In the following phone interview singer-songwriter Joshua Radin discusses his new album The Rock and the Tide, recording live, romance in the 21st century and fresh starts.
Whatís the reaction been like to this new album?
I donít know. It just came out. Youíre the first person Iíve talked to.
Really? Cool deal. Has the album been done for a while?
Yeah, I recorded it in January and February in London.
I think I remember reading it got delayed because your previous album just recently got released there.
Yeah, well it didnít get delayed here. My last record, Simple Times, got released in the UK in April, so Iíve been over there and out of the country promoting that record for quite some time. So now I took about a month off and Iím ready to go again.
Is that weird to be working on two different timelines?
Itís a little strange but itís not like Iím used to anything else. It is what it is. I feel pretty fortunate that anyone keeps letting me make records.
The first thing I noticed on this record is itís more full-band sounding and energetic than what youíve done before. What made you want to go in that direction?
Well, Iíve been playing so many shows and living on the road. The rooms are getting bigger where Iím playing, and I started to find at festivals and opening for bigger bands and things like that where youíre playing for thousands and thousands of people, like at Glastonbury, that songs like ďWinterĒ and ďCloser,Ē itís really hard to connect with a massive crowd with songs like that. I felt like I needed to write some songs that sounded like a band and maybe get a little louder and have a little more fun on a big stage, so I decided to make this record a half and half record. Thatís kind of why itís called The Rock and the Tide. Half of it is full band and half of it is still the folky, intimate, lo-fi kind of sound that people dug on the first two records. I didnít want to do a full on, entire rock Ďní roll record because thatís not really me. I have different sides of me.
Was the songwriting on this more collaborative than what youíve been used to?
No. On Simple Times, I think I co-wrote maybe two or three of those songs, and the same with this record. The rest I wrote myself.
I heard youíre a huge fan of testing out songs on the road while youíre writing them. Whatís that process like for you?
I think that thatís the best way to do it, at least for me, because you can see how audiences react to new songs and you can also experiment with things over and over again. Iím not a platinum selling artist or something where you get a million dollars to go make a record and youíre in the studio for as long as you want. Studio time is so expensive, so when you get in that studio, you knock it out. All these songs on this record are about one or two takes in. Theyíre all the first or second take and theyíre all recorded live, which Iíd never done before. It keeps costs down, for sure. We just donít have the money to record track after track and take after take, so you got to really know the songs well before you go into the studio so youíre not wasting time and money.
Thereís also a fair amount of electric guitar on the album. Did you write any songs on that for this one?
No, actually I always write them on the acoustic, but in my mind on a bunch of them I was, like, ďOh, Iím going to play electric on the recording and Iím going to play these live that way.Ē
The song ďRock and the TideĒ has one of my favorite lines off the record where you say: ďEveryone gets what they want too fast these days/No one knows the way to make things last.Ē What about that song made you choose to title the record after it?
Thatís interesting youíre asking about that one because thatís my favorite song on the record and thatís one of my favorite lines. So thanks, I appreciate it. That song is actually tough to talk about because itís kind of a secret. I wrote it for this girl as sort of an unrequited love song and she has no idea. Her name was in it and then I took it out.
I guess I was thinking a lot about romance these days because when you tour all the time you live on your laptop. Youíre talking to your friends via Skype video chat and it can be sort of alienating. You have your band and your crew, but thatís it. Youíre sort of on an island, this moving island. Itís weird and strange and sometimes a depressing lifestyle. Most of the time itís great, but every now and again it gets a little lonely. I guess I was thinking about when I was a kid having my first crush, how youíd get a girlís phone number, wait to call her and then hope her dad didnít answer when you called the house. Nowadays information is so fast and romance has been affected exponentially because of things like Facebook and mobile phones, things I didnít have when I was in junior high school.
