You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Joshua Radin

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Q&A with Joshua Radin

The first time I came across Joshua Radin was last spring when I caught the Hotel Cafe tour as it passed through New York. The night had some amazing performances by Ingrid Michaelson, Cary Brothers, Meiko and Priscilla Ahn, but Radin was one performer that left an impact on me. His soft voice and light guitar strumming seemed to put everyone in a trance and the lyrics to many of his songs stuck with me long after his performance was over.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Joshua as his second album, Simple Times, was released. Not only has his album received rave reviews as well as graced No. 1 on iTunes, but Ellen DeGeneres has been an avid fan, even having Radin perform at her wedding. He spoke candidly to me about the album, as well as his break from Columbia and the state of the music industry today. You can listen to an MP3 of my exclusive interview with Joshua Radin here and read it below as well.

Congratulations with all the success of your new album, Simple Times. It recently shot to No. 1 on iTunes. Did you ever imagine that happening?
Thank you so much. No, I didn’t. That was really cool. It’s one of those things [that] are so fleeting. You don’t want to give it too much credit, things like that or any monetary success. It’s basically like how a good review and a bad review are the same to me. If you take the good review to heart you have to take the bad review to heart. I just try to basically keep writing songs and do what I do and do it for the fans. The only reason to make a record really, is to be able to make another record. If you play a show in a city, you play the show so you can play a show in that city again. And if you keep your head up about it and keep that mentality, then I think it’s much healthier.

This is your second full-length album. How was the recording process different for you this time around?
We definitely did it in less time. The first record I made with a buddy of mine in his bedroom. It took about six months because I didn’t have any money and he was just doing it whenever he had time, which was so rare. So, this one was the first record I ever made with a label and got to hire the producer I wanted. We took six weeks at my favorite studio and I hired these amazing musicians. It was quite the experience.

Did you go into the studio with a specific concept for this album?
I don’t think so. I don’t know if I had a concept in mind for the record. It was more just like, this was really just the last two years of my life. I guess that would be the concept.

I wanted to ask you about your first single off the album, “I’d Rather Be With You.” That’s my favorite song on the album and I was just wondering what inspired it, it’s such a beautiful song. (You can listen to "I'd Rather Be With You" here.)
Thank you very much. Every song I write is true. The feelings I go through, they’re like journal entries. Really the record itself is about falling in love, falling out of love, it’s about my friends, it’s about my family, it’s about the world I live in. It’s a little more expansive, I think, than the first record, which was pretty much a breakup record. They were all songs that I had ever written that came out of a pretty gnarly breakup. I kind of got my life back together and started thinking, “I want to do something a little different.”

I think “I’d Rather Be With You” is a song that maybe has more of a grove to it. I wanted it to be a full-band on this record, I actually have drums on it. There are quite a few songs on the record, like “We Are Okay,” which is a lot of percussion from Lenny Castro, who is Stevie Wonder’s percussionist, who is just an incredible guy. I just wanted to make every song, production-wise, sound a little different on this record. Because, the first record every song, production-wise sounds very similar.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

I think my favorite would probably be “You Got Growin’ Up To Do.” It’s one of those songs that came out in 15 minutes, which is pretty rare for me. And also, that I got to record it as a duet with one of my favorite songwriters in the world, Patty Griffin, which is just a complete and utter dream with just about the coolest person ever.

How did that come about?
I just sent her the song. I had never met her before, I’m just a huge fan and she loved the song and she didn’t even want to get paid or anything for it which is so cool.

What’s your typical writing process like? I know you said a lot of it comes out of breakups.
Well, the first record at least. The second record really is not much of a breakup record; it’s really about everything I have gone through in the last two years. I would say my writing process is, I usually have melody or something floating around in my head as I’m trying to fall asleep. Once I’ve got that melody that sort of comes to me, then I wait around until I have something to say about something I really need to express and then I put lyrics to it.

I know you said writing songs is like writing journal entries. Are you ever scared to write too much in a song or be too personal?
Yeah, I was when I first started writing. I started writing songs about four years ago, but I realized really quickly what people respond to is brutal honesty. That’s what people relate to. I’m as honest as I can possibly be when I write.

I read that you were on Columbia for your first album and then you basically bought out your contract to put out this album.
Yeah. Well, essentially what happened was I made that first record, We Were Here, on my own. Then Columbia signed me after hearing that record to a five record deal and re-released that record under their name as is. This was the first record I made with Columbia. I turned it in and they wanted it more poppy sounding and I said no, so I bought myself out of the remaining four record deal contract and put this out independently.

