The revered songwriter adds to his exceptional legacy.
Nebraskan native Josh Rouse is now an impressive thirteen albums into an enviable career that has seen him move seamlessly from sunny melodic folk, through dalliances with synth-driven pop and Spanish-influenced directions. He’s currently touring in America ahead of the release of his latest album ‘Going Places’. Josh divides his time between Nashville and Valencia and it was in Spain that this new record took shape. “I recorded the record during the pandemic. The idea was to make an upbeat record.”, he explains. Paul Gibson spoke with Josh over Zoom from his Tennessee home on Independence Day, discussing the recording of the new album, the importance of a song title, and pleasing a live audience.
You’re touring in the States now, but are you still based in Spain?
We’re in Nashville now, we came back in 2017 and then went back to Spain in 2020 until just a few months ago. Back and forth!
Was the new album ‘Going Places’ conceived in Spain?
It was. I wanted to make a record that was not too deep, something you’d want to hear if you go out. It was made to play live.
It definitely has that loose, spontaneous vibe where it feels like everyone is playing together.
We have a studio in Valencia called Rio Bravo, and a couple of guys I play with took it over when I came back to Nashville, but I can still use it whenever I’m there. They’ve also opened a bar which has live music and it’s a fun place to play. When I went back during lockdown we went in and just played. A handful of the songs I already had and had been working on before the pandemic and they felt like they needed a band. I said to the guys “let’s just play what feels good, whether that’s covers or my songs”, thinking that when people were allowed to come in to venues again we could play for them. Unfortunately that took a lot longer than we expected so we ended up just recording. Brad Jones mixed it in Nashville and we put a few extra instruments on, pedal steel, sax. It’s always good to have someone else who’s ears and musical sensibilities you trust involved.
You’ve never been afraid to explore different avenues on your albums; the chilled acoustic feel of 2010’s ‘El Turista’, the electronic textures of 2018’s ‘Love in the Modern Age’, but ‘Going Places’ harks back to the evocative, early Seventies style of some of your earlier albums. Was it a conscious decision to revisit that kind of sound?
I wanted it to be very straightforward, not too much production. I think the seventies influence is just ingrained in what I do. It has to do with the chords I use, a lot of major sevenths and minor sevenths that give my songs that mellow feel. I tried to create that mood but I didn’t want this album to be too melancholy.
How do you approach songwriting?
I spend time playing guitar, usually the starting point is a melody or chord progression. Once I have an idea I record it on the voice recorder on my phone and then try to make sense if it later. Sometimes it comes together quickly and sometimes I might spend six months working on it until it feels right. Sometimes I might start with a title; I find that I get more inspired by that, by a phrase that I can then try to tell a story with.
Did the live feel of the album sessions influence the writing? Did the musicians you were playing with shape the writing process?
They contributed a vibe. I’ve been playing with them a while now so they know what to do, and they always bring something nice, often something different from the American guys I play with. They’re obviously influenced by American culture but they bring their own Mediterranean flavour which is great, it gives me something different.
‘Going Places’ is your thirteenth album, has your approach to touring and promotion changed over your career?
Well, I can tour whether I have a new album out it not, I’m fortunate in that I have an audience around the world where I can play, but if I do have an album out I notice a few more people come out to the shows because my profile is higher, I’m getting played on the radio a bit more so that’s the advantage of having something to promote. But of course I love putting a body of work out there and I love preparing for a tour. People on the US run of shows have reacted well to the new songs.
What are your favourite songs on the new record?
I like a song called ‘City Dog’. Gary Louris from The Jayhawks sings on it, I think that’s one of my favourites, it feels good to play. There’s another tune, probably the oldest on the album called ‘The Lonely Postman’. My father was a postman, and the song reminds me of something Glen Campbell might have done.
You’re on tour now, and heading over to Europe to tour later in the year. Do you play the same set every night or do you change it up and try to keep things fluid?
I start with a set list but it depends on my mood, I just read the crowd. I feel like I can always play some of my better known songs and I know it’s going to work. But when I go back to places I’ve played before I want to throw in some different songs. It’s a tough balance because when people are paying for a ticket to have a night out you want to play songs they know. I’m very aware of that so I’m not going to go out and say “hey, I’m just going to play the new record!” I’m a people pleaser in the sense that I want people to come out and have a good time.
Josh Rouse’s ‘Going Places’ is released on Yep Roc on 29th July, and Josh is touring the UK and Europe in October and November.