Thatís sort of what the song is about. I met this girl and I was, like, ďAll right, Iím just going to wait. Iím going to make her my pen pal (laughs), and weíre just going to write to each other over and over again.Ē I was all over the world and every time weíd write each other an email it was like a letter youíd have to wait to get, rather than instant texting and all that kind of stuff. I think thatís why a lot of relationships are falling apart and not lasting because everyoneís options are increasing by the numbers at an incredible rate. Husbands and fathers are sitting on Facebook looking up their old crushes from high school. I donít know. Itís a strange time. I was thinking about all these things and I was, like, ďI want to write a song for this girl,Ē and thatís the song that came out. That line, itís like no one knows how to make things last, but yet Iím saying in the chorus that Iím done waiting, letís try this out. In my mind, though, I still wanted to wait.
Also on this record there seems to be a general theme of starting over and beginning afresh. Was there anything that went into that?
Yeah, I wanted to try something new on this record. I had made two records and both were very intimate. Simple Times obviously had a little more production value than We Were Here, but I really wanted to record live, which I had never done before. Thereís something about being in a room all at once and recording together, looking at each other while youíre laying down a track. Itís an incredible feeling. Iíd never felt that rush before and I donít think Iíll ever record another way. With Simple Times, we built the track with the drums and the bass, then added the guitars, and by the end Iíd be laying down the vocals. Iíd be locked into the pace of the song by the time I was singing it. I think you lose something by recording that way. Iím still proud of that record, Simple Times, I love it, but itís not as fun to record that way.
Same reason Iím bringing a full band and electric guitars out on the road, itís just more fun to play live that way. I still play songs for people that they heard first from me, like ďWinterĒ and ďCloser,Ē but I pepper those into the set now and itís more of a fun set to play. I love coming off the stage totally drenched in sweat and screaming into a microphone. Itís leaving everything I got on the stage when I walk off that stage and feeling like Iíve really accomplished something that night.
On the record you have a full-band version of ďBrand New Day.Ē Have you toyed around with expanding other older songs like that?
I havenít. I never even thought about doing that, really, except for ďBrand New Day.Ē When you have two different releases, one overseas and one over here, and different record companies and different A&R guys, they have their own taste and we have our own taste over here. Simple Times has been out since í08 in the States and they were releasing it a year and a half later. They were, like, ďWe got to make a few changes for this release over here. People can still buy the American version if they want, but they have another version thatís newer, too.Ē
I think thatís kind of cool, actually, newer versions of songs. It would be kind of cool to do a full-band version of the We Were Here record. Iím just thinking about that now. Theyíre all basically pop songs. If you look at the structure of the songs I write, theyíre not incredibly complex. Iím more inspired by Ď50s melodies, like Buddy Holly melodies and hooks, back when pop music was so great. The We Were Here record, all those songs could be played like the Clash. Itís a four-chord song and could totally be played like a punk song. I donít know if I would do that, but itís an interesting thought.
I want to talk about your background for a little bit because I think the story is very interesting. You didnít start writing and playing music until after you had graduated from college. Was music always something you were interested in and how were you able to pick up on it so quickly?
Iíve always loved music. Iíve always been a fan and an avid listener. I always have headphones in. I was just totally insecure and completely intimidated and never thought that I could make this kind of music that I love. Iím still trying. I havenít gotten there yet. Itís only been six years since I picked up my first instrument, so itís a learning process. I think itís one of those things that if you try new things in life all the time it keeps you young.
So many people find themselves off track in life. They studied something and then they go into this job. They find themselves with a wife and kids and theyíre, like, ďWell, Iím stuck being a lawyer, but I donít want to be a lawyer anymore.Ē I just think you got to be open all the time to try new things. Thatís really what life is all about. Maybe Iíll make another record and then decide I want to try something new. Who knows?
Have you noticed a change in your writing style now versus what you were doing when you first started out?
