Josh Pyke, one of Australia’s favourite singer/songwriters, has just released his highly anticipated third album, ‘Only Sparrows’. The ‘No One Wants A Lover’ singer, whose single is currently burning up Australian radio, is in the midst of making his way around the country with a full band showing fans why he is truly one of the best musicians Australia has to offer. Brett Schewitz caught up with Josh to discuss the new album, touring and why exactly it is that sad songs make him happy.
‘Only Sparrows’ has just been released. Congrats! It’s an amazing album. Now that you’ve tried both, do you prefer recording albums by yourself or with a full band?
It’s really different. I actually love recording by myself because you get to indulge your control freak side. I get real “studio madness”, like when you’re in a studio by yourself and you’re working on tracks, just experimenting. It can be a real liberating, mad feeling. I really love that but I also really love playing with a band because you’re really part of something and there’s nothing quite like playing music with a collection of people, specially if it’s your own songs, you know? There was an element of pressure being taken off me, to a degree.
Did you feel helpless at all having so many people involved in the creative process?
Hmmm, interesting question. I don’t think I did ever feel helpless. I think there definitely could be the danger of that but the fact that it was my third album, I felt like I had enough experience and enough confidence to be quite assertive about what I wanted and the direction in which I wanted to head. I think the main thing was the level of trust that there was between me, the producer and all the guys in the band. I really trusted them and I trusted that they wanted to do, not only the best job, but to represent themselves in the best possible light. They really believed in the songs and wanted them to be beautiful and successful. So, with that trust, I never felt helpless. After the first couple of hours when all was going well, I really felt quite confident about the whole thing, so no, I never felt helpless.
So you were happy with the ultimate outcome?
Yeah, I’m very happy with it. I pushed myself pretty hard. The sonic power of the music has expanded, which was one of my goals. I was in a car going somewhere and ‘Follow Me Down’ came on and I really had to listen to it. It was the first time I’d heard it and I was really happy with it. It sounds fresh, it sounds mature and how I wanted it to sound. It sounds really cohesive as well. I’m very happy with it.
Do you find it weird listening to your own music?
I do. That’s why I basically never do it unless it’s by accident. I don’t ever listen to my own music. In my experience, when I listen to my own music, I just start picking it apart and it makes things really uncomfortable. I just don’t like doing it.
“No One Wants A Lover” was written in New York. Did you feel Sydney was holding you back creatively?
Not exactly Sydney, just the point I was at with the record. I usually write on the road; it’s the most stimulating environment you can have for writing, really, because you’re always seeing new things. You’re living in a vacuum where you don’t have to worry about life. You don’t do your washing, you don’t do your shopping, you don’t pay bills, you don’t have to do anything of that nature. You’re really free to just be purely creative on the road. That’s always been the way I’ve written. After Basement Birds, I’d been at home for a while and I just really needed to get my headspace back into that creative zone so that’s why I went there. So, it wasn’t exactly Sydney, per se. It was just being in the same spot for the longest time in five years and I needed to get out again.
Why do sad songs make you happy?
The best songs for me are songs that I call “happy/sad songs”. They’re songs that are sad but somehow leave you feeling uplifted. Alternatively, they’re really happy and quite poppy but they have a hint of darkness to them. Those are my favourite sort of songs. They have those different levels. In terms of writing, a song like (off the last record) ‘Our House Breathing’; that’s a song that leaves me feeling quite uplifted but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s actually really sad. Same thing for a song like ‘Love Lies’ off of the new record. It leaves me feeling quite uplifted but it’s a sad song, really. I like that juxtaposition and I think that if you could nail it and get the balance perfect then then you’re doing something right.
“Love Lies” is my favourite song off of the new record.
Is choosing a favourite song a bit like choosing a favourite child?
Yeah, it is a bit. They all tell a different story and they all have a different meaning to me personally. “Love Lies” was the last song I wrote, and even now when I listen to the song I can sense the closure that it has, you know? It’s the last song that I wrote, the last song on the album. For me, it just wraps everything up and it has that happy/sad thing that I was talking about. It’s a really good indication of where I was, musically. It encompasses all the things I was feeling and going through at that period in my life.
You recently became a father. Do you view the songs you wrote before the birth of your son with a new perspective?
Another interesting question. They probably do, yeah. I mean the songs that I wrote before have all been very autobiographical so I guess they do. I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest. Thinking about it now, I think it will make me reflect on them differently. They’re kinda like diary entries and they’re representations of a very different life. Only a year ago it was a very different world.
The legend of Clovis’ Sons is an interesting one. How did it become the inspiration for the opening track?
