Josh Ritter will be discovering the east coast of Australia in early July. the AU review caught up with him to talk about writing stuff, touring and nearly dying.
The title of your most recent album So Runs The World Away has a really lovely old-world charm about it. Where does it come from?
I always wait to name an album until its coming together, and you know I never know what it's going to be until i listen to it. I was reading and so runs the world away, it's in Hamlet. Its Hamlet describing people watching a play. He's like, "for some must watch, while some must sleep: so runs the world away", and I thought that was really cool. I mean the stories in the record they are kind of larger stories and they have big sweeping qualities and I wanted that in to be in the title... and i figure if you are going to rip off someone.... rip off Shakespeare you know?
The cover of the album has a large boat on it, so i originally wondered if the album title was a big river reference.
Yeah, it's a boat called the Natchez. My producer Sam [Kassirer] took a picture of it with his old camera and it just turned out really well I tell you what.
The first set of yours I ever heard was a Daytrotter Session you recorded back in 2010. As a set it contains a lot of great storytelling songs "Another New World", "The Curse", "The Temptation Of Adam", and this style of song features strongly on So Runs The World Away. Bringing In The Darlings is a very different collection, written almost entirely in the first person. Is this just coincidence or are you moving away from that storytelling style of song?
There was like a style that I felt like I really loved and I latched onto, and eventually I guess I thought it was good to let it go. I mean you can write in the same style for a long time and the songs, while they may be different on the surface will end up giving a feeling that is the same. I didn't want to do that with this case you know, I wanted to switch it up. It stopped being as interesting once I'd "got it". When I wrote Bringing In The DarlingsI wanted them to be more sweet and unassuming songs. It's more just something I wanted to do for the writing.
Is it different putting together something shortish, like an EP compared to an album? Does it give you some extra latitude in the way you can bundle the songs?
Yeah, yeah. There's this thing called a record, put a full record on. There is always a narrative rise and fall, you know there's a beginning and a climax and the ending and when you change that and you change the time limit, you change the song limit, it becomes a different thing you know and you get a new set of opportunities to do something different I think...and that was really fun. I think the length of Darlings is just long enough to suit the mood ...for me ...to my mind.
You recently released book: Bright's Passage. That would have to be a pretty severe contrast with writing short songs for an EP?
Yeah it is. You are in a situation where you just have to keep on writing a little bit every day... and you know whether you feel like the mood is there or not, you just have to plow in and just keep going no matter what... just keep going. And some days it's there, and then other days you think like it's gone forever, and you hold on and you have to hold on for a day or so and hope it might feel good. You know it's a strange, strange thing. But in the end I think whether it's an EP a full length or a Novel, it's the same you are still trying to one word next to one word next to one word that feels right. You know?
As a songwriter originally did you find while writing the book that you accidentally ended up rhyming too much, or repeating bits like a chorus?
[Laughs] ...No, but one thing i noticed, not with the writing so much, but certainly with the rhythms. Some things are right you know because the rythm is right. I'm sure you've experienced that too.. .you know, you write and you read em back and sometimes it's wrong and it's not 'cos what you're saying is wrong, it just doesn't quite fit.
The stereotype of self-harm amongst rock stars is kinda well established, and it does stretch to folk/country singers as well, I guess Townes Van Zandt would be an example of that. Do you reckon your recent attempt at self-harm through physical exercise, resulting in rhabdomyolysis will get you re-defined as a darker, more morbid folk star?
[Laughs]...Yeah that's funny, I did it through exercise which is like ....it's NOT the way you do it if you're a professional musician...I mean it's meant to be drugs and alcohol... [Josh was recently hospitalised by a medical condition where, during physical exercise, the body dissolves muscle tissue. It can be fatal as the dissolved muscle cells have to be processed by the kidneys and can overwhelm and destroy them. He was just jogging... it wasn't "a cry for help".]
It was the most amazing weird moment, just lying in the hospital right ...knowing that you could die. That's a real ..well ... I hadn't had that experience before. I wasn't thinking at all about music, I was just thinking about how the good stuff is. You know it's suddenly not about the music. It's about your life being the way that you like it. That's I think if anything, it taught me like , if anything feeling much more happy about the good things. I'm lucky you know, whatever demons I might have, they aren't debilitating, they are the ones that help me write. and I'm lucky that I don't have to deal with that stuff. You know something like Townes Van Zandt might or guys like him ? Any of those really good musicians ...they just didn't get the chance to work their entire lives and I really feel like that's what I've got....which is exciting.
Your upcoming tour of Australia is playing solo acoustic sets as support for Simone Felice. Do you know much of his work and does playing alongside him affect the songs you are likely to choose to play?
I haven't had a chance to meet him. We are label mates, which is great and so in terms of just getting to play in support it's going to be awesome. I don't think it will affect how i play, mostly my ultimate goal is to go in and just rock it. Rock it quiet and rock it loud for as much time as i have. You know. I'm just going to thoroughly enjoy it... going to have me a good time.
What factors decide whether or not you tour with The Royal City Band? If this all goes well, can you see yourself touring the band more widely, perhaps returning to Oz with the full complement?
Absolutely. You know what happens with this is I like to play a bunch of dates and then I'll bring the band back as soon as i possibly can. That's always seemed to work the best. You know unfortunately, in terms of putting together an Australian tour, the factors are mostly economic. But there is nowhere else the band bugs me more about wanting to go. It's where everyone wants to go and it is an adventure you know, so as soon as possible. And in the meantime, for this tour at least , i hope that its a fore-taste of things to come.
Do you find touring is a good way to be a tourist? Or is it too much work and not enough sightseeing?
I think it's a really good way actually. In some ways anyway. I always meet people after shows and it's a chance to hang out and find out something about the place in a way that you wouldn't otherwise. You get a chance to meet people and you are already in a place that tourist don't go when you do a show and there are all sort of reasons that other people are there, and you are in a neighbourhoud you wouldn't necessarily be in otherwise and you find out about a good breakfast place, maybe you get lucky and you meet people and go to bar someplace after the show. You get to see a different slice of a town and the whole thing is a lot closer to reality than travelling and say touring Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower, which is also fun but it's different.
Josh Ritter plays four dates along the east coast in early July as support for Simone Felice and has released an EP an LP and a book recently, providing well-crafted wordage to suit any attention span. SIMONE FELICE & JOSH RITTER TICKETS from www.lovepolice.com.au/tours