"The best way to experience Josh Bates is the way I did...to just hear him sing."
That's the testimonial of Mark Miller, founder of Beach Street Records (home of the platinum selling Casting Crowns) and frontman to country super group Sawyer Brown. Bates, the label's promising second signing, is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter set to debut nationally with Perfect Day, an album produced by Miller. It sends a blue-sky message of encouragement to the church anticipating the day Christ will return for his people.
At 15, Josh auditioned for Miller singing while accompanied on guitar by his older brother. The veteran was immediately impressed with Josh's superior natural talent, and Miller could hardly imagine that as an 11-year-old Bates learned to play the difficult mandolin easily, surpassing his teacher's skill in just three months.
Soon Josh and Miller began working together, the young musician making numerous trips south on I-65 from
his home in Kentucky, developing his skills on guitar, mandolin and piano while also emerging as a singer/songwriter bent on communicating God's gracious love. Seven years of work and friendship now come to fruition in Perfect Day.
"This project has been a labor of love for us," Miller says with the pride of a coach, "and for this moment to be here now is pretty cool. I think this is God's plan for [Josh] and whatever small part that I've had in this has been really rewarding."
The record is the natural extension of what Josh Bates, now 23, has been doing all his life in Independence, Kentucky.
"I've never known anything else but singing for the Lord," Josh says. Growing up, he traveled regularly with his father, the pastor of a local independent church, singing gospel songs throughout the Appalachian region. Several mission trips to parts of the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and England emboldened Josh's evangelical spirit and confirmed his pursuit of music ministry.
In a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, with an ample head of curly blond hair, this tall, athletic musician looks more like a California surfer than the son of a country preacher. A Frisbee golf enthusiast, Josh's gregarious spirit and energetic personality fill a room with delight. Consequently, he doesn't know a stranger.
"I love communicating with people," says Bates. "I love to relate to others by finding a common connection."
Hard work and obedience operated as cherished family values around the Bates household, providing Josh a childhood where he had "the time of his life." His mother works as the principal of their church's K-12 private Christian school. Josh's older brother, Eric, also a skilled musician, works as their father's right-hand in the ministry, and Ashley, the family's youngest, leads the church's youth worship when Josh is traveling.
Talented musically, Josh also championed his studies. The valedictorian of his 13-member high school class, Josh earned a full scholarship to college, graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Northern Kentucky with a bachelor's of science degree in mathematics.
As he learned guitar, mandolin and piano, Josh also took up songwriting, first on family vacations, borrowing from his father's witticisms, then later in more serious efforts he wrote about faith, often inspired by worship. His influences include Michael W. Smith, BeBe & CeCe Winans, the Isaacs Family, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs.
Predictably, then, Josh's music takes root in the acoustic traditions of Kentucky, yet it blossoms on Perfect Day as acoustic and electric guitar-driven pop, structured by plenty of rhythm. He describes the record as being "very accessible," a quality he and producer Miller sought intentionally.
"I love to sing, but there's nothing I love to do more than sing for the Lord. My heart fills and I become alive when I can inspire someone to sing with me for the Lord."
With drums setting the cadence and an electrifying guitar part breaking through as though sounding a bugle call, Perfect Day marches forward by opening with the title track, written by John Cox.
"I think 'Perfect Day' is a message the church wants to hear right now. People are excited for Jesus to return and take us to heaven. This song describes that day in heaven when we will be overwhelmed with joy we will dance and sing the praises of our Lord. No one knows when that day will come, but we look forward to it as the high point of our lives," Josh says.
Until that time, Perfect Day assures listeners, Christ's love is for all, and that love transcends race, class, ethnicity and denomination. As the theme builds throughout the record, one is encouraged to be honest with God so that an authentic, personal relationship with him may be experienced. The ballad "Never Give Up" testifies God's hands are always open to us.
"Sometimes, we forget who God is. But he never forgets about us. That's what makes him God," Josh says about the track's inspiration, written with his friend Michael Boggs of FFH. As with the prophet Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, God's people today can move with absolute assurance that God's presence is with them.
Four other tracks were also co-written by Josh, including "King of Glory," influenced by Josh's experiences as a worship leader at his church, "Prodigal" featuring the church in the character of the prodigal son, "None Like You" which describes and praises the awesomeness of Jesus Christ and the up-tempo "Shine," which urges listeners to live for Christ each day.
"That song is really meaningful," Josh explains. "It describes Jesus as the light inside that shines through us. That shining light has as much to do with the person shining as it does with those who see the light. The light comes from devoting our lives to Christ, but others might come to know Christ by seeing that light shine through us. We are a representation of Christ." And that's exactly what Josh Bates hopes to achieve with his debut. He has no desire to simply be "the new kid with a record."
"I want to be an example of Christ's love," he says. "I want to be a person of integrity, and I hope someone likes me for who I am, not for what I do." Still, Josh says, the music has a purpose.
"By listening to this album, I want people to understand that Christ loves them no matter what they've done not to deserve it. I hope people are able to find clarity in their relationship with Christ and that they have a new desire to read the Word of God. Finally, I hope that through listening to this music people will be inspired to get out and do something for the Lord."
That, he believes, would be the perfect ending to a perfect day.