How a Shed has helped kick-started Josh King’s solo career.
Regular visitors to Americana UK will be familiar with our very own Keith Hargreaves weekly vaguely educational column, Sounds From The Shed, where Keith pontificates on what is troubling and interesting him for any given week from the comfort of his shed. Singer-songwriter, and working musician, Josh King also has a Shed and he has used his to record and produce his two solo albums, ‘The Shed’ from 2020 and his new release ‘Feel Good’. His debut album got attention from sources such as Americana Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Glide and No Depression, and prompted Screwdriver Records to approach him to see if he needed any additional help to get his new music to market. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson met up with Josh King in his home in Greensboro, North Carolina, to talk about his Shed, his approach to songwriting and what it is like being a working musician while trying to establish a career as a singer-songwriter.
I hope you, your family and friends have got through COVID OK?
All the family are a little under the weather at the moment with a little bug but is not the bug, not COVID thank goodness. If anyone just sneezes these days everyone tends to panic, haha, a sign of the times.
How different is ‘Feel Good’ to ‘The Shed, did you do anything differently this time?
A lot of it was recorded the same way. I recorded ‘The Shed’ as completely isolated, I sent out tracks to everybody to record their parts in their own studios due to the shutdown and stuff. There wasn’t a lot of communication apart from getting on the phone and texting, which was different but also very exciting when I got a track back from one of my friends it was like, really cool because I had no idea what I would get. For ‘Feel Good’ I was able to get together with my buddy and guitarist Joel Kiser, and we did some live drums and more stuff in the studio altogether rather than just me by myself, and them by themselves. I think with the sound you can hear we were more together if that makes sense to anybody. Also, it is a little bit more lively.
‘Feel Good’ is effectively your second COVID album, have you wondered whether making an album is going to be the same ever again.
Yeah, haha, hopefully, the next one won’t be a COVID album. I’ve got a drummer who did the majority of the tracks on ‘Feel Good’ and he lives in Nashville, and we started this whole Shed thing together. I would go into my Shed and track all the song to a click as best I could, and then send it over to him to track the drums to the click for the song, and then I would re-track everything, and that is how we did that. I told him, next time you just get your ass to North Carolina, haha, we need to take out a few steps and make things easier.
What is your primary instrument?
I write mostly on acoustic guitar, and on this album, I was just playing through some of the stuff and I got to a couple of songs, and I thought I don’t know how to play the song on guitar because I wrote it on the piano, haha. I have really started getting into writing on the piano, and it was my first instrument when I was a kid but I quit taking lessons and all that. We got a piano in the house recently so I’ve been enjoying, whenever my daughter is not here, sitting down and playing it.
Has the piano changed your songs in any way?
Definitely. I end up with more happy mistakes writing on the piano, because I don’t really know what I’m fucking doing, haha. That sounds cool, doesn’t it?
How would you describe your sound?
I have always been into rock’n’roll bands, you know, and I guess I fall into the americana category which is a broad church and there are so many awesome artists and bands out there these days. I don’t know if you have heard of a band Grandaddy who are one of my favourite bands, also Travis from your side of the pond, Jimmy Eat World as well, so I have a lot of pop rock influences. Everything is written on the acoustic guitar or piano as I said before, and this year I have thought about recording a more rootsy and acoustic versions of these songs just to see how they would work that way. But the way the recordings ended up I think ‘Feeling Good’ is more an indie rock record, but as far as my writing I have no idea what will come out. Whatever I heard on the way to the grocery store may have stuck in my head and I may rip it off a bit and write a song about it.
Which tracks do think best reflect your own vision on ‘Feel Good’?
I was really happy with ‘Feel Good’, the title track, because I’ve always wanted to write a song with that train beat, but also just a straightforward rock song. I liked the way that one turned out and ‘Nothing Matters’ the second track, I think those two are probably my favourites, definitely sonically. I also really love ‘Another One For Abbey’ which is the most different sounding song on the record, and lyrically and personally I think I nailed that one the best.
What is your songwriting process, how disciplined are you or do you just wait for the muse?
I tried so hard for a long time, and I would sit down every day and try and write a song, if it’s crap it’s crap and if it’s good I’ll keep it. These days I get more ideas, but I still sit down every day though I may feel done for the day at times and I may come or may not come back to any ideas for songs. A lot of the songs I finish are normally spur of the moment ideas, I will get a melody in my head and I will just have to get it out, and it is I just have to finish this one, and those are the ones I normally end up putting on records.
How did you decide on the arrangements for the songs?
I do all the arrangements and everything. Whenever I write a song I normally have the bigger picture in my head of the final song. If I’m ripping off a Tom Petty song I will write down what song I want it to sound like, so that whenever we get into the studio it’s like I want this to sound like ‘Wreck Me’, or whatever it is. It is a matter of going for those tones and those vibes, whatever it is.
What are your recording skills like?
