Interview: Josh Pyke

Josh Pyke b+w horiz

Words: Cat Kusmuk-Dodd
Image: Courtesy of On The Map PR

 

Despite our conversation being over the phone, I could sense the relaxed nature of Josh Pyke. He emits a warmth and passion that is both inspiring and refreshing particular to someone who is aiming to get into the creative industry.

Josh’s latest album ‘But For All These Shrinking Hearts’ is a perfect example as to why he is one of Australia’s favourite story tellers. What was interesting to hear during our chat was Josh’s tales of how he got into the industry, his experiences with touring, how he’s changed over the last couple of years as an artist and his honesty and advice to people wanting to get into the creative arts.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation:

Hi Josh, thank you for talking to Concrete Journal this morning, how are you going?

Yeah, I’m good thanks!

Your new tour starts in January next year,  you must be really excited, especially to work with a band again?

Yeah I am. Its been almost two years since we’ve done an actual tour of the band shows, but we have been playing a couple of festivals and we’ve got Woodford and Falls over summer to kind of get ready. But yeah, its been while, so I’m really looking forward to it.

So for people that don’t know, what is the story behind the album art for ‘But For All These Shrinking Hearts’?

For the art, I was looking for a new tattoo idea and I was thinking of getting a perpetual motion machine. Like a cool kind of old school graphic antique engineering diagram. But then I was researching and I found out that nobody has actually been able to successfully make a perpetual motion machine, and that sort of took the wind out of my sails in terms of wanting it as a tattoo. Through the course of looking at that, I found this story of this guy called Charles Redheffer who basically made a fake one. A sceptic didn’t believe it and uncovered that there was an old man behind a wall cranking a wheel to make the machine go. I saw that image in my head and it seemed like a perfect visual metaphor for what I was kind of feeling disillusioned with in the world.

Speaking of tattoos, do you have many that are related to songs that you have done or maybe that are very important to you in regards to the creative arts?

I’ve got a few [tattoos] but the only ones that are related to music are, one that I got when I was in a punk band for years. I always said, “I’m gonna get a tattoo of our symbol.” Our band was called ‘An Empty Flight’, the symbol was of three silhouettes of these birds flying. I said I’d get that tattoo if we ever got a record deal and then that band broke up and I got a record deal as a solo artist; but because I wanted to be a man of my word, I still got that tattoo. The only other one I’ve got related to music, is a black bird on my back which myself, Tim Rogers, Phil Jamieson and Chris Cheney got together at the end of The Beatles White Album [tour]. The other ones are just personal ones.

You mentioned the White Album Tour. Out of all The Beatles albums you could have covered, what made you cover The White Album?

It wasn’t really my idea. We had a producer that came to us individually with the idea and whisked that album in mind. I had never done anything like that before and I was pretty nervous about doing it cause I don’t really consider myself like a “performer performer”, you know what I mean? I just consider myself good at singing and playing my own songs. It was a huge challenge and it turned out to be this really super successful thing and then we did it again five years later and it was even more successful, which was quite bizarre to me because I didn’t think that people would want to come and see it. [laughs]

Back to your music, it has actually been two years between the releases of your last album, ‘The Beginning and the End of Everything’ and your new album, “But For All These Shrinking Hearts’. How much have you changed as a person and an artist?

In those two years?

Yeah.

I think as a person you can’t really measure, I can’t personally measure how I’ve changed as a person. Two years is not that long, you know I had another child in those two years and that always changes things. But as a musician, I think I’ve become a lot more confident in my creative choices when I’m writing and also recording. I think I started to put less pressure on myself in terms of micro managing every element of a song. It took me quite a long time to get anywhere as a musician and a solo artist. I’d already been [apart] of this punk rock band for like six, seven years and because I had been in this group for so long, I really wanted to stand by, to live and die by every decision I made.

I just feel now that I’m at a point where I actually feel a lot more open to collaboration and relegating a bit of control to other people. For instance, with the string arrangements from this recent album, usually I would try and pick out a melody on the keyboard and give that as a reference to the arranger. This time I was like, just do anything you want because it was Ross Irwin, the horn player from Cat Empire, and he’s an unbelievable arranger and I trust him and basically said, “Make it a bit like Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake, so go for it.”

So things like that I definitely wouldn’t have done and that’s a big change. [It has] only really been recently and it started around the time I did the SSO (Sydney Symphony Orchestra) stuff, I had to do the same thing for that because I can’t read or write music.

