While it's not likely to get confused with a Christmas carol or "Auld Lang Syne," family time during the holiday season inspired Josh Kelley's recent song and music video "Busy Making Memories."
Kelley and his wife, actress Katherine Heigl, pieced the video together with low-fi footage of their children (Nancy Leigh "Naleigh" Kelley, Adalaide Marie Hope Kelley and Joshua Bishop Kelley Jr.) and Dr. John W. Kelley, the father of Josh and his younger brother, Lady Antebellum member Charles Kelley.
"This song kind of came out of nowhere on Jan. 1 this year," Kelley explains. "A lot of things were very fresh. Just my kids dancing around, and me wanting to kind of capture that moment of just being so present and being in their lives. It's been a very conscious, focused effort of mine over the past four years to be a present dad."
A story about the fleeting memories that come with raising young children said even more about the passage of time after Kelley incorporated his father into the lyrics.
"When it came to write the second verse, I was fresh off having a conversation with my dad," Kelley says. "My dad is starting to frequently get maudlin about getting older and things like that. I remember talking to him about, 'You're in great shape. You've still got a lot of mileage left on those tires, man. Don't focus on the past or the future. Focus on the present. Focus on right now.'"
The elder Kelley appears in the video, adding a multi-generational element to footage of children playing at home in Utah and during a beach vacation.
"I had my mom film my dad because he lives up in the North Georgia mountains," Kelley says. "I said, 'Make sure that he's in between the sun and you so we've got good flare.' They did that footage themselves and sent it to me. It was just fun. These are the kind of things that cost nothing. The video probably cost $100 because I went and got a Steadicam. All it really cost was a fun time with the kids and 100 bucks."
The video allowed Kelley to work on a different kind of creative project with Heigl, whom he met in 2005 during the filming of his "Only You" music video. Kelley says he used to feel awkward sharing the screen with pretend love interests, but that changed when he starred opposite what turned out to be his ideal partner. "I was trying to impress her, and that made it so much easier," he adds.
Beyond establishing how much he likes collaborating with kinfolks, "Busy Making Memories" reminds us that Kelley always aims to write the best song possible with little regard to genre labels. For instance, his first pop hit, 2003's "Amazing," started out as a bluegrass song. Everything from the Hollywood Records singles that followed to his introductory statement with MCA Nashville, "Georgia Clay," capture a singer-songwriter more concerned with personal expression than chart placement.
Worrying about more than trends followed in Los Angeles and Nashville is something Kelley learned as a teenager in Augusta, Ga., where he cut his teeth as a live performer by collaborating with former bandmates of local treasure James Brown.
"One of their side projects was called First Born," Kelley says. "It was a really cool project because the singer was more of a rapper. It was James Brown's drummer, it was his bass player, one of his horn guys, this rapper and then me. I was 16 years old, and I was the only white kid in the band. But they loved it, man. I learned a lot about the pocket. I remember the drummer teaching me a lot about where he wants me to lay that thing in the groove. He was like, 'Lay it back, Kelley.' Those are the kinds of things you can't go to school for. You have to be in the fray. I owe those guys a lot. Sometimes I wonder where they are and what they're doing now."
As for what Kelley's doing right now, he's continually writing songs, hopefully for a follow-up to his 2016 album New Lane Road.