American Young – AKA Kristy Osmunson and Jon Stone – have rapidly become one of the most popular country acts in the UK since their first performance at C2C: Country to Country Festival in 2016.
Since then they’ve appeared at the festival in 2017 and 2018, as well as other UK festivals like Buckle and Boots. Their debut album AY was released in 2015 and has been streamed over 15 million times on Spotify, and they’ve opened for the likes of Lee Brice, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Chesney.
Ahead of their sold-out show at Nashville Meets London Presents last month, I spoke to Kristy and Jon about their UK fans, life on the road, their writing process and plans for new music.
You’re here as part of Nashville Meets London Presents – how did you get involved with that?
Jon: Well our good friend Baylen [Leonard] introduced us to Nashville Meets London at Canary Wharf, the event he does every year. It was amazing and we’ve just carried on the relationship with him because they’re really great people bringing country music over here.
Kristy: He’s curating the art form.
J: Yeah, so we’re over here to support our friend Baylen and this is just a wonderful opportunity to play this venue. I know it’s only been around for about a year and we’re very excited. It’s sold out, can you believe it?
K: It’s amazing that it’s sold out. I’m totally shocked. This is our first sold out show!
You’ve played at quite a few other UK festivals including Buckle and Boots and C2C. Do you find there’s a difference between festival crowds and other shows?
K: Well honestly I feel like the people, our friends that come here to the small clubs, most of them come to the festivals as well. So we’re really getting to know people on a different level, on a deeper level over here. It’s been really fun to stay in touch with everybody and I communicate with so many people through Instagram from London. I think that the difference probably is that the festivals nurture this lifestyle of camping and you’re out there for a weekend, and so you really develop this community. You get to know people pretty well when you’re there for three or four days. Especially at Buckle and Boots because the people that are coming to Buckle and Boots they’ve never really camped before, so they’re learning that you need tent-appropriate sleeping bags. It’s very important when you come to these festivals to get a zero degree sleeping bag.
J: Or at least a three season bag.
K: Get the appropriate sleeping bag! I was so worried about people at Buckle and Boots because during the day it was so hot and then it dropped to freezing. I was so cold and people had little tiny blankets. And get a big enough tent! In the States there’s such a culture of everybody pulls their RVs up and they all kind of holiday together. They set up these outdoor swimming pools, they set up their outdoor bars and they all have their little communities. It really becomes a party after the party, and we can take our four-wheelers out in the campgrounds and go party with our friends at the festivals, and it becomes an all-out scene. It’s totally nutty but so much fun.
You’ll be back in the UK later in the summer. What can people coming to see you then expect?
K: Well we really enjoy playing live music. I definitely think that’s where American Young has its strengths. We’re somewhat of a jam band – we have a basic set but we never know what order songs are going, so it’s a different show every night. And we definitely consistently work up different covers of different songs. We’ve got a lot of new material but we’re also finding that especially in the UK people have just gotten the music. We’ve been coming over again and again but it’s taken a minute. So we’re working in one or two new songs a night, and hopefully what you can expect is just great music and you can let go of all your worries and thoughts for the day and enjoy being in the moment and maybe a dance with your new lover! [laughs] And hopefully fall in love. We had a couple get engaged after our last song at Buckle and Boots, which was so cute and awesome. So you never know. We’ve had couples get engaged on stage with us a couple of times. We’ve seen people fall in love all the time, so it’s wonderful.
What keeps you coming back to the UK?
K: The food is amazing [laughs]. But it’s definitely the people. We fell in love with so many country fans over here. They’re just so gracious. They’ve opened up their homes to us – when we have days off we’ve gone and stayed out in the country with friends who are musicians. It’s such a welcome community and honestly I’ve felt it’s even more welcoming than when I first moved to Nashville. It took me five or six years to find good friends there. London has been amazing – the first time we played here for the big festivals it’s been so great. But we’re foodies so we chase the food everywhere.
Do you find UK fans react differently compared to the US?
K: Yes. I would say the US is more of a drinking crowd and the UK is more of a listening crowd, although y’all definitely hold your liquor pretty well! But they’re so radio-heavy in America, they’ll listen to singles and they’ll know a couple of songs but then they’re discovering. Whereas here they know every song on the album and they’ll be singing along with every song on the album. So it’s really amazing.