There’s a painting called “The Sons Of Clovis II” which hangs in the Gallery of New South Wales. I go there pretty often. On one of these trips I paid attention to that painting. I’ve seen it heaps and heaps of times in the public gallery, but this time something about it made me think and I looked up the stoey behind it. According to this painting, and the myths that went along with it, Clovis II had a couple of sons who tried to overthrow him but Clovis, the king, stopped them and wanted to have them killed. Instead, the mother suggested they have their tendons cut, put them on a boat and sent them down the river where they apparently got picked up by monks and became monks and blah blah blah. I thought that was a pretty interesting story but then when I did a bit more research, it turns out that none if it’s true. Clovis II did have a couple of sons who very peacefully succeeded him and they all went on to live perfectly peaceful lives. That weird fact that it didn’t actually even happen started to make me question the relative truth of things contained. It’s not only in history, but within your own history, how once you’re removed from the source, it could change things and it just set me on this path of questioning the relativity of truth.
You approached songwriting differently on this record. Why did you decide on the new challenge?
I want to keep developing as a musician and as a songwriter. I just felt like I’d covered all the ground that I wanted to cover with the last one. I just wanted to push myself, basically. In the same way that I wanted to push myself musically, I didn’t want to cover the same ground lyrically. It’s as simple as that. It was just a matter of looking for new methods.
Do you think you’ll approach songwriting in the same way in the future?
With songwriting, and in particular, lyrics, I always just have to follow my instincts and my instincts were telling me to mix it up a bit on this one. I dunno. I’ll wait and see. I think that I’ll always feel more comfortable with doing it this way. It will always be a combination of a few things; all the methods I’ve employed in the past.
Did working with The Basement Birds influence your way of songwriting?
I think it influenced my levels of comfort working collaboratively. I don’t think it really influenced my songwriting, per se. It made me more comfortable with the idea of collaborating with musicians, coming to the group with a finished song and then letting it evolve in a jamming sort of scenario. That was something that I guess came out of the Basement Birds.
You took a year-long sabbatical from solo touring. How did it feel to get up on stage by yourself again for the Fans First shows?
It felt great. Performing is so in my blood. I’ve done, I dunno how many shows I’ve done now, but it must be a lot. Hundreds and hundreds of shows and when you’ve done that so many times, it’s really something that gets under your skin. When you don’t do it for a while you kinda forget about that. So apart from it being fun, it was really great to remember what it is that I do and what it is that I’m good at.
Do you ever still get nervous getting up on stage?
I do, yeah. I get some level of nervousness for every show that I do. I get more nervous for the solo shows because there’s nothing to hide behind. When you’re up there with a band there’s sort of this camaraderie thing. Everyone’s helping each other along but when you’re up there solo there’s really nothing to hide behind.
Gotye’s new album came out on the same day as your new record. His current single is massive. Do you find that daunting?
It is what it is, you know. I find it a bit annoying, to be honest [the fact, not the song]. I know him pretty well. He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy and a brilliant musician; extremely talented and gifted. What are you gonna do? Everyone’s gotta release an album some time. I never expected that I was going to be the only artist releasing a new record on that day. He and I have come up through the ranks at the same time and I’m always really happy when an Australian musician, that is doing the hard work, does well. It is a bit daunting because he is absolutely smashing at the moment but at the same time it’s not like we’re both singer-songwriter guys or that I’m a whatever you’d describe his music as. It is what it is, man.
The video for “No One Wants A Lover” is great. How long did that take to make? What was the creative process behind it?
It was actually a really quick one compared to videos for songs like ‘Make You Happy’. A lot of it was done in post-production. We shot all of the live footage in front of a green screen and then the director, behind the scenes, did all of the animation and the editing so it was actually quite quick for me in terms of my involvement.
And the band in the video, is that the band you’re going to be touring with?
No, they’re all just random people. The idea was for people to go “oh, is that the band? Are they in the band or who are these guys?” They’re all just totally random extras.
So what’s the plan for the next year? Will you be taking this album internationally?
In terms of overseas, I really only focus on the UK because that’s really the only other place that I can be bothered focusing on. I’m touring there in October and I’m sure I’ll be going back there next year. In the meantime, I’ll just be touring Australia and playing festivals and doing the lifestyle stuff.
Catch Josh Pyke and his band on the ‘Only Sparrows Tour’ at the following venues:
September 16 – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
September 17 – Bended Elbow, Geelong
September 22 – Great Northern, Byron Bay
September 23 – Coolangatta Hotel, Coolangatta
September 24 – Hi-Fi, Brisbane
September 29 – The Gov, Adelaide
September 30 – Fly By Night, Fremantle
October 1 – Astor, Brisbane
Check out a preview of the new album here