Jack to Jesus: WNC country singer releases new album, sets sights on Nashville
It’s all about the song. That’s what the goal is for Joe Lasher Jr. At 19, the country singer has spent the better part of the last four years zigzagging around Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia, stepping in front of the microphone in countless dive bars, restaurants, festivals and your backyard if the mood is right.
Hailing from Weaverville, Lasher proudly embraces his Southern roots, with a keen awareness of family and friends, that feeling of your place in the world amid those who know you best — around the bonfire, on the lake, in the backwoods and everywhere in-between.
And in an era when the Nashville music scene is going through one of its biggest transitions, Lasher stands atop of the Great Smoky Mountains with his eyes aimed westward, to that horizon where his destiny resides. With acts like Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line dominating country radio in recent years, names like Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Jason Isbell are finding footing in this new chapter, one that harkens back to the golden age of country music, back to the basics, and also the most important ingredient to a successful career — the song.
Lasher is a voice, tone and attitude that make you set down your drink, only to swing around from the bar and say, “Damn, who in the hell is that up there?” Knocking on the door of his 20s, Lasher is well aware of the hard work and sacrifice needed to one day see his face staring back at him from the bright lights of the marquee, somewhere, anywhere in this crazy, beautiful world.
In one regard, he’s already put in endless miles, the blood, sweat and tears of playing in front of a raucous crowd one night, only to step onstage in front of crickets the next. In another regard, the game has only begun, with the ball squarely in Lasher’s court.
Garret K. Woodward: What’s the landscape of Joe Lasher Jr. look like in 2016?
Joe Lasher Jr.: It’s going crazy. It’s an uphill climb. We can’t tell the future, but we can’t see the ground. We’ve got our nose to the grindstone. And we’re trying to get to where we want to be, which is on radio stations across the country.
GKW: And with the rise in your popularity, the expectations change. How are you dealing with all of that?
JLJ: I’m doing great. The live shows are always getting better. With the new record, we’re hoping to get some radio play with our Southeast tour and festivals we’ve got planned to play.
GKW: Is your career a slow burn or one that’s going faster than expected?
JLJ: I think it has gone fast. You know, I’ve been doing this for about three and a half years. And as long as that may seem, it’s not really long at all. The achievements and the goals we’ve accomplished, I’d say it has happened fast. Right now, it’s starting to grow to where we’re getting some attention. Our hard work is paying off, but we’ve got a long ways to go. A slow burn at a fast pace. Nonstop for three and a half years now.
GKW: And you’re only 19 years old, right?
JLJ: Nineteen, yes sir. [Laughs].
GKW: With all this effort and hard work, do you sometimes forget you’re still a teenager?
JLJ: That is a hard question. I have cut off a lot of my social life, but by doing that I’ve gained an incredible social life with my music. I’m not at the football games with my buddies on Friday nights, I’m in some town I’ve never been to before, playing and making new friends. So, it works both ways.
GKW: Where do these dreams of yours come from?
JLJ: It developed with my music. I was always a big football fan. I wanted to go to college and play football. I broke my leg my freshman year. Out for the season. And I’ve played guitar since I was eight years old. I’d been around music my whole life. My dad was in a big local band here in the 1990s. When I was out with my knee injury, I started playing open mic nights around the area, places like Blue Mountain Pizza [in Weaverville]. I just kept setting these goals and having fun with it. I wanted to get my own night at Blue Mountain Pizza, and I achieved that goal. Then I wanted to get on the Wild Wings Café circuit, and achieved that. I just kept setting personal goals and reaching them. Then it got to the point where my goals were much bigger than our town. I want to move to Nashville. I fell in love with this while I was doing it.
GKW: And you recently opened for Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts. Both huge names in country music. Did you take anything away from that experience that you apply to your own career?
JLJ: I did. You know, when you go from playing in front of five people and knowing in a few months you’re going to be playing in front of around 18,000 people with Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts, it’s incredible. It makes you nervous, and it’s surreal — it’s all happening. After that show was over, I had a new goal, which is the goal I’m working on now. I want to do this full-time at that Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts level. That size crowd, all the time.
GKW: You have to have that mental conversation with yourself, where you say come hell or high water this is what you want to do.
JLJ: You do. You have to dip your toes in the water. If it’s too cold for you, you’re not going to want to jump in. But, when it feels just right, you’re all in.
GKW: And you’ve always remained really grounded, where you’ll play a huge stage like The Orange Peel, and yet still be out at The Rendezvous in Maggie Valley playing for all the local fans, the people who have been with you from the start.
JLJ: I’m all about my hometown. All the local folks, in Maggie Valley, in Weaverville and Asheville. They all matter to me. I don’t really like to call them fans. I like to call them friends. I want to know everyone’s name. They mean the world to me and I get so much from them.
GKW: Where does your work ethic come from?
JLJ: I think from my dad. He had kids when he was young. He didn’t go to college, but he has worked very hard. And I watched all of that. He’s my manager, too. So, I get it in the blood and it carries on, from what he says to me for advice that I apply to my life and career.
GKW: Why country music? What about it appeals to you?
JLJ: I’m from Western North Carolina. I hang out with my buddies. We flip on the radio and I relate to everything they talk about. It’s real music. And nobody writes the same way. With every person I write with in Nashville, I learn something new.
GKW: What do you think about Nashville these days? There’s a lot of transition now.
JLJ: I believe there’s a place for it all. Bro-country, as they call it, got really big, really fast. And it’s a cycle. Everything that comes into Nashville moves out of Nashville. I think pop country is on its way down. And you have folks like Chris Stapleton, who I’ve looked up to for a long time, and he’s winning all these awards. He’s an incredible songwriter. It’s always about the song. You can have the looks, the marketability, you could have everything, but if you don’t have a good song, it’s not going to work.
GKW: Where does that voice of yours come from? And what are you feeling when you’re onstage?
JLJ: My mother sings like a songbird, and I get my voice from her. When I’m onstage, I get an energy that I can’t get off the stage. It’s a natural thing, and I can feel it. When you’re playing for an audience and you’re both sharing the same energy and power, and you’re all going out on the same journey, it’s a feeling like no other. To know I’m influencing all these people in front of me, but at the same time, they don’t know how much they’re influencing me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Want to go?
Country singer Joe Lasher Jr. will host an album release party for “Jack to Jesus” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18, at The Orange Peel in Asheville. Outshyne and Devils in Dust will open the performance. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show.