JD Roberts’ first single on Spotify, “What It’s Like To Be Us,” has all the elements of a hit country song: girls, pickup trucks and partying, all set to a rocking beat. But Roberts was hesitant to release the song, thinking it was a little too typical of what is derisively called “bro country.”
“That was the first song I ever wrote,” said Roberts. “Truthfully, I never liked it, but everyone told me it’s just a fun song. I said, if y’all like it then I’ll put it out.”
Roberts grew up in the Falmouth area, graduated from Stafford High School and now makes his home in Caroline County. He got his start in music in high school playing drums in hard rock bands. As he grew up, he found his musical tastes were changing.
“I got really tired of it,” said Roberts. “I wanted to try something new, so I went to Guitar Center and picked up a little $60 Yamaha guitar and I had a buddy of mine teach me a couple of chords. This is when I was 21. We went over to Colonial Tavern downtown. We did the open mic there. We did the three-song set that you get, but I could only sing one song so I thought, I gotta learn more. So I got hooked between doing Colonial Tavern on Mondays and Amy’s on Tuesdays, then I just started running from there.”
Roberts recorded “What It’s Like to Be Us” and two others, “White Lines” and “You Don’t Know Home,” in Fredericksburg at Wally Cleaver studios with producer Jeff Covert.
“I love that guy. He’s so funny,” said Roberts. “For the three songs on Spotify, my buddy Brett Handy came in and played guitar and did harmonies on two of the songs, and then the other song, ‘White Lines.’ I had my buddy Scott Mclean play drums and Jeff actually played bass on it.”
Those songs all have a rock ’n’ roll vibe that reflects Roberts’ love of ’90s alternative bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Blink 182. Roberts credits his dad for turning him on to those bands. Roberts’ mother is a country music fan and introduced him to artists like Keith Whitley, Tracy Lawerence and Luke Bryan. Lately, Roberts has been listening to more independent country artists like Luke Combs and Cody Jinks. He is releasing an all-acoustic EP titled “Late Night Whiskey” on Thanksgiving, which was recorded in Nashville. Roberts said the new material shows his development as a songwriter, drawing from his own experience.
“There’s a song on this album that me and my buddy Rob Ralston wrote called ‘Late Night Crowd,’ which is for the group of people who are always at the bar between twelve and one,” said Roberts. “Everybody has already left and there’s those five to ten people just hanging out at the bar. Those are the ones I always talk to when I’m done playing. I get their stories, if they’re depressed or happy or out looking for a good time.”
True to the EP title, other songs on the new project pay tribute to Roberts’ fondness for whiskey.
“I have another song on there called ‘God Bless Whiskey,’” said Roberts. “I like Jack Daniels, so it seemed like a good idea. Then there’s a song called ‘Whiskey Break’ about when you get that point at work where you’re halfway through. You’re looking for that cold beer or a little bit of Jack Daniels towards the end of the day.”
Roberts hopes to break into mainstream country radio and plans to release a full-length, pop-country album next. While he would like the support of a big label, he would also like to retain control over his music.
Roberts has been a full-time musician since April, keeping a busy schedule with live shows. He has toured as a solo acoustic act as far away as Maine and Vermont. For some local live shows, he employs The Roadhouse Band, which acts as his backup group. Playing with a full band has also sharpened his skills.
“They play all over the place and they’re all really good guys,” he said. “We did a show a couple months ago. I did one show with them and thought that was too much fun. They actually taught me to play my songs correctly. That’s just how good they are.”