You collaborated with some amazing musicians for The White Album tour and even Basement Birds. You also collaborated with Markus from Jinja Safari on your song, ‘Songlines’. Do you have an ultimate dream collaborator?

I get asked a lot and it’s hard to think about it, I still struggle with the answer. The only person I have ever been passionate about consistently saying is probably James Mercer from The Shins. I love The Shins and I just love his lyricism… you know you listen to The Shins and it sounds kinda pop-y and fun but the lyrics are amazing so yeah,  I reckon I’d love to do something with him.

Your lyrics have always been quite poetic. Have you been inspired by any particular authors or pieces of literature?

I think early on I was particularly into Australian writers. I really love Tim Winton and I still do love his writing. There’s something about his writing where he uses kind of everyday language, but he’s saying poignant and poetic stuff. I really got into Steinbeck and ‘East Of Eden’ was a big one for me. But in terms of actual authors, I’m probably more influenced by lyricists and I think people like Glenn Richards from Augie March has always been an amazing lyricist who I really admire; but at the end of the day, I try not to be too influenced by anybody. You want to try and forge your own path as well.

You performed at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year. Can you tell us what that experience was like for you?

It was amazing. I mean, I’ve performed there quite a few times before but in the context of doing the SSO thing, it was a massive baptism of fire. We did two nights there so it was a pretty big deal. You only get two rehearsals with them so the first rehearsal, we didn’t even get through all of the songs and the second rehearsal was literally an hour before we opened the doors for the first show, so that was [laughs] incredibly nerve racking. It was one of those times in your life, everyone has them, where you’re just like, “Ok, this is proper sink or swim. You have to actually rise to the occasion here or this is going to be terrible.” I felt very proud to actually get through it and I kind of felt like it was a testament to having ten years of performance under my belt. It was a career highlight for, not only having access to such amazing musicians and playing in front of huge crowds, but I really had to push myself more than I ever have.

Do you remember buying your first guitar?

I do actually. I’m looking at it now, it’s like a crappy Indonesian acoustic guitar. The brand is Magnum and I bought it when I was like fifteen or sixteen. I call it my “home guitar” and I just have it in the house as opposed to all my fancy guitars that I have in the studio. This guitar can be knocked over by children and sat on and surfed on which is what they do at times. [laughs]

On your song ‘Hollering Hearts’, your eldest son Archer sings on the track. What did it mean to you to be able to share your passion for music with your son?

It means a lot. I like sharing with my family but it’s also something that I feel like I can never really fully share what music means to me with anybody. It’s like describing your personality to someone, it’s just too complicated and it changes all the time depending on who you’re with and what you are doing. I have a studio at home in my backyard and I spend my days down there. Then in the afternoon, I go pick up my kids from school and sometimes we will go down and hang out in the studio and play the drums and piano and stuff like that. They are all coming down to Falls Festival in Tassie this year and Archer was at the SSO concert because he was old enough to actually stay up that late [laughs]. So yeah, I love having them involved but I also don’t want to make them think that it’s something so crazily unusual and special that they place it higher than other professions. I personally don’t think that being a musician [is] any more important than being a lawyer or a doctor or a school teacher or something like that. So we try to find a good balance of keeping them involved but also not romanticising [it], cause it’s super tough.

You actually play drums on your song ‘Book Of Revelations’. What was that like for you?

It was cool. I always play drums on the demos because it’s just me at home but inevitably we will get an actual drumer. Usually what I do is build the drum parts up. I can play drums but I’m quite bad. I’m very limited in my chops and my patterns and stuff but I can keep time. Usually I will build the drum tracks up by adding a kick drum and then adding a snare but I’ll set the tracks as opposed to all on the same take. But ‘Book Of Revelations’ was just me playing drums live to the track and it was mad fun. It’s kind of got this slacker rock vibe to it. Since I’ve had the studio, I’ve got the drums set up all of the time so I can record them at the click of a button. So I’ve been playing a lot more drums and I’m improving very slightly everyday which is fun [laughs].

Do you have a favourite song on your album ‘But For All These Shrinking Hearts’?

You know its always really tough, I think it changes. Funnily enough, I was listening to a Spotify playlist the other day called, ‘Folk’ or ‘Easy Folk’, something like that. ‘Someone to Rust With’ came on the playlist, which I didn’t realise was going to be on there. For the first sort of twenty seconds I didn’t catch on that it was me and I was listening to it and I was like, “Oh that sounds kinda nice.” [laughs] Then I was like, “Hang on a second, that’s me!” Then I listened to the song, cause I don’t really listen to my music. I don’t think I’ve listened to my album since I’ve made it. So yeah, maybe that’s my favourite at the moment.

