Just look at JT Hodges, cool as a cucumber, casually calculating his next move. He oozes cool, doesn’t he? He looks like the guy in high school who did his own thing while everyone followed. The kind of guy who could grab the lead role in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ while starring on the football team. The sort of guy who can keep a conversation about the Outlaws of country music over here, Dave Matthews over there and Gotye over there.

And he pretty much is that guy. Hodges comes across as well-spoken, thoughtful and humble. After a few years playing coffee houses in Los Angeles, the singer and his wife moved to Nashville, where he was picked up by Toby Keith‘s record label. His first single, ‘Hunt You Down,’ wasn’t a huge hit, but it’s a song that has style. The follow-up with ‘Goodbyes Made You Mine‘ is equally as captivating, but totally different.

“I’m a song guy,” Hodges says when pushed to explain what ties his eclectic and catchy wanderings together.

And it’s hard not to like him. He calls his father “Pops” and wears a quasi-pompadour, although not on purpose. “It’s kind of like just wake up, run your fingers through it a little bit, mess it up and just go on.” Of course it is.

Taste of Country: Is that a hairdo you fell into or did you have inspiration from anyone famous?

JT Hodges: [laughs] For the most part I’ve just kind of always worn it like that. My pops used to always basically just slick his hair back all the time, just comb it back. When I go in to get it cut I’ll say ‘Hey man, you know that classic James Dean picture –  you gotta love James Dean’s hair — try to make it look cool like that.’

How would you describe your brand of country music?

Gosh, I like that I have my own brand of country music.

You do. It’s really a unique sound. We don’t think that there’s anybody out there that sounds similar to you.

Yeah, thank you, I appreciate that. There’s a lot of influences of that heartland rock, you know, what the Eagles were doing in the ’80s, (John) Mellencamp, (Bruce) Springsteen, even Don Henley‘s solo stuff.

Growing up in that studio environment (his parents own Buffalo Sound Studios in Ft. Worth, Texas), being around so many different genres of music, it just became about a song for me. I always call it ‘country soul with a rock ‘n’ roll beat’ kind of deal. Definitely with some pop sensibility, as far as how Henley approaches his melodies. I don’t even really know, I’m just makin’ the music I make. I can’t really say.

We heard you mention Dave Matthews in another interview and that made a lot of sense.

Yeah, he was actually one of the guys that really inspired me to pick up the guitar in high school. I think the first record he released that I really got into was ‘Crash.’ And that was when I was a junior in high school. And then I went back to the first record with ‘Ants Marching’ and everything. I think the way he played the guitar and the percussive style… was just something that was really cool.

What is the last album you bought?

Gosh, probably Gotye. You oughta check him out, he’s kind of in his own world.

Are the first two singles indicative of what to expect from the rest of your first album?

I think you can get a sense of my approach to melody and the way I tell a story through a song. Yeah, you’ll get kinda an idea of what to expect but ‘Goodbyes Make You Mine’ and ‘Hunt You Down’ couldn’t be more different. I think those are more upbeat, uptempo tunes. There’s some more songs that kind of cut a little deeper into emotion.

But what I tell everybody is I think there’s a song for everybody on this record. In regards to what they like to groove to or what they like to hear in a song.

Talk about another one of the songs from the album, and tell a story that fans haven’t heard yet.

There’s a song called ‘Leaving Me Later’ on the record, it’s probably one of my personal favorites because it pays tribute to what country music has always been about. It’s a huge pendulum, and obviously now what country is now, there’s kind of a question mark to what it is because you got people out there saying well ‘That’s not country, this is country!’

Well the funny thing is, the Outlaws were called the Outlaws back in the day because people didn’t think they were country. There’s this whole pendulum of where country has gone, it swings back and forth, but I think the one thing that has remained constant is that country music is about the lyrics. The song ‘Leaving Me Later’ is this classic country.

I’ll never forget, I was out on the golf course and I was playing golf friends from my label Mark Wright and he had parred the first two holes and he said, ‘Man, this golf game is loving me right now. It may be leaving me later, but it’s loving me right now.’ And we’re all like, ‘Ahh! That’s it!’

Does your theater background help with writing songs at all?

I think that’s really more of a performance thing. It doesn’t help the songwriting process. I think being around songwriters that are more experienced and just learning and just doing it. You just gotta keep doing it.

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