Yeah, I think the more I progress on the guitar, the more I learn, the better my writing gets. Iím still honest when it comes to the lyrics. I donít write just to write, I write if I have something to say and I need to get it out. This recordís a little different. The first two records were all about love, whether it was about falling in love or falling out of love. Iíve been single now for three years. Iíve been writing a lot of these songs since my last relationship. Iíve just been happy and having a good time with my friends, seeing the world and living the dream. ďThe Ones With the LightĒ is a song about that. Itís about having fun on the road and hoping that we will never change. You know what I mean? I write from a perspective of whatís going on in my life. If I end up writing 10 records in my life, Iíll always look back at the third one and say, ďI remember exactly where I was at this point. I was out on the road having fun with my guys.Ē Thatís what this record is about.
I remember reading that before you started music you were trying to be a screenwriter. What were you writing about in those days?
I was writing comedies, actually. I spent, like, six years in New York and I think I wrote six screenplays, six features, about one a year. They were all comedies, kind of indie comedies, I guess. I was inspired by Noah Baumbach/West Anderson type films. I was doing that back when I had first seen Rushmore and I was, like, ďI want to write like this.Ē
Obviously, love had something to do with them. Thatís definitely a topic that I think quite a bit about. A little less these days then I did back then, I think, because when I was writing those I was with my first girlfriend in a six-year relationship. It just wasnít the right relationship, so it had me thinking all the time about what love is. Is this the right person for me and am I going to settle down with this person for the rest of my life? Are we going to have a family? Now that Iím more free, I guess, in a different city every day and meeting cool people everywhere, having so much fun, I think a little less about it. I still think about it, but itís not on my brain constantly.
Your work has been used in a variety of media, TV shows and film. Coming from a screenwriting background, whatís it like to see your music used in so many different ways?
I think itís cool. Itís definitely the way Iíve been able to get my music out to people because I went about it in sort of a backwards way. I didnít start writing songs, record them and then try to get them on the radio, like people would do back in the day. I was always thinking that thereís got to be a better way to do this. When it comes to doing things I donít want to do, Iím incredibly lazy, but if itís something Iím interested in, then Iím all in. I love playing music for people, so Iím never home. I donít even have a home. I put my stuff in storage. I have a suitcase and a guitar and I live out on the road. I just want to work and play for people because I love it. When it comes to stuff that doesnít really interest me, like visiting radio stations and kissing peopleís asses to get your songs on the radio, I end up being incredibly lazy about it. I probably shouldnít and it probably doesnít behoove my career, but what are you going to do [laughs]?
It was easier when music supervisors saw me at my first shows and theyíd come up to me and say, ďHey, I love these songs. Do you have any demos? Iíd love to use your songs in Greyís Anatomy, or Scrubs, or One Tree Hill or Brothers & Sisters.Ē All these TV shows, then a bunch of films and adverts. Wow, I really have been spending a lot of time in England. I canít believe that just came out of my mouth. Letís see, I lost my train of thought [laughs]. Oh, yes, TV shows and stuff.
I donít really watch these shows or anything, itís more like they air everywhere around the world. Thatís what I want to do. I want to travel around the world and play music. When I show up and book a concert, 2,000 people will buy tickets to come see me play because they know the songs from Greyís Anatomy or Scrubs, different movies and things. Thatís whatís cool to me because a radio station goes out to one city. TV shows air over and over again all over the world in every city. Itís just amazing. We showed up to play in Sydney and Melbourne last year and the showís were sold out a month in advance because people were, like, ďWell, he never comes here. I want to hear these songs live from these TV shows and movies that I love.Ē Thatís why I do it. Thatís why I license my music so much.
What would be your top favorite show or movie that youíd want your song to be in?
If it was totally ideal, and this is fantasy so it doesnít have to be real, but Iíd like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to have a show together, like The Daily Show when they were on together, and maybe I could play on that show. Those are my two favorite shows to watch. I donít know. I really loved Six Feet Under when it was on. I thought the writing for that show was absolutely incredible and I was hooked. That would have been cool. My friend, Sia, had one of her songs end the series and I was so jealous [laughs]. Not only did they use her song but they ended the entire series with it. It was the most beautiful ending and totally made me choke up.