekend.
“That’s what I love to write,” Stone says. “That is uniquely identifiable to American Young and the music that we continue to make. When it comes to writing songs, we try not to write what everybody’s writing about, tired melodies or things you’ve already heard a thousand times.”
Sitting down with Stone and Osmunson for our CMT.com interview, they are complete polar opposites. Formally one-half of the duo Bomshel, she is a fiddle-playing vegan and yogi from Idaho who co-wrote Joey + Rory’s break out hit “Cheater, Cheater.”
A No. 1 hit-maker behind Lee Brice’s “A Woman Like You,” Stone is an Oregon native who would rather be outside hunting or in a recording studio working than be caught dead in any yoga class. But they complement each other as storytellers and entertainers in that they share a common goal to make compelling music that is authentic to today’s human experience.
“I think music is spirit in sound,” Osmunson says. “You realize what it does to cultures and what it does universally. It’s the one language that everybody speaks.”
“Music totally consumes me,” Stone adds. “I’ve learned to love performing, and singing together. But she’s such a natural entertainer, and it’s not natural for me. It’s natural for me to work out a song or work out a production on a record.”
The music throughout their 12-song debut AY is filled with refreshing dynamics and each song is painstakingly crafted to stand out in the current market. The duo touches on love in the lead single “Love Is War,” “Party in the Dark,” the soulful “Slow Ride,” “Better On You,” the closer “Something to You” and “Eighteen” featuring Brice.
With hushed instrumentation and a soaring chorus that draws the listener in, the opening song, “Be Here,” plays out like a call to presence and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The lighthearted “Point of View” plays up their differences as people and features an endearing human element in the recording. Pay attention to the first chorus. Is Osmunson singing “you,” or, “view?”
But their best storytelling falls toward the second half of the album. Written with Bob Regan, the haunting “God Sends a Train” is the true story of Osmunson’s mother keeping her faith while surviving a bad relationship and a car crash involving a train that nearly took her life.
“It was not a good time in my childhood,” she reveals. “But there was so much growth in my relationship with my mom in her recovery. That song brought our family together.”
“Life can change in an instant,” she adds. “She broke her neck in two places and she wasn’t supposed to walk. But she made a miraculous recovery, and it was empowering watching my mom take control of her own life. While it was a good lesson for me to observe, it was not the most comfortable song to write. It’s crazy because every time we play it, everyone has their own personal train wreck to share. Healing can be a very powerful thing.”
Osmunson’s voice is pure power when she sings “Soldier’s Wife (Don’t Want You to Go).” Written by Stone, Hannah Blaylock and Billy Montana, the military ballad tells the story of a wife and her veteran husband on their last night together before he returns to a war zone. Written with rising artist Haley Georgia, “Hometown Girl” sheds light on the grim reality of women who can’t escape their hometown roots.
“A lot of the record was trying to go after conversations that have a dialogue we haven’t heard before,” Osmunson says. “Even taking ‘Soldier’s Wife,’ we wanted to include a military song, but it was having that conversation that has never been told from the woman’s perspective. It’s important because it is equally as damaging on her life as it is on his.”
AY is produced by Stone, Brice and Justin Niebank. The album is available now.