Can you describe your album, ‘But For All These Shrinking Hearts’ in two words?

Amazingly good! [laughs]

Concrete Journal, Issue Zero, is all about starting from the ground up. Do you have any advice for people starting in the creative industry?

I’ve probably got a book full of advice, but you know the biggest thing is? It’s really really tough and it’s really undervalued. Creativity in general is kind of the background to everybody’s life and if you ask somebody what they think of music or what they think of art they’ll say, “I love it! I love music, I love art. I’m passionate about music, I’m passionate about art.” If you ask them, “When was the last time you bough a record or went to an independent gallery opening?” They would be like, “I’ve never done that.” I think there’s a real big divide between how much [people] think they value art and creativity as opposed to how much they actually participate in that culture.

That’s something I’ve really struggled with because in my day to day life, my friends and peers aren’t actually in the creative arts. What I’ve found incredibly helpful is just finding a community of like-minded artists and musicians, whatever pursuit you are doing in terms of creativity. You don’t have to hang out with them all the time but whenever you’re feeling blue or whenever you’re feeling like nobody understands the struggle of being a creative person, you go seek them out and just talk it out.

At the end of the day, nobody is going to create an opportunity for you. You can’t just sit around in your room and make a couple of YouTube videos and expect to be discovered. You’ve actually gotta relentlessly pursue what you’re trying to do, create opportunities, say yes to everything for years and years until you can start to say no.

I’ve got some speed questions that I’m going to ask you, majority of them are just a couple of words that you have to choose from. So I’ve got:

Books or Movies?

At the moment, Movies.

Singing or Guitar?

Probably guitar at the moment.

Sunset or Sunrise?

With young children, inevitably sunrise.

I know you’re a fan of ‘The Walking Dead’, so I have a question. The Gov or Negan? (the comics/TV shows villains)

Ugh! Well that’s a hard one because they’re both horrible people. Negan is way more charismatic though. Negan’s not gonna be in the TV show is he?

Yeah they’ve just cast him!

I can’t wait. I kind of almost wish I was starting to watch it now, so I could just binge instead of having to wait.

Yeah I did that this year. [laughs]

Yeah good move. [laughs]

Morning or Night?

Yeah night’s good.

Sweet or Savoury?

Ah, probably sweet but it should be savoury. [laughs]

I don’t know if you’re a fan of emojis, but if so, what was your recently used emoji?

Um. Let me tell you. Aw, it was just the boring muscle arm you know?

To finish off, what are three words to describe you?

Oh god [laughs] um. I don’t know, those are my three words.

‘But For All These Shrinking Hearts’ is available for purchase at www.joshpyke.com

JOSH PYKE ‘BUT FOR ALL THOSE SHRINKING HEARTS’ ALBUM TOUR

Presented by Music Feeds

SUN 27 DEC | WOODFORD FOLK FESTIVAL, QLD

Tickets available from www.woodfordfolkfestival.com

 

MON 28 DEC | WOODFORD FOLK FESTIVAL, QLD

Tickets available from www.woodfordfolkfestival.com

 

FRI 29 JAN | TWILIGHT AT TARONGA, SYDNEY NSW (ALL AGES)

Tickets available from www.twilightattaronga.org.au

SAT 30 JAN | CANBERRA THEATRE PLAYHOUSE, CANBERRA ACT (ALL AGES)

Tickets available from www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au | 02 6275 2700 | Canberra Theatre Box Office

 

THU 04 FEB | STUDIO 56 @ MIAMI MARKETTA, GOLD COAST QLD

Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

 

FRI 05 FEB | THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE QLD

Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

 

SAT 06 FEB | STAR COURT THEATRE, LISMORE NSW (ALL AGES)

Tickets available from www.starcourttheatre.com.au | 02 6622 5005

 

FRI 12 FEB | MELBOURNE ZOO TWILIGHTS, MELBOURNE VIC (ALL AGES)

Tickets available from www.zoo.org.au/twilights

 

SAT 13 FEB | THE WOOL EXCHANGE, GEELONG VIC

Tickets available from www.oztix.com.au | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

 

FRI 19 FEB | HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE, ADELAIDE SA (ALL AGES)

Tickets available from www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au | 131 246 | All BASS Outlets

 

SAT 20 FEB | ASTOR THEATRE, PERTH WA*

Tickets available from www.astortheatreperth.com | 1300 111 369

*U18 can attend with parent/guardian

 

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