The time has come for Josh to hang up his boots for a while as he focuses more on other musical ventures and family. I was lucky enough to have a chat with the one and only Josh Pyke about Memories and Dust which he is playing during his current final tour and the memories created in the past 10 or so years.
How will you be taking to the stage for the final time? Will it be full band or solo?
At the second I’m doing a regional leg of the tour, and that will be solo, so it’s going to be both. I’ve always done band tours and then solo tours, and I think in particular this will be nice way to present the songs with the band with a full sound, but it’ll be nice to get out and play them solo and be able to have more of a narrative around each of the songs, and also present them to people the way that they were first written, on an acoustic guitar.
That makes sense, I’ve spoken to a lot of artists when they’re doing their 10 year tours, and they say that they’re sometimes just one or two songs on that album that they wished they didn’t have to play – is that the case for you, or can you still look back on that album and go ‘Fuck, yeah no wonder I got as big as I did!’?
Haha, well I don’t know about the ‘no wonder’ bit, but I love them all, I feel really proud of them all. They still resonate – all the things that I was thinking about still resonate with me, so to be honest there’s songs that I wish I’d played live sooner, songs like Covers Get Thrown – I’d never played that live, but it just sounds great live… I’m actually stoked, every time we play the full album I’m like “Oh great! Now it’s this song!” and “Ah cool! Now it’s this song”, so it’s actually been a really refreshing experience to reconnect with the album and realise that I like it better now than I did when I made it. I was so close to it when I made it, it’s actually good to have a bit of objectivity and connect with it in that way.
That’s true, theres a few artists out there that can’t really look back on their back catalogue and actually still be proud, but I suppose it really did resonate with a lot of people – because for myself, it was the album that got me into Josh Pyke… You did something right.
Great, thank you!
Do you see yourself doing this with following albums? I know you are just talking about hanging up your touring boots for a little bit, but there’s a bracket of a couple of years between the albums… Do you see that this is something you’d like to revisit with even Chimneys Afire?
I don’t know, I’ve definitely thought about it, because we’ve done it with this one, and I’ve definitely thought about how conceptually it works really well, and loads of people are doing it. So I don’t know, initially I thought maybe I could do memories and chimneys as one thing, and then The Beginning and The End of Everything and Only Sparrows as a second concert series. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I think I’d probably leave it longer than 10 years for the other albums
Yeah, just make it weird timing, 17 and a half years…
yeah exactly, 12 and a half years
Sounds like a good celebration to me. So are you looking back on this experience now that you’re taking some time off and just being really reflective of what has gone on and who you were 1 years aim compared to the Josh that you are now?
It’s kind of impossible not to, it’s been cool recognising that some things haven’t changed – some of my core creative values are the same as when I started, which is not to write with an agenda, and to write authentically from my heart – even if I know it’s not going to get played on the radio and stuff like that. But, I’ve changed enormously as a person. I think I’m in someways a lot more confident as an adult, and I can trust my instincts better as an adult. Once you get past the naivety of youth, you realise how fraught the world is – and those things have crept into my songs as well. So, I think a lot of things have changed, but some refreshing things have stayed the same which is a good thing as well.
I apologise in advance for turning this into a ‘This Is Your Life’ moment for you, but I think the one thing that struck a chord with me first was that you didn’t stick to any agenda – you were playing folk music but with more of a punk-ish agenda, be it if it was the stretched earlobes, or the one thing that caught my eye was the MacBeth shoes that you used to always wear, I’d think “hey, this guy is the last punk guy I’ve ever heard, but he’s wearing real punk shoes!” – that kind of made me pick up your CD and it worked – now looking back on, it’s very materialistic of me.
Well aesthetics are important, and I’ve thought about thus a lot of the years, because touring you meet a lot of people like musicians and crew members that you’re going to be spending a lot of time with, and you need to cut through to the core of them to figure out what kind of person they are very quickly, and aesthetics are a really easy way to do that. And back when I started, I had been, up until I went solo, in a punk band, and all my teenage years I was really into skating, so that aesthetic was just me. And I played in drop-D tuning because obsessed with Soundgarden, and I still play in drop-D, so it’s just been that I always felt like I didn’t really have a scene – or not one that I was fitting into anyway, so I just thought I’d be myself and see what happened.
