Minna Yr Johannsdottir

Joshua Radin’s ‘LP Love’ & Return to NYC – ‘It’s Always the Best City to Come Back To’

From Grey’s Anatomy to Shameless to all of the media placement around the very same globe he travels around frequently, Joshua Radin is far more integrated into our lives than we might realize. (That is far from a complaint.)

“I’m always excited to be in New York. […] I like the new space that City Winery has,” singer-songwriter Josua Radin tells of ahead of his latest run on the road. (Each one if more musical and adventurous than the last, if you didn’t already know.) “I think it’s really cool. I’m doing this little tour for just three weeks from Chicago to Boston. There are a lot of City Winery [locations], and what’s nice about those is that they’re small enough that I can come and play two or three nights in one city and get some actual time to hang out, rather than a normal tour where it’s just kind of like a city every night. That is a whirlwind. This is gonna be great with the ability to catch up with some friends, family… and eat all the pizza.”

Knowing his music well, we wouldn’t be surprised if a song or two came out of that experience. Marvelous observations are what make up the musical world of Radin. The art he creates and shares within such world carries weight – the weight of gentle, honest opinion being intertwined with moments from a life built by a creative. As someone who came up during the early aughts yet maintains a modern presence, Radin has an undisputed sense of self. His experiences, his words, his journey are emphatically and authentically his; everything is grounded in his own artistic reality, even if he’s not physically in the same place for an extended period of time. (It’s part of the adventure, part of the charm, and part of the below conversation.)

City Winery is so intimate and I think it really caters to the kind of music that you make, Joshua. We’re glad to hear you’ll be taking those stages – not too long after Antarctica, either, which is vastly different of a setting! 

[Laughs] A little bit! I’ve never been to Antarctica, so I’m terribly excited for that. As I’m sure you know, I love to travel. Exploring new places has become part of this. I’ve been nomadic for two years; I like to say houseless, not homeless, because I’m fortunate enough that I can rent Airbnbs or stay in hotels or whatever. It’s been an incredible two years and I’ve seen so many cool places and met so many interesting people and written so many songs and read so many amazing books. When performing in Antarctica became possible, when the opportunity came up, I was like, “The seventh continent? My last continent? Yep. Let’s do it.”

That is amazing. Most people will never step foot in Antarctica. With your ethos and the nomadic lifestyle that you’ve really chosen and embraced, heading out on a ship to perform in Antarctica seems perfectly aligned. I am so curious about it, but honestly just excited to see what music comes out of that experience as I am sure it will be supremely inspiring.

I’ve already been thinking that I’m gonna do a whole album about penguins, [Laughs]. I am obviously joking, but you know what? There is something special about penguins, too, right? They get soulmates, they have some little pebble or rock or something that they give to another penguin And it means they’re going to be together forever. They’re so romantic and most of my songs are pretty romantic, so maybe I’ll be even more inspired when I see soulmate penguins [Laughs].

I actually believe that would speak volumes to so many people in love and looking for love! Globally, of course. Speaking of ‘volumes,’ though, you have a new collection of songs out. I noted that they were engaging and humbling and sort of what I imagine it would sound like if Jim Croce and Paul Simon were thrown in a blender.

Well