J: It’s like being introduced to a new form of music. I’d like to say it’s like the British Invasion – when the Beatles and the Stones came over to the US it was like a new kind of music none of us had heard before. So I’d say it’s like that in a little less mania kind of way, but still where they’re being introduced to a new style of music, which is exciting.
K: But also you guys have bands like Mumford & Sons who are as country as any country band. So there’s this familiarity. And then since we started coming over you see all these new bands pop up. If you go to traditional British drinking songs they’re kind of like traditional country drinking songs – they can be very similar. So I think it’s just the fact that knowing there’s a genre out there before that which is pretty rad.
You mentioned you’re working on new music. Can you tell us more about that?
K: So we went in the studio and cut a session with our good friend Jim Ed Norman, who co-produced the Eagles and Dylan Scott.
J: All kind of iconic 70s artists – Ann-Marie, a band called Shilo…
K: He signed Blake Shelton…
J: He’s just an iconic record guy.
K: So we’ve been very fortunate to listen to his expertise and get to know his system, and he’s the kind of guy that when you’re in his presence time just stops. He takes all the air out of the room and inspires like a super-focus. It sounds good, it’s really good.
Do you have a typical writing process?
K: It depends. There’s no right way to write a song. So I’m a melody person, Jon is very much a lyrical guy, and we really try and find the feel that we’re going for in the show, like the thing that we’re missing. We usually write around the feel. In Nashville they call it finding the hook, we’re always trying to land the perfect hook. Like Live Like You Were Dying [by Tim McGraw] – that’s the best hook. You just have to set that up and create a hook.
J: Songs have to mean something.
K: So a lot of times we collect titles or we’ll be travelling around and sometimes life will inspire, or reading. And then we sit in the room – either the two of us or sometimes we’ll add another songwriter or a producer and they’ll flesh out the ideas, basically get them in focus. They always say the idea of writing a country song is three chords and the truth. Sometimes there’s two chords…
J: Two chords and a lie! [laughs]
K: But I think the idea is they want to make clear, concise, understandable music. And then from my point of view I’m always just a melody junkie, so if it has a great melody I’m sold.
You mentioned earlier that you do quite a few covers in your sets. Do you have a favourite cover that you play?
J: Eleanor Rigby for me.
K: I love anything by Alison Krauss. When You Say Nothing At All is probably my favourite. Or God’s Plan by Drake, we should do that. That’d be a good one. I listen to so much Drake. He’s coming to Nashville and Migos, he is amazing. I was introducing our band to all this stuff. And Justin Bieber. I love him [laughs].
You’re doing a full band show this evening – do you prefer playing with a band to acoustic sets?
K: This band. This band is the best we’ve ever toured with.
J: It’s just a couple of guys that are just really great musicians. We’re just getting to know each other out on the road a little more. It’s easy.
K: It’s really fun. Paul plays upright bass – my dad plays upright so I always grew up playing with that. It’s really nice to have an upright here. It’s fun. I love it.
What got you into music and made you decide to pursue music as a career?
K: So my mom played, my grandmother played, my grandfather played. He plays piano and accordion and my grandmother plays the violin. They were over in Vietnam and they would run all the church services over there, playing piano and accordion and violin. And then my mom plays everything. So I was always playing. We had a family band when I was a kid with my sister and my parents and played all the time. And then I think when I first heard Alison Krauss I was like, “wait, you can actually do this for a living?!” She came to my hometown and when I saw that first concert that blew my mind. And then I saw Garth Brooks come in on a helicopter and I was like, “I wanna do that.”
J: For me when I was very very young I liked Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I was raised on gospel music so I was always around music, although nobody in my family played. And I guess I was just drawn to it. I started writing songs at the age of 12.
What’s the one song you wish you’d written?
J: Maybe Beethoven’s 9th.
What does the rest of 2018 look like for you?
K: So we’re going back to the studio for a week and then we go to China for ten days. I wrote a song with a girl from the royal family there – she’s in the Chinese navy and I wrote a song with her in English and Mandarin. So we’re going over to play this big cultural festival. Then coming back to the UK for another big festival, one of Baylen’s festivals, and then Scotland. So it’s gonna be awesome.
See American Young live in the UK this September:
7th September – The Long Road Festival, Stanford Hall, Leicestershire
9th September – Millport Country Music Festival, Millport