Joshua Radin is described by AllMusic as “a yearning singer/songwriter with a gentle sound steeped in the acoustic folk tradition” which is probably as good a description as you’re going to get of him. If you’ve ever watched old episodes of Scrubs, chances are you’ll know his music – but he’s recorded prolifically since his debut back in 2004, most recently releasing the album ‘Here, Right Now’ which contains some of his best work to date, including covers of songs by the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty. Mark Whitfield caught up with him for a quick chat about the new record, his new label home and how he came to write his first political song.
How are you feeling about the move to a label like Nettwerk which has such a good reputation for their roster?
Joshua: So far, I feel like they have been great. Everyone I’ve met from the label has been kind and supportive and seem to really get what I’m trying to do musically.
Are there any label mates whose music you particularly like?
Joshua: My buddy William Fitzsimmons is on Nettwerk and we’ve played a lot of shows together over the years. I think he’s great. Also, I’ve never met Passenger but I’d like to check out his live show sometime.
Tell us a bit about your new record ‘Here Right Now’ – does it have a theme running through it or is it a collection of songs which just sit well together?
Joshua: The title track was the first song I wrote for this album and it came after a period of writer’s block. I decided I wanted to write about being in the moment because my entire life I have been dealing with anxiety about the future, the concept of “what comes next”, and I didn’t want to be consumed by those thoughts anymore. The rest of the songs just flowed out from there, after I was able to open the tap.
One of the standout tracks for me is “What Would You Do?” I know you’ve said that you don’t consider yourself a particularly political person, which made the song all the more evocative for me. What made you decide to write it? Have you had any kickback from it?
Joshua: Thank you so much. That’s one of my favorites as well. No, no kickback at all actually. Maybe people out there, no matter what their stance on immigration is, agree that a child’s separation from their parents at a border is not the right policy. I hope that’s the case at least.
Your cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” is one of the best I’ve heard in terms of the way you’ve interpreted it – are you a big fan, and are there any other songs of Petty’s you’d like cover?
Joshua: Thank you! I’ve always loved him as a songwriter so damn much. He was just the coolest. I mean, I’ve always loved ‘The Waiting’ but I haven’t figured out how to cover it yet and make it sound different. I think covers should have a new take on the original, otherwise it’s just a karaoke version of the song with a new vocal.
I’m going to self-indulgently go back a couple of records now – my favourite track from all your albums is ‘Angels’ which I just think is perfect in every way – the melody, arrangement, and even its length – just 3 minutes of perfectness (if that’s a word). Do you ever come back to that song?
Joshua: Wow thanks! I haven’t played that in years but maybe I should throw it into a set every now and then.
You used to quite often do new versions of songs from albums for tracks which were being released as singles – I’m thinking ‘Streetlight’ or ‘I ‘d Rather Be With You’ for example (or even the video for ‘Brand New Day’ which has a version of the song on I *love* but can’t find anywhere recorded). What was the reason for that, and do you have favourite versions of songs yourself?
Joshua: I think my favorite versions of my songs change constantly. Sometimes I just want to play them acoustically and other times I love adding a full band and more instrumentation. It totally depends on my mood at the time.
Another of my favourite songs going waaaaay back is ‘Sundrenched World’ which works so well because it’s so minimalist. Do you get a sense with a song whether it’s going to work better with a sparse arrangement as opposed to a full band sound?
Joshua: Thank you so much. Well, that song started out as an acoustic guitar song but when my friend Oliver Kraus started adding cello parts, I realized that all the cello tracks layered upon one another were all the recording needed.
For me, your music fits comfortably within the americana genre, whatever that is, because despite the production, etc. your music feels to me all about the songs above all else. Do you identify with the genre at all?
Joshua: I love that. In fact, lately I’m being pulled much more toward that genre than any other. And for the reason you stated, that it’s just about the song. A great song can be played on one instrument and that’s the vibe I’ll be going for in the future. I think.
Finally, when are you going to come up north (of England) and play again!? We miss you round these parts.
Joshua: I’d love to get up there sooner than later. I’m on my tour bus right now about to cross into the U.K. for a show in London tonight so I’m feeling a lot of love for England at the moment. Hopefully the north of England still remembers me.
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