Singer-songwriter Joshua Radin discusses starting fresh on his third album The Rock and the Tide, the rush of recording live, the strange ways technology has affected romance, and why life is all about being open to trying new things.
What’s the reaction been like to this new album?
I don’t know, it just came out. You’re the first person I’ve talked to.
Really? Cool deal. Has the album been done for a while?
Yeah, I recorded it in January and February in London.
I think I remember reading it got delayed because your previous album just recently got released there.
Yeah. Well, it didn’t get delayed here. My last record, Simple Times, got released in the U.K. in April, so I’ve been over there and out of the country promoting that record for quite some time. So now I took about a month off and I’m ready to go again.
Is that weird to be working on two different timelines?
It’s a little strange, but it’s not like I’m used to anything else. It is what it is. I feel pretty fortunate that anyone keeps letting me make records.
The first thing I noticed on this record is it’s more full-band sounding and energetic than what you’ve done before. What made you want to go in that direction?
Well, I’ve been playing so many shows and living on the road. The rooms are getting bigger where I’m playing. I started to find at festivals, and opening for bigger bands and things like that where you’re playing for thousands and thousands of people, like at Glastonbury, that songs like “Winter” and “Closer,” it’s really hard to connect with a massive crowd with songs like that.
I felt like I needed to write some songs that sounded like a band, and maybe get a little louder and have a little more fun on a big stage. So, I decided to make this record a half and half record. That’s kind of why it’s called The Rock and the Tide. Half of it is full band, and half of it is still the folky, intimate, lo-fi kind of sound that people dug on the first two records. I didn’t want to do a full on, entire rock ‘n’ roll record because that’s not really me. I have different sides of me.
Was the songwriting on this more collaborative than what you’ve been used to?
No. On Simple Times, I think I co-wrote maybe two or three of those songs, and the same with this record. The rest I wrote myself.
I heard you’re a huge fan of testing out songs on the road while you’re writing them. What’s that process like for you?
I think that’s the best way to do it, at least for me, because you can see how audiences react to new songs, and you can also experiment with things over and over again. I’m not a platinum selling artist or something where you get a million dollars to go make a record and you’re in the studio for as long as you want. Studio time is so expensive, so when you get in that studio, you knock it out.
All these songs on this record are about one or two takes in. They’re all the first or second take and they’re all recorded live, which I’d never done before. It keeps costs down, for sure. We just don’t have the money to record track after track and take after take, so you got to really know the songs well before you go into the studio so you’re not wasting time and money.
There’s also a fair amount of electric guitar on the album. Did you write any songs on that for this one?
No, actually I always write them on the acoustic. But in my mind on a bunch of them, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to play electric on the recording and I’m going to play these live that way.”
The song “Rock and the Tide” has one of my favorite lines off the record, where you say, “Everyone gets what they want too fast these days/ No one knows the way to make things last.” What about that song made you choose to title the record after it?
That’s interesting you’re asking about that one because that’s my favorite song on the record, and that’s one of my favorite lines. So thanks, I appreciate it. That song is actually tough to talk about because it’s kind of a secret. I wrote it for this girl as sort of an unrequited love song and she has no idea. Her name was in it, and then I took it out.
I guess I was thinking a lot about romance these days because when you tour all the time you live on your laptop. You’re talking to your friends via Skype video chat, and it can be sort of alienating. You have your band and your crew, but that’s it. You’re sort of on an island, this moving island. It’s weird and strange, and sometimes a depressing lifestyle. Most of the time it’s great, but every now and again, it gets a little lonely.
I guess I was thinking about when I was a kid having my first crush – how you’d get a girl’s phone number, wait to call her and then hope her dad didn’t answer when you called the house. Nowadays information is so fast. Romance has been affected exponentially because of things like Facebook and mobile phones, things I didn’t have when I was in junior high school.
That’s sort of what the song is about. I met this girl and I was like, all right. I’m just going to wait. I’m going to make her my pen pal [laughs], and we’re just going to write to each other over and over again. I was all over the world and every time we’d write each other an email it was like a letter you’d have to wait to get, rather than instant texting and all that kind of stuff.
I think that’s why a lot of relationships are falling apart and not lasting because everyone’s options are increasing by the numbers at an incredible rate. Husbands and fathers are sitting on Facebook, looking up their old crushes from high school. I don’t know. It’s a strange time.
I was thinking about all these things and was like, “I want to write a song for this girl,” and that’s the song that came out. That line – it’s like no one knows how to make things last, but yet I’m saying in the chorus that I’m done waiting, let’s try this out. In my mind, though, I still wanted to wait.
Also on this record there seems to be a general theme of starting over and beginning afresh. Was there anything that went into that?
Yeah, I wanted to try something new on this record. I had made two records, and both were very intimate. Simple Times obviously had a little more production value than We Were Here, but I really wanted to record live, which I had never done before. There’s something about being in a room all at once and recording together, looking at each other while you’re laying down a track. It’s an incredible feeling. I’d never felt that rush before, and I don’t think I’ll ever record another way.
With Simple Times, we built the track with the drums and the bass, then added the guitars, and by the end I’d be laying down the vocals. I’d be locked into the pace of the song by the time I was singing it. I think you lose something by recording that way. I’m still proud of that record, Simple Times. I love it, but it’s not as fun to record that way.
Same reason I’m bringing a full band and electric guitars out on the road. It’s just more fun to play live that way. I still play songs for people that they heard first from me, like “Winter” and “Closer,” but I pepper those into the set now and it’s more of a fun set to play. I love coming off the stage, totally drenched in sweat and screaming into a microphone. It’s leaving everything I got on the stage when I walk off that stage and feeling like I’ve really accomplished something that night.
On the record, you have a full-band version of “Brand New Day.” Have you toyed around with expanding other older songs like that?
I haven’t. I never even thought about doing that, really, except for “Brand New Day.” When you have two different releases, one overseas and one over here, and different record companies and different A&R guys, they have their own taste and we have our own taste over here. Simple Times has been out since ’08 in the States, and they were releasing it a year and a half later. They were like, “We got to make a few changes for this release over here. People can still buy the American version if they want, but they can have another version that’s newer, too.”
I think that’s kind of cool, actually, newer versions of songs. It would be kind of cool to do a full-band version of the We Were Here record. I’m just thinking about that now. They’re all basically pop songs. If you look at the structure of the songs I write, they’re not incredibly complex. I’m more inspired by ‘50s melodies, like Buddy Holly melodies and hooks back when pop music was so great. The We Were Here record, all those songs could be played like the Clash. It’s a four-chord song and could totally be played like a punk song. I don’t know if I would do that, but it’s an interesting thought.
I want to talk about your background for a little bit because I think the story is very interesting. You didn’t start writing and playing music until after you had graduated from college. Was music always something you were interested in? How were you able to pick up on it so quickly?
I’ve always loved music. I’ve always been a fan and an avid listener. I always have headphones in. I was just totally insecure and completely intimidated. I never thought that I could make this kind of music that I love. I’m still trying. I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s only been six years since I picked up my first instrument, so it’s a learning process. I think it’s one of those things that if you try new things in life all the time, it keeps you young.
So many people find themselves off track in life. They studied something, and then they go into this job. They find themselves with a wife and kids, and they’re like, “Well, I’m stuck being a lawyer, but I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.” I just think you got to be open all the time to try new things. That’s really what life is all about. Maybe I’ll make another record and then decide I want to try something new. Who knows?
Have you noticed a change in your writing style now versus what you were doing when you first started out?
Yeah, I think the more I progress on the guitar, the more I learn, the better my writing gets. I’m still honest when it comes to the lyrics. I don’t write just to write. I write if I have something to say and I need to get it out.
This record’s a little different. The first two records were all about love, whether it was about falling in love or falling out of love. I’ve been single now for three years. I’ve been writing a lot of these songs since my last relationship. I’ve just been happy and having a good time with my friends, seeing the world and living the dream. “The Ones With the Light” is a song about that. It’s about having fun on the road and hoping that we will never change. You know what I mean?
I write from a perspective of what’s going on in my life. If I end up writing 10 records in my life, I’ll always look back at the third one and say, “I remember exactly where I was at this point. I was out on the road having fun with my guys.” That’s what this record is about.
I remember reading that before you started music you were trying to be a screenwriter. What were you writing about in those days?
I was writing comedies, actually. I spent like six years in New York and I think I wrote six screenplays and six features, about one a year. They were all comedies, kind of indie comedies, I guess. I was inspired by Noah Baumbach/West Anderson type films. I was doing that back when I had first seen Rushmore. I was like, “I want to write like this.”
Obviously, love had something to do with them. That’s definitely a topic that I think quite a bit about. A little less these days then I did back then, I think, because when I was writing those I was with my first girlfriend in a six-year relationship. It just wasn’t the right relationship, so it had me thinking all the time about what love is. Is this the right person for me? Am I going to settle down with this person for the rest of my life? Are we going to have a family?
Now that I’m more free, I guess, in a different city every day and meeting cool people everywhere, having so much fun, I think a little less about it. I still think about it, but it’s not on my brain constantly.
Your work has been used in a variety of media, TV shows and film. Coming from a screenwriting background, what’s it like to see your music used in so many different ways?
I think it’s cool. It’s definitely the way I’ve been able to get my music out to people because I went about it in sort of a backwards way. I didn’t start writing songs, record them and then try to get them on the radio, like people would do back in the day. I was always thinking that there’s got to be a better way to do this. When it comes to doing things I don’t want to do, I’m incredibly lazy. But if it’s something I’m interested in, then I’m all in.
I love playing music for people, so I’m never home. I don’t even have a home. I put my stuff in storage. I have a suitcase and a guitar and I live out on the road. I just want to work and play for people because I love it. When it comes to stuff that doesn’t really interest me, like visiting radio stations and kissing people’s asses to get your songs on the radio, I end up being incredibly lazy about it. I probably shouldn’t, and it probably doesn’t behoove my career, but what are you going to do [laughs]?
It was easier when music supervisors saw me at my first shows. They’d come up to me and say, “Hey, I love these songs. Do you have any demos? I’d love to use your songs in Grey’s Anatomy, or Scrubs, or One Tree Hill or Brothers & Sisters.” All these TV shows, then a bunch of films and adverts. Wow, I really have been spending a lot of time in England. I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth. Let’s see, I lost my train of thought [laughs]. Oh yes, TV shows and stuff.
I don’t really watch these shows or anything. It’s more like they air everywhere around the world. That’s what I want to do. I want to travel around the world and play music. When I show up and book a concert, 2,000 people will buy tickets to come see me play because they know the songs from Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs, different movies and things. That’s what’s cool to me because a radio station goes out to one city. TV shows air over and over again all over the world in every city. It’s just amazing.
We showed up to play in Sydney and Melbourne last year, and the shows were sold out a month in advance because people were like, “Well, he never comes here. I want to hear these songs live from these TV shows and movies that I love.” That’s why I do it. That’s why I license my music so much.
What would be your top favorite show or movie that you’d want your song to be in?
If it was totally ideal, and this is fantasy so it doesn’t have to be real, but I’d like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to have a show together, like The Daily Show when they were on together, and maybe I could play on that show. Those are my two favorite shows to watch. I don’t know.
I really loved Six Feet Under when it was on. I thought the writing for that show was absolutely incredible, and I was hooked. That would have been cool. My friend, Sia, had one of her songs end the series and I was so jealous [laughs]. Not only did they use her song, but they ended the entire series with it. It was the most beautiful ending, and totally made me choke up.