Singer/songwriter Josh Kelley is talking about his recent single “Busy Making Memories,” when his 3-year-old son, Joshua Jr., comes chattering into the room and Kelly drops off in mid sentence.
“Hey, buddy!” he says with a laugh before continuing his train of thought in a telephone interview with the Union Leader from his Utah home.
“My priorities have changed. I’ve become a lot more patient. I used to be kind of fueled by the almighty dollar, and I’m not anymore,” says Kelley, who first broke onto the charts with the hit “Amazing” in 2003 and brings his latest tour to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry on Saturday night.
“I’m more fueled by great experiences, love, family and trust. I think good things happen when you’re focusing on things like that,” says Kelley, who mixes classic rock, country and pop elements into his music. “Making the right kind of time for family is huge for me. They are awesome. I really love being a dad.”
That sense of contentment shows in the music video for “Busy Making Memories,” which he and his wife of 12 years, actress and producer Katherine Heigl, shot on a horse ranch against a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains. It’s a family memoir that catches the kids (including daughters Naleigh, 11, and Adalaide, 7) making snow angels, nuzzling horses, twirling beneath a sunny, winter sky and inking their height on a makeshift growth chart on on the wall.
Though there are a few shots from their own home in a farming community outside Park City, Utah, much of the video was taken at a horse ranch that Kelley’s mother-in-law, Nancy Heigl, built years ago, and that now houses Kelley’s recording studio in a converted barn.
“That ranch is also for Katie and her mom’s animal advocacy foundation (Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, named after Katherine’s late brother),” Kelley says. “We take in dogs that are going to be put down, from shelters, into our facility and rehabilitate them and train them and then get them adopted out. It’s a working ranch, with a lot of horses, pigs, goats and chickens.”
If folk rocker Harry Chapin’s ’70s hit “Cat’s in the Cradle” was a cautionary tale about missed connections, Kelley’s “Busy Making Memories” is a modern family portrait that has its roots in 2005, when Kelley and Hiegl met on the set of the music video for “Only You.” They married two years later.
In a Facebook post Dec. 23, 2019, Heigl posted an anniversary note: “This man … this day ... this marriage ... I am damn grateful. That he found me. That I found him. That we have somehow miraculously bettered each other. Happy 12th anniversary love of my life. And thank you. For never wavering in your love, your loyalty. For being an endlessly blissful safe place to land. For raising a joy up in me that bursts forth in uninhibited raucous peals of laughter ... Am forever blessed by your love for me.”
“Busy Making Memories,” which Kelley said practically wrote itself during one creative day, was also inspired by a conversation with his father, Dr. John Kelley.
In the lyrics, he sings, “I got a call from my dad the other day and we got to talking about ‘where’d the time go,’ reminiscing in the years gone by. I felt a sadness coming through that phone. I said, ‘Don’t act like life is over. You’ve got a long one left to live. So caught up in the coulda woulda shoulda years, too busy in your history, when you could be busy making memories.”
“I was trying to remind him — because he kind gets a little maudlin now about his age — not to focus on that. Focus on making memories and making new ones and enjoying your life. The lyrics in the song — ‘you’ve got a long one left to live,’ is true. He’s 74 now. The guy’s in great shape — I think in better shape than a lot of my friends,” he says with a laugh. “He’s retiring this year. He’s a cardiologist, and he’s been working on people’s hearts for as long as I’ve been alive. He’s a cool dude.”
Kelley, who released the album “New Lane Road” in 2016 and recently released another new single “Love Her Boy,” says these days he does what he calls “family touring,” going out for a handful of days and returning home for a handful of days.
“When I was younger, before I had kids, I’d go on tour for three or four months, but this way … is so much better for the family,” he says.
Kelly, who grew up in August, Ga., has also changes his approach to his stage show.
“It’s like a variety comedy show,” Kelley says. “One moment I’ll have everyone crying and the next they’re laughing their faces off. I think about four years ago, I just stopped caring what other people thought, and it just freed me up. It just got so much better.
“These are just fun, goofy shows,” he adds. “I love playing with a full band, but there’s something that happens with solo acoustic shows. It’s more personal. (It) allows me to really connect with the audience in a really different way. They leave with a much more memorable experience.”
He says he doesn’t come in with rehearsed jokes. It’s more about an organic interplay with each crowd.
“They move me in directions. It makes the job very satisfying,” Kelley says. “I’ll be playing a lot of songs on piano, with laptop open. So, I can do whatever I want. If I want to have a five-minute dance party to Bruno Mars, maybe I’ll do that. I don’t know.”