Good news, folks: Joshua Radin is exactly as earnest, sweet and humble as his music might lead you to believe he is. Over the course of a fifteen minute phone conversation blighted by terrible reception and lag, Radin remained upbeat and generous, discussing topics as varied as his love life, his creative practice, and his very genuine love for music.
Radin’s soft, sweet songs have been entrancing audiences for years now, ever since he first emerged onto the music scene. A self-described late bloomer, Radin was thirty when he started playing music, but quickly made up for lost time, releasing stunning album after stunning album, culminating in this year’s incredible Onward And Sideways.
At the end of our conversation, I thanked Radin for his time. And then he did something I’ve never had happen in an interview before: he thanked me, very sincerely, and at length. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, his music bursts with humility and life. Why didn’t I expect that the man behind the music would too?
Joseph Earp: Do you find audiences different around the world? Like, are you expecting something different from Australian audiences?
Joshua Radin: It’s tough to say…Not terribly. The only main differences I find in my audiences around the world is the further I travel, the more appreciative they are. Obviously, Australians tend to be the most appreciative.
JE: Will you still get nervous before a show then?
JR: I wouldn’t say nervous…Right before I go on stage I have that butterfly feeling in my stomach. You know, it’s one of those things where I think if I stopped getting that feeling I’d probably stop doing this. [Because it would mean] it wouldn’t matter to me. It’s good to have.
JE: How much are you thinking when you’re up on stage? Are you taking everything in, or do you find you reach a zone?
JR: I think I go in and out of the zone. It can be somewhat of a zen experience actually. You know I’ve never really surfed before but it sounds like when surfers talk about riding a wave…It almost sounds like that. And in a sense it can be almost like riding a rollercoaster too. And you know, the adrenaline you receive on stage as a performer is your drug. It’s why you keep doing it, because there’s just no feeling like it. Especially when you perform as quietly as I do…It’s incredible to hear pin drop silence in a large room filled with people who have paid to come and see you and they’re hanging on your every word…It’s a power you can’t even begin to describe.
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JE: I read recently that you’re working on a new album…Is that true?
JR: Yeah, well I’m a few songs in. I just started writing. After writing and touring an album it usually takes me a few months to refresh and start living my life again. I can’t really write songs unless I’m…I like to call it ‘living properly’. The last few months actually, I hadn’t written any songs and I started thinking about why no songs had been coming, because I don’t just sit down and try to write songs, I just wait for inspiration, and I can’t rush that…It’s one of those things, you’ve just gotta live your life and experience. And so I feel like, when I’m not writing songs – when songs aren’t coming – it must mean that I’m not living properly.
So that’s sort of the gauge. It’s like a metre I’m looking at on how I’m living my life. Cause I just know myself, if songs aren’t coming out of me, then I’ve got to make a change.
JE: When you talk about a song ‘coming to you’ do you hear the whole song immediately, or is it a process of discovery…
JR: No, no. It’s usually a subject matter that I want to write about. And usually it’s the first line of the song. It sorta comes out. Or it could be the first line of a chorus I’ve come up with, and I’ve got to kind of craft a song around the chorus.
It depends. It’s different in each case. I usually start with the music. I’ll be messing around on the guitar and find a chord progression I’m interested in and I’ll start humming, and then I usually have the melody. And then I wait till I have something to say. So it could be weeks. Humming this melody, you know, walking around like an insane person. I don’t even realise I do it, but my girlfriend says like we’re walking around Stockholm, cause that’s where we are right now, that’s where we’ve been for the summer, and we’re always walking around hand in hand, and she always says I’m humming like very low under my breath, but I don’t even notice it.
JE: It’s amazing because your albums are so cohesive…Is it only after the album is out that you see the theme?
JR: In some cases yes. I mean, it’s just me. All the songs are just me. Songs just come out of me. It’s almost effortless, but I don’t want to say effortless because I don’t think writing the songs are effortless. The effort comes about living my life a certain way. And if I do that correctly, that’s when the songs come out.
The songs are almost a biproduct of living my life the way I want to live my life. So that way, by that token, the songs will be very cohesive because I’m just one person. I’m not a schizophrenic, I have a world view and I have a view on love and interpersonal relationships and that’s what I think about most of the time. And even in my unconscious, even in my dreams I dream about interpersonal relationships and friendships.
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JE: Was there a moment when you realised then that you were expressing yourself through music? Was there a moment when you realised ‘I need the music to be myself?’
JR: Well I didn’t grow up playing music. I started playing when I turned thirty. I had a very late start. I learnt a few chords on the guitar. I was going through a breakup with a girl who I had been living with for six years in New York city…My first real relationship. And I didn’t really know how to tell her that the relationship had gone sour for me, although I’d find out later that it had gone sour for her as well…It’s one of those things you learn. After six years, if it’s not going well for you it’s probably not feeling good for the other person either.
So I picked up the guitar and used it not only as a meditative device but as a diary. And a way to express what I was honestly thinking and feeling. I had done all these artistic things, all these creative things growing up…I was a painter, I was writing screenplays…So many things when I was searching for an audience.
So I wrote my first song six months after picking up the guitar for the first time. And I never looked back. It felt like home, right away. I just felt like I was able to express myself better in that three and a half minute song than in years of painting and screenwriting.
And that girl and I, we broke up. And it felt like all of a sudden I started living honestly. You know what I mean? I think it…It’s difficult to explain. It’s a chicken and an egg thing. It’s like, did I start living honestly and the music came out, or did I start living honestly because of the music.
JE: Do you still ever paint?
JR: I never felt like I had to paint. I never felt like I had to write screenplays. I was like, if I have to find a job and I have to be creative, that would be something I might like to try. Whereas I have to have the guitar with me wherever I travel, even if I’m not touring. Because I have to play. I have that need now.
And that’s how I know I found the right career. Because it’s not work.
Joshua is touring Australia throughout September and his brand new album Onwards and Sideways is out now.