Interview: Joshua Radin on what the world is telling him

Credit: Minna Ýr Jóhannsdóttir

Honesty is not only the best policy, it is the only way to write music and live your life.

Joshua Radin has kept up a very respectable release rate since releasing his first album in 2006 and achieved a level of commercial success in the UK and Europe, as well as America, and his songs have been successfully placed in various television series and films. This year’s album ‘Though The World Will Tell Me So’ has been released over two consequently released EPs, representing each side of a traditional album. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up over Zoom with Joshua Radin in Stockholm, Sweden, where he is writing and recording some new songs. While he may be seen as one of the newer breed of singer-songwriters, Joshua Radin shares his abiding love of the album format and the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is also clear that songwriting is no mere job for Joshua Radin, it is much more akin to therapy and is a key aspect of his drive for total honesty in his music and his whole life. While Joshua Radin may share his own particular take on the world through his music, he does think that The Beatles are probably the most influential band in the world, and just because it is a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

How are you, and where are you?

I’m fine and in Stockholm, Sweden, working on new music with some producers I like. I’ve been coming here for about thirteen years playing concerts, and I’ve made a lot of friends, and the music industry here is a really small group of very talented people. I’ve made records here before, and I also just love it here in the summer, it is an amazing place to be in the summer.

The Scandinavian music scene is largely under the radar for most people, I think.

I don’t think people realise how much of the music at the top of the charts is produced by a handful of Swedish producers.

I read that you have had one billion streams and a million album sales, what does that mean to an artist in 2023?

It’s nice, I guess, but I don’t really think about it very much. I’m always thinking about what I will write next, I never really listen to my own music once it’s out there. It is always what’s next, what’s next, what’s next, and I always have a very difficult time giving myself any sort of praise. I’m like, I’ve done that, what’s next then?

The music industry seems to be changing, with listeners focusing increasingly on songs rather than whole albums. Do you see yourself as a songwriter more than an album artist?

I always loved albums growing up, and when I got into this writing and recording later in life, I always wanted to be an album artist, so I’ve been hanging on to the album, the LP. It has become a bit antiquated, but it is such a beautiful thing. The public doesn’t want albums as much as they used to, and that is a difficult thing to wrap your head around when you love albums, and you hang on to it desperately. I’d say with the last four or five albums before I’ve made them, I’ve thought should I make a whole album? Should I release it this way? And I end up thinking, well, I love an album, so I end up doing it that way. This time with a ten-song album, I’ve spliced it into two EPs, and I’ve been releasing a new song every six weeks, almost like singles, even though they are not like radio singles per se, they are just a song that I like. As an experiment, I wanted to see how that might work if it would reach more people because these days, I don’t think people necessarily have the attention span for albums, though some of us still do. I think it is a format that has seen forty or fifty years, or however long it’s been, but it is dying unfortunately.

I think that the younger audience consumes their music much more like listening to old-style radio rather than buying and listening to whole albums.

I’m not the first to say this by any means, but if you look back when streaming first started with sites like LimeWire, Napster, The Pirate Bay, and all those free streaming music sites, I think it was only natural that was going to happen because music companies, record labels, got so greedy they put out an album with like twelve songs on it when people only actually wanted one or two of them but they would have to buy the complete album. I think people, and kids especially, were like, I don’t want to pay fifteen or twenty bucks for two songs. So, this is the price we are all paying for that kind of greed on the record companies’ part.

Is  ‘Though The World Will Tell Me So Volume 2’ simply the second side of the album, and how did you record the album?

Yes, it is. I recorded the album in a few different places with a few different producers, some in Los Angeles, some in London, and some in Stockholm. I didn’t write all the material and then go in and record, which I have done previously. This time it was more like I’ve got a few songs I like, and I’d like to record them, and I hung on to them, and I’d have a few more songs that I liked and recorded. When I had ten, I just thought, now I have to figure out a different way to release it. I think the rules about how to release music are changing all the time now, so I felt it was time for me to experiment and find a different way for myself. Now that I’ve done this, I liked it, but maybe I will try another way next time.

How do you approach your songwriting, and are you very disciplined?

I’m very disciplined when I’m inspired, but that doesn’t happen all the time. So, I’m not the type of person who treats it as a job per se and sits down and has a coffee and tries to write. I tend to live my life and then have bursts of inspiration about things I want to write about, and then I’ll go for a while without writing a song. In between all that, I will be playing the songs on the couch, trying to find different melodies in the song or trying to find different ways to phrase one sentence. The more I keep playing those songs before I record them, the more I find little nuances that I like. I love that because that’s one of my favourite things in all of this. When you’ve written a song, and you play it over and over again, some people might hear that and think how boring to just sit on the couch in the living room or somewhere and play a song over and over again. Then all of a sudden when you turn your brain off for a second, and some new little melody pops out in the song it is such a rush, and it’s like another puzzle piece you’ve managed to fit in. I love that feeling so much.

Did you have a vision for the whole album, or is it a more organic collection of songs?

I wasn’t envisioning an album, and I was just writing songs. When I had the ten songs, I had a body of work, and I then just had to release them. The reason I titled it ‘Though The World Will Tell Me So’ is essentially because that was what I was thinking about writing these songs. There is a general theme, a current, that runs through all the songs, and that is my general distaste for authority. I wouldn’t say I’m an insanely rebellious person or anything like that, but there is always something in me asking why. Why do people say you should love this way, travel this way, eat this way, live this way, work this way, society is always telling us, and I’m always questioning it. I think that is the general theme of the album, and in a way, I wanted to lend a voice to listeners out there who may be thinking something similar. They may feel different when they watch TV and the news or when they are just walking around being part of the world. It is OK to feel a little different, and when you look around, think, is everyone crazy, why do I feel this way, and why does everyone else seem to feel a different way? I feel like that so often I set off to write about it.

That approach requires a high degree of personal honesty, how easy do you find that?

That is the code of songwriting, that is what songwriting is. It is not a matter of degree, I feel my job is to constantly try to get better at being honest all the time. Not just in songwriting but in my life, it helps me to be more honest with people in my life and myself when I look in the mirror. It is just constant journaling when you write something down in your journal or diary, you are like, oh, because it is a new perspective, and it is not just a thought in your head because you wrote it down, or you turned it into a song. You are sharing it with people, it is like a manifestation.

A lot of times, I will write songs to people I’m terrified of speaking to in person. A lot of times, I will think I need to get better at this thing in my life, like I’m really bad at being in the moment, being in the present. I spend too much time thinking about the future, and I get anxieties about it, like I said before, what comes next, what comes next. So I ended up writing a song called ‘Here Right Now’, and every time I play it, it reinforces the idea in my mind over and over again,  almost like a mantra, I’m here, I’m in this state right now. It has really helped me, it is cathartic for me, and it is my therapy. I then feel so lucky that I can go on stage all over the world and play these songs, these diary entries, for people. It is almost like I’m being paid to do therapy rather than paying for it. It is pretty lucky.

From what you’ve said, you would write songs even if you couldn’t release them.

Yes, for sure, definitely.

Did you order the tracks on the album as they were written?

Yes. I remember hearing many years ago that Neil Young had done that, he would write ten songs and release them in that order. I always thought that was pretty cool, and if it’s cool enough for Neil Young, it is definitely a good idea.

Who are your go-to influences, the ones who made you want to become an artist and the ones you go back to for inspiration?

I would say Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Henry Miller, Paul Cézanne, Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bill Withers, and Sam Cooke. There are so many creative people, whether I’m reading their books or walking through a museum looking at their paintings, listening to their music, or going to see them play their music, there are just so many inspiring people. I mean The Beatles, it all comes down to The Beatles.

Particularly for Americans.

For the world, I think that would be a pretty good go-to answer for musicians’ biggest influences. It is like being a painter and saying your biggest influence is Da Vinci or Picasso or someone. It is one of those cliché answers, and I always think nobody wants to give one of those cliché answers even if they are true, I do love Picasso, of course, everybody does.

How did you find Europe on your recent tour?

It was really great, and I played some really intimate places, and it was cosy. I played the shows as an acoustic duo with my friend, Brandon Walters, and it was really nice. I came to Liverpool, I hadn’t been to Manchester in a minute, which was nice, I always play London, but it was nice to get around to see if some of the UK fans still remember me. It was nice they still showed up for the concerts, I felt really lucky for that. They were really lovely.

How important is your charity/educational work to you?

I’m not going to stand on something and be like I do so much charity, but I do like to give back, and over the years, I’ve picked certain organisations that I like to work with, but I wouldn’t say I’m exceedingly charitable. I try to give back when I can, and I tend to focus on organisations that try and help animals or kids. You can’t help everybody can you, so everyone has to pick and choose the things they want to give back to, so it is all important, but animals and kids are causes that can’t look out for themselves

What are your plans for the future?

I’m going to stay in Europe and do some writing and travelling, hit the Mediterranean and take trains around with a backpack and live a nomad’s life for a little while. I have a US tour starting 8th September in Dallas and which then goes all around America, with one Canadian date in Toronto, and that is for about six weeks. I have no plan after that, so we will just see. Hopefully, I will have another new bunch of songs that I want to record over the wintertime. So, I will lock myself away somewhere in the winter.

And then, you will have to work out how to release them in 2024.

Yeah, and the whole world may be completely different in 2024, so who knows?

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

I’m so bad at the new stuff, it takes forever for it to reach my brain, and I’m such a sucker for my parent’s record collections. If you look at my playlists and the stuff I play around the house, it is all stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s, really, some ‘80s maybe, but it is mainly stuff I grew up listening to when I was six or seven in my childhood home. I’m the wrong person to ask about that new band that people are going have you seen this band you should check out, I’m terrible at that. I’m listening to all the classics, all the stuff I mentioned before. Stuff that has stood the test of time.

I don’t really know what was going on in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but something certainly was.

Neither do I, but whatever it was, it was a beautiful thing.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

I will just say thank you so much. The people of the UK, ever since I started this career eighteen years ago, have been the first ones to be my supporters and keep me going. So I will always come back and play concerts in the UK, and London and New York are probably my two favourite places to play concerts in. When I get to two weeks before the concert, I get all giddy, like a kid with Christmas coming. I will just say thank you.

Joshua Radin’s ‘Though The World Will Tell Me So Vol 2’ is released on 4th August on Nettwerk Records.

About Martin Johnson 406 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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