TORONTO — Country singer Josh Ross considers himself a thrill seeker by nature and as the top nominee at Saturday's Canadian Country Music Association Awards, he's certainly headed on another wild ride.
Between taking the stage as one of the night’s big performers and vying for wins in six categories – including fans’ choice, breakthrough artist and single of the year for “On a Different Night” – Ross is already getting psyched for a heart-pumping good time.
“I’m definitely an adrenalin person,” the 27-year-old musician acknowledged during a video chat from the road where he’s opening for Alberta rock stars Nickelback on a run of North American dates.
“I like doing crazier things — but in a good way.”
For instance, a few days earlier the former motocross athlete surprised his tour entourage by investing in a pit bike so he can perform wheelies around parking lots while on tour.
“There's two sides to me, they always joke about, when it comes to songwriting – the party and fun side and then the trouble side — that’s the emotional side.
“I'm definitely the Gemini I'm supposed to be.”
All of these personality traits might help explain what drove Ross to risk it all when he abandoned dreams of playing on a Canadian Football League team for a shot at being a country singer in Nashville's music scene. It's a gamble that has been paying off as of late for the Burlington, Ont. native.
At the CCMA Awards, his other leading nods include both songwriter of the year and video of the year for his track "Trouble," as well as male artist of the year.
Other top awards contenders this year include country sibling pair the Reklaws, who double as hosts of the broadcast from Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre. They’re nominated in five categories, including group of the year, while their hit “11 Beers,” featuring Jake Owen, is up for both single of the year and musical collaboration.
Dallas Smith also holds five nods, among them entertainer of the year and fans' choice award, while Tenille Townes is in the running for female artist of the year and songwriter of the year.
Other notable nominees include Shania Twain, who's up for entertainer of the year and female artist of the year, and Orville Peck, who is vying for breakthrough artist.
The CCMA Awards air live on CTV at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
All of this fanfare is relatively new to Ross, who attended Western University in London, Ont., on a football scholarship before a series of sports injuries around 2016 led him to consider whether his interest in country music was a safer bet.
“I remember it was like two days before training camp,” he said, “And I was like, ‘Nope, I don't want to go. I want to try music.’”
But despite an interest in writing songs, Ross says he didn’t have much experience beyond jotting down ideas in a binder as a teenager. And yet, he was dedicated to picking up the craft, which included learning piano.
“I felt like I could sing, but I knew I had a lot to learn,” he said.
After he finished his degree, Ross took a job at a family friend’s construction excavation company, but his heart was stuck on the prospect of moving to Nashville to better connect with the music industry.
At first, he visited the Tennessee city every few weeks, booking short-term rentals and mingling at bars with local musicians. He’d then race back to Canada for a few construction jobs before repeating the process. One day, those regular trips became too much for his employer to handle.
“Basically, my boss was like, ‘If you keep going to Nashville, you're going to lose a job.’ I didn't listen to him and I went,” Ross recalls.
“When I got there, he sent me a text being like, ‘I guess you made your choice. You don't have a job when you come home.’”
The sudden firing confirmed that Ross had one clear line to music. The same day he was dismissed, he said, he sat down with his Nashville songwriter buddies and knocked out “Do What You Love,” the title track of his 2020 debut EP.
"My biggest thing with getting older is not looking back and being like, 'Oh, I wish I would have tried that," he said.
Since that fateful turn of events, Ross has focused on deepening his country music repertoire, trickling out a selection of romantic ballads and lush midtempo songs about washing down heartbreak with a cold one.
He hopes the CCMA Awards give him a stage to show casual listeners a little more about the guy who's poured his heart out on the radio.
"My biggest goal is to show up — just like sports — and play my part," he said.
"Live performance is the truth. You can't really fake it, especially on live TV."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2023.
David Friend, The Canadian Press