For a lot of artists, it’s their dream to sign a record deal.
Well, it’s much different now a days. The major record companies are dinosaurs, it’s impossible to get anything done with them. It’s just too much bureaucracy. One day someone’s telling you they love something and then the next day they’re fired and someone new comes in with a completely new set of criteria. When I signed with them originally it was to my understanding that I would have full creative control of what I released. And they were by no means dropping me, they just said, “We want a single on here that’s gonna make Top 40 radio.” And I said, “I don’t do Top 40 radio.” I don’t listen to anything that’s on Top 40 radio. There’s nothing about Top 40 radio that I want to be. It’d be fine if they played what I wrote and what I believe in on Top 40, that’s fine. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. At the end of the day you have to be able to sleep and be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, “I did what I believed in rather than what some guy in a suit in some office in New York believes in.”

Do you think artists have to be on a major label to be successful today?
No, not at all. In fact, there are so many that are hindered by being on major labels. It’s one thing if you’re like Beyonce or someone like that, if you’re a cash cow for Columbia, then you have the machine and you’re this big pop machine. But, they don’t have the money to develop artists anymore. They’ve lost so much money by piracy that there’s just no money to develop artists. So they make you sit around and make you write and write and write and write and try to fit you into a little formula that has worked with them before, like a movie studio that only has time to make sequels because they know that it’s something that has succeeded before and they don’t take chances. If you’re a huge pop act or you’re in hip-hop that’s one thing, or country music, those genres in our country sell like crazy. But, for my genre, which I deem whisper rock, it’s not going to see millions and millions of record sales. The only way for me to keep creative control for what I put out is to do it independently.

A huge platform are television shows and movies, which your songs have been featured in. I’m sure that has helped you a lot.
Yeah, for sure. But, I didn’t get any radio play on the first record and now this record actually “I’d Rather Be With You” has started to pop up all over the radio without a major label. It’s really cool to see that we’re able to do this and have a number one record on iTunes, something like that that’s commercially successful, but also do it my own way, the way in which I believe.

And you have Ellen DeGeneres backing you too. I saw a clip of your performance on her show and she said you performed at her wedding.
Yeah. She’s really cool. I played on her show in January and she came running up to me and said, “I would love it if you would play at my wedding.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” So a couple days before the wedding she called my manager, or someone from her show called and said, “She’d love to fly you in and you play her wedding at her house.” She’s been such an incredible support and she’s been talking about me on her show. She couldn’t be a more down to earth, mean what she says type of person.

How is it performing a TV show vs. your own concert vs. a wedding? Do you prepare a certain way or do you do something different?
No, not at all. I just get up and bring my guitar and play songs. I try to keep it as simple as possible. Which is why I called the record Simple Times because as much as we were arguing with the label about the record and everything like that, I just wanted to go back to how life started four years ago, just as honest and organic as possible and as simple as possible.

You’ve been called this generation’s Simon and Garfunkel. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think that’s it at all. If anyone wants to make comparisons, they do what they do. People always want to put you in some sort of box to make other people understand what you’re doing creatively and other things and I understand that. I just think I’m just trying to sound as much like Joshua Radin as I possibly can. I mean, I’m influenced by some of the songwriters; of course Simon and Garfunkel are a major influence on anyone that plays music I’m sure. But there are also tons of other musicians I’ve been influenced on and other features and novelists, my parents and my friends and my teachers. It’s pretty ridiculous, this generation’s Simon and Garfunkel. First of all, I’m only one person. Second of all, they’re incredibly prolific and music icons. I just started.

I read on Amazon that Rolling Stone called me this generation’s Bob Dylan and that’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s ludicrous! Bob Dylan invented music. I just feel like that’s putting a bull’s eye on the back of my head for everyone to be like, “No you’re not. You’re not really as good.” And I’m like, “Of course I’m not as good, I wrote my first song four years ago!” And I probably never will be as good. But, I bet you I’ll be much better at being Joshua Radin than Bob Dylan is. That’s all I can hope for.

To see Joshua's music video for "I'd Rather Be With You," watch it below and for more information check out his MySpace.

2 comments:

pete said...

Very interesting....just downloaded the interview mp3....looking forward to listening.

Pete

asdf said...

Hey Annie -

Very interesting article! Sorry it took me so long to read it. Joshua Radin is a baller I can't believe he played at Ellen's wedding. Hope stuff has been going well for you.

- Steve Klein

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