My studio skills are really pitiful, haha. Before the pandemic, we were playing a gig in Tennessee somewhere, and I have never owned a piece of recording equipment in my life, though I’ve always had access to it. When I was in the band House Of Fools our keyboard player had it all, and if I had an idea I just went over to his house. I was talking to my buddy on the way back from Tennessee and he was like I’ve always wanted one of those 24 track digital Tascams, because he has all his stuff like Pro Tools, and he said it would seem like less distracting to start off for me because everything is just right there. I bought the thing and built the Shed, which was just a workshop, and it is now like a finished room rather than an actual pro studio. I learnt how to use the 24 track recording unit, and basically, it is the only damn thing I know how to use right now. The goal is to keep moving on, and when I get a computer that is worth a shit, I will start a new project.
You’ve mentioned a few influences, but who made you want to become a musician in the first place?
You always start off with the Beatles I think, and when I was a kid my Mom was a big, big Beatles fan and had all their records, so I end up listening to them. As I got older, ‘Wildflowers’ came out and I feel every time I sit down with a guitar I’m always trying to accomplish what Petty did, but I know I never will, but at least I keep trying, haha. But a lot of stuff that got me playing in bands was more like pop punk and rock’n’roll, like I said, Jimmy Eat World was one of my favourite bands for a long time and I loved Jim Adkins’ songwriting. There was a punk band called No Use for a Name, and the singer-songwriter of that band was Tony Sly, and I always feel like there is always a piece of his melodies in my melodies as well, Grandaddy, as I said before, is another one for sure.
What are your views on where the music industry is at the moment?
I don’t know, I have no idea. I have a lot of friends who are doing pretty well, but even with them doing well it seems like a struggle for them, which is kind of discouraging when I’m sitting alone in my Shed writing songs on a 24 track recorder. I’m just honoured that Tom Simcox hit me up and wanted to put out a record, and I was excited to do it. It gave me a spark and lit a fire under my arse to keep writing and recording. As far as the music industry goes, I’ve been out of it, haha.
Tell me about Screwdriver Records?
Tom Simcox is the owner of Screwdriver Records and he put out ‘The Shed’. He sent me an email and we spoke on the phone a couple of times. He asked me if I needed any help getting my stuff out and I was like of course, because I’m just terrible at all that stuff. He is pretty awesome to work with, and Harrison Whitford who is also on the label is just incredible, and he has just put out a new album, ‘Afraid of Nothing’. That’s all I really know, I hope I will be able to see him in person one day, haha.
Are you back on the road again?
I’m a full-time musician. I play in a wedding party band and that is how I make my money for now, as far as playing my original stuff I haven’t really had a chance to get out there and really do it. Probably at the beginning of the year, January February, which is a pretty dead time for me so I can hopefully book some of my solo stuff. I hope so because I really want to but as I said I don’t really know how to start at the moment because it is such a weird climate to be in.
How are you going to get ‘Feel Good’ to its potential audience?
Like I said I’m hoping to just play it. I have a band I can put together, we get together and just jam and we are waiting for the opportunity, waiting for the moment I guess. I may do a hometown show and there are a few cities nearby that I could do pretty well in. I just don’t see us getting out there and road dogging it, playing bars till 2 AM and stuff like that, I’d rather not to, to be honest. If we had the opportunity to go open up for somebody and do some shows here and there, that is the goal I think. Hopefully, Spotify will put it on a damn playlist or some shit, haha. I put out the shit and it is a kind of whatever thing, and Screwdriver Records came from that and hopefully, something will come from it.
Are you comfortable as a working musician as opposed to just being an artist?
I’m comfortable as a working musician, and of course, everybody I play in the band with has their own music, so of course, everybody would rather be doing that, I’m sure. I don’t really know how to answer that question because I would love to just play my own music every night instead of what we do for the lovely bride and groom, haha. But I have to pay the rent.
What is the local music scene in North Carolina like?
Greensboro has a great music scene. There is a handful of singer-songwriters, a very wide range of ages and styles, it is really cool. You can go out every night of the week and find an open mic somewhere with some kid or an adult playing a song that just blows your mind.
At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?
There is one of my buddies from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, his name is Josh Moore and his album is called ‘Sunrise’, and he has just put it out in the middle of November. I honestly haven’t stopped listening to that. There is Tyler Ramsey from Band Of Horses and his last solo album is one of my favourites, ‘For The Morning’, and Band Of Horses are one of my favourite bands, and my label mate Harrison Whitford’s new album ‘Afraid Of Nothing’ is also great. The new My Morning Jacket album, ‘My Morning Jacket’, is also just great, but if I was going to just push one artist it would have to be my buddy Josh Moore, needs to be heard he is really awesome.
Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?
I wish I could come over in the next couple of months and play a few gigs, haha. Hopefully, I will be able to get over and play some music for y’all, who knows when, but until then stream the shit out of it, haha. I’ve got some friends coming over and they are in a band called Jive Mother Mary, they are a straight-up rock’n’roll band, and they actually put out an album during the pandemic ‘8 Tracks’. Check them out if they are nearby, they are over for a couple of months in January and February. I tell you what, I’m just going to sit around and promote everybody else, haha.
Josh King’s ‘Feel Good’ is out now on Screwdriver Records.