by Anna Ervin
It’s 2013. I’m at the gymnasium at my local university surrounded by cowboy hats and red solo cups. One of my friends is eager for me to hear a new artist he’s been listening to. Despite the number of steel-toed boots on the gym floor, I’m surprised to hear a handful of hip hop tracks coming out of the speakers. After the show, we get an opportunity to meet the artist. I purchase a flat billed hat that says “DOPE” across the front and he signs it “Josh Sallee.”
Fast forward to 2021, where I’ve found myself sitting across from Josh at one of my favorite local coffee shops in OKC. He’s been busy throughout the pandemic getting ready to release his new album, and I wanted a chance to catch up with him during his down time.
“Wooooow,” Josh exclaimed as I brought up the 2013 show, “with Stoney LaRue? What was it called, ‘Chaps and Raps?’” Sounds about right.
“I started making music in 2011-2012,” Josh explained, “when I was just getting out of college. 2014-2015 was when it started becoming a career. At that time, I had just dropped an album and had a release show. We were getting booked on so many shows. We were taking whatever we could get, no matter what it was. If it was $50, or $1000, we would do it.”
“We were just trying to make new fans, and here we are years later,” he gestured towards the table, “so it came full circle.”
Although Josh has been making music for the better part of a decade, the pandemic forced him to take a step back from certain aspects of his career, like performing. Looking back at the handful of his shows I’ve seen in the past, it’s clear that he puts a lot of love and intention into his time on stage. I couldn’t help but wonder how he had been coping with the absence of that.
“It’s been horrible,” he said. “One of the best parts about making music is one of those shows where the energy is up, and in that moment there’s really no thought going on. You’re just having the best time of your life, you’re just trying to express yourself.
“At the same time,” Josh continued, “independent touring is really hard. For every great show there was a shitty show. I don’t miss that part, but I definitely think that coming back, the music industry is about to have a massive boom. There are a lot of people that are ready to go. I’m ready to get back out there.”
When I asked if he was planning on gracing the stage again anytime soon, he explained that he’s been doing his best to maintain social awareness and responsibility. “Oklahoma has been pretty open during the whole thing, like obviously we still have masks but now, it’s pretty much back to normal. I’ve seen places that are at full capacity. It’s hard because you don’t want to offend anybody and you don’t want to pull the trigger on your show too early. You want to just be respectful of it and that’s kind of what I’m doing.”
“I’ve had a bunch of show offers,” he explained, “but I’d rather roll it out with the album, not just perform to perform.”
Josh’s album, Flamingo, is expected to be released during Summer 2021. “In a quick summary,” Josh said, “it represents artist purgatory. Flamingo is this place that I’ve been stuck in while making this. Now I know I’m out of it, but that’s what the album talks about. I didn’t know if I was done. I was in between quitting and I had to reflect on all of it.”
“Flamingo also derives from Oklahoma sunsets when they’re pink,” he continued. “That moment when they’re pink is super fleeting. You gotta be out there for maybe 3-5 minutes or you’ll miss it. I just want the songs to be like that.”
“This album has been almost 5 years in the making. It’s cool that I really wasn’t rushed. This is going to be the album I want to put out, I don’t care if it takes 5, 10 years. At this point I’m not even nervous. We’re going to put the work in and we know the music is good.”
I began to wonder who “we” might include, so I asked Josh if any other artists were to be featured on the album. “My best friend Blev produced a couple of songs,” he reported. “What’s cool is that it’s just me and Blev, and that’s how it started years ago. I didn’t bring in any big producers, it’s just all in house.”
“I’m excited for people to hear the album,” he continued, “because there’s some talent on there and they’ll get to hear these new voices that I haven’t worked with before.” Flamingo will also feature artists signing to Josh’s label, such as 24-year-old local, Hugh Glass.
“He’s incredible,” Josh told me of Hugh. “I’m just happy for him that he has a team around him now and we all believe in him, so I’m excited for him and for that. I think that even the music is better if you’re doing that – your songs have a camaraderie feel to them.”
I could tell his family of artists and friends meant a lot to him. “Every Monday night,” he explained, “whoever wants to will come by and jam, listen to the albums that we have, hang out… It’s turned into this vibe of a Monday night thing at my studio. The energy in that room is really crazy right now. We actually got what we’ve been working for and for me it’s taken so long.”
Josh’s record label, 88 REC is currently awaiting a contracted deal with an investment firm out of Houston. “I’ve passed on record deals,” Josh said, “a lot of them coming up. Some were really bad deals with really good companies.” He told me of occasions when he doubted his decision to pass on those deals, but in the end his patience paid off.
“This is one of those moments,” he said, “where you’re like, ‘no, you were doing the right thing and now you got what you wanted.’ It’s cool when you trust in yourself. That doesn’t always happen, it can be really shitty and hard but sometimes it works out.”
Working on his own independent label gives Josh the opportunity to move forward with his work in whichever way he sees fit. I was eager to find out what he planned to do with that freedom once covid restrictions begin to lift.
“I want to put the albums out and do some community projects,” he began. “I want to work with some videographers now that we have the budget that I never thought I could. I’d like to be traveling and hopefully on tour, I want to get out there and push the art to the coasts. Even if it’s just on the weekends, just trying to get back to being in front of people.”
“It’s fun when you have a new album to perform,” he continued, “and you get to see how everybody reacts and which songs go crazy live. Usually the songs that mean the most to me end up meaning the most to others. It’ll be interesting to see.”
“There’s one that is so dear to me. It’s something I’m so proud of and connected to, every time I hear it I feel more positive about myself. That one I think people will like, but it’s not a single, so it’ll just be tucked away on the album and they’ll have to find it.”
As Josh continued to reflect on his journey over the last decade and the exciting future that awaits him, I asked if he had any advice that he would have liked to hear back in 2013.
“Slow down,” he said firmly. “You don’t have to rush to get things out. Move around, get out of Oklahoma. And don’t be afraid to work with more people. I think I have improved my life a lot just as a person by trying to be more aware of who I was and how I treated people.”
Stay up to date on the latest from Josh and his label: @joshsallee and @88rec_ on Instagram