The Josh Abbott Band reached for the stars for their first-ever music video, "Touch." With a surprising Hollywood twist and a lovely leading lady (Melissa Rycroft from CMT's Melissa & Tye), the cinematic clip has carried the Texas-based band to a national audience.
"I will never forget doing that video," says Abbott proudly during a visit to CMT.
Shot over three days in California, the video tells a bittersweet story about grief, healing and eternal love. Amid explosions and numerous special effects, Abbott portrays a soldier killed in combat who still haunts his wife's dreams. The band has dedicated the video to members of the military and their families.
"We were hoping to capture the element of the families of soldiers that fight these wars for us," Abbott explains. "We always want to glorify that, and we're always so nice and say, 'Oh, your son's so brave.' But we really have no idea how it feels to know that your son, your husband or your daughter is overseas shooting guns at people, being attacked or injured for life."
Although he's an approachable and gregarious guy, Abbott concedes that "Touch" is a rather heavy video to launch a national career, especially for an artist who is little known beyond Texas. However he carries a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitude when he's asked about wading into the musical mainstream.
Although they have entertained offers from major labels in Nashville, the Josh Abbott Band have remained firmly independent. Since their 2008 debut album, they've sold 450,000 digital tracks and 100,000 albums. With that career momentum and huge fan base, they are poised to break beyond Texas with a brand new album, Small Town Family Dream.
The project's title is appropriate. With much of the material written by Abbott, nearly every song captures life in a rural community. Named after Abbott's hometown, "Idalou" draws a peaceful portrait of faded paint on the highway and water towers waiting to be climbed. Indeed, the place is so quiet, the blinking stoplight never turns green.
Asked about the smallest town the band has ever played, Abbott says it was at a rodeo in Campo, Colo., a community of less than 200 people where fiddle player Preston Wait grew up.
"We'd been touring for about a year and a-half, and we'd had a little bit of success in Texas. We were getting a name for ourselves and had maybe two songs on Texas radio," Abbott recalls. "His town is on the southeastern tip of Colorado. Hell, that's an hour from the Texas border, if that. So people in his hometown would hear us on the radio, and they'd think we were the biggest deal in the world! They think, 'If they're on the radio, they've got to be huge!'"
Now the Josh Abbott Band have grown accustomed to playing for much larger audiences. In 2011 alone, they've sold 500,000 hard tickets. Even if a wider audience catches on, it seems unlikely Abbott will lose touch with his Texas roots.
"I hope people don't just like the songs. I hope they like what we represent and where we come from," Abbott says on behalf of the band, which also includes Eddie Villanueva on drums, James Hertless on bass, Caleb Keeter on electric guitar and harmonica and Austin Davis on electric banjo. "We hope they feed off our energy and we feed off theirs. We hope we put on a show where they said, 'That was great, and I'm kind of shocked! That band was really good!'"
As the album's lead single, "Touch" gained enough traction to appear on Billboard's country airplay chart for three months. And during a visit to Nashville, the ensemble made their debut appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Both are significant achievements for Abbott, who admits he has never taken a singing lesson.
"When we recorded this new album I thought, 'You know, those last two or three albums, I haven't pushed myself vocally. I've stayed in this box.' And I didn't want to be like that for this new album because I'm always trying to better myself. So I said, 'For every song on this new album, I'm going to push it.' When you hear the new album, there are some new notes and new octaves that I wouldn't have gone to before."
And that is why "Touch" ends on a big, dramatic note -- definitely on the single and hopefully onstage, too.
"It has been a challenge on a nightly basis to sing some of the new songs, especially on 'Touch' because that note on the end is key. When people hear the song, they listen to that note at the end and they go, 'Holy crap!' My friends were texting me, like, 'Dude, I didn't even know you could sing that high!' And I'm like, 'I didn't know either!'"