One of the comforting things about being a Josh Pyke concert is that you’ve got people like myself, I’m in my 30’s now, and I just float around wearing a t-shirt and shorts and I’m a father, and then there’s the younger kids that come out and they do still relate to that punk-ish side. It’s a very inclusive environment that you’ve set yourself up with, be it musically or aesthetically.
Yeah, it’s always been massive blessing that my demographic seems to be semi-broad, these days I’ve got parents bringing their 14 year old kids along to shows who were babies when y music came out, I’ve got grandparents bringing their adult children along, and then there’s kids who are 18 now and haven’t been able to come to shows before, so it’s a huge blessing having a demographic that broad because it just means that you’re resonating with a bunch of different people, and I’ve always tried writes songs that are going to lyrically appeal to a wide range of people – lyrically things aren’t so specific, and I’m not quoting cultural references of the day.
That’s a good point, which brings me to my next question, which never goes to plan, I always have to improvise, but I actually have a question that you’ve led into yourself – as you said your songs can communicate to all different kinds of people, and back in the early days with this album, you were getting some play on Triple J, and you’ve been not afraid to have your own say on radio and popularity. Has there ever been a time where you were getting frequent play and then all of a sudden, it was dropping. Were you getting any self doubt, because the radio fairies weren’t doing right by you?
Yeah absolutely, I had 10 years and 4 albums worth of support from Triple J, and I owe my career to having been played on that station, because I didn’t really ever get played on any commercial stations. But when I stopped getting played on Triple J, I definitely went through a period of doubt where I was like “what’s going on?” And it was confusing. I’m a bit of a stats nerd, so I can look at my Spotify and Facebook analytics and my core demographic is still the same core demographic as Triple J’s, so I found it confronting and confusing that I would be no longer deemed right for their demographic, even though my fans would have suggested otherwise. So it did give me pause, and it made me confront it and it’s such a small industry, and it made me question whether or not I would be able to push through that barrier and continue to have a career to be honest. It was confronting, but the great thing that came out of all of that is that I realised that my core fanbase is just so amazing and so strong and so passionate and supporting, and things have continued to build from that point, and also the rise of streaming services – I’m going my first tour of Europe, 10 years into my career now, even though I’ve been to the UK a million times, but I’m actually branching out into Europe on this tour, and that’s due to streaming services and the internet and having a social media presence. I realised that I’d put all my eggs in one basket accidentally, and when that basket disappeared I did go through a period of self doubt, but I feel like I’ve come out of it stronger and more confident, which is good.
That’s a success story for streaming services if I’ve ever heard one, but there still are to this day a lot of artists that aren’t too happy with that, but you make a great point that there’s all the people in Europe, that if it wasn’t for Spotify or such things, there could have been a huge chance that they wouldn’t have got to hear your songs, let a long a full album.
Streaming is a bit of a conundrum, but at the end of the day the horse has bolted, and it is what it is. it’s not going to go backwards from streaming, so I think artists need to advocate for change and advocate for getting better splits from their record labels and keep pushing to get things better, but at the end of the day, streaming is where it’s at, it’s not going to go away. And streaming has pretty much solved the problem of piracy, so that’s a good thing.
Yeah, that’s right, people are going to be doing it anyway, so why not at least make 1 cent from it instead of zero.
And just as a consumer, streaming is just a great discovery tool, it’s a tough one, because it’s not perfect, but we need to keep pushing to make it better, but as a model for aggregating music, it’s very good.
Speaking of pushing to making things better, we’re having this interview because you’re taking some time off, but you’re still doing a lot behind the scenes – you’re a producer as well, as well as having a grant that you do yearly. Is there anything non-performance-wise that you’d be getting involved in even more so.
I mean, I’ve been an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation for many years now and I do stuff with them every year – I went out with them to the Tiwi Islands this year and ran literacy workshops there, and I’m performing at their indigenous literacy day in september, so I’ll definitely continue my work there, and I’ve always been an advocate for the arts and for copyright protection through TBCA and APRA, so if anything I’ll have more time to focus on that kind of stuff. So cultural advocacy is something that’s really important to me, particularly in this changing landscape of music where just last year we had George Brandis cutting funding to the ABC and cutting funding to the AusCouncil, so artists need to step up and have a voice about that stuff, because it is becoming an industry of diminishing returns and if we want artists to dig deep and hone their craft, we need to support them, and I don’t feel like that’s happening as much as it should be at the moment.
It kind of does sound like even though you won’t be touring, there’s going ti be plenty of Josh Pyke’s fingers in many a musical hole.
I think so, at the end of the day, I’m a musician but I’m also passionate about art and the value of art culturally, I think everybody in the world if you said to them “what do you think of art, music, and culture?” They’d say “I love it, I think it’s so important, I think it’s great” – but if you dig a little deeper and ask them how they support that stuff, they probably won’t have done much, so I think we need to take a look at how much we actually value those things and act accordingly.
There’s always those people that need a bit of a flick or a push, once they read this interview here, and they see that Josh Pyke said “Hey, it’s good that you like it, but maybe do something”…
Yeah, go to one show, go act on a Kickstarter campaign or buy something from Pledge Music, give a busker 5 bucks. It can literally be as little as that.
So before we wrap this all up, I’m not going to be one of those horrible people that ask you about a return date, and you’ve already told us that you will be back, but if there’s a moment that you can take away since the release of the album, is there one moment that made you realise “I can make a slight living off the passion that I have”?
It kind of comes in tides, because particularly in Australia, you’re only as good as your last album. I’ve seen big acts have big albums, and then disappear from their second album because it didn’t go well. So every album, I’ve felt when it goes well “Sweet, I’m gonna be able to do this for another 2 years”, and I’ve kind of lived my life like that for the last 10 years – when I did Memories & Dust, I was thinking “this is going really well, I’m going to be able to get another album out of this” and then I did the next album and it happened again, and it just kept on going. And it was always in 2 year periods, where I’d be like “i’m just going to ride this wave until it falls away”, and it’s really only been in the last 4 years or so that I’ve felt established to a degree, and felt like I’ve accumulated enough fans and accumulated enough good will over the years that I could do this for another 20 years, as long as I keep producing good work. It all comes down to producing good work, that’s something that I’m still as passionate and excited about as I ever was.
And for any of the people out there who have forgotten that you are able to produce good work, you do have your Greatest Hits album out, which kind of epitomises what we were talking about – great work. Was it hard? Did you just go with the singles for that? Or were you choosing a couple of songs that you wanted to put in there that weren’t well known?
Well New Years Song I really pushed hard to get in there, but lastly the Best-Of component was dictated by songs being singles or having performed really well, but it was really the B-Sides and Rarities that was the most exciting part of that project for me, because I had all these orphaned songs that I’d always loved, but they’d never fit as part of the group of songs for various albums. So it was really cleansing to get those ones out on a proper publicised release out in the world, as opposed to me just throwing them up on Facebook and saying “Here’s a song I wrote 10 years ago”. Because they all still really resonate with me, some of the production’s done in the studio, and some’s done 10 years ago on my first dodgy ProTools rig. They’ve all got their meaningfulness, so that was the thing that was the hardest but also the most rewarding part of that project.
It’s been the best chance for me, and I would consider myself an avid Josh Pyke fan, but then after hearing all these songs, I went “I’m glad he did the research for me, because I can’t make it to every show, and hope that a B-Side or Rarity is going to come out.”
I’ve made you talk for long enough, today, so thank you for chatting with me and for the last 10 years of music that you’ve put in my ears. I’ll be sitting here waiting for your return, but I’ll actually be saying goodbye to you at one of your shows first.
Awesome, thanks a lot mate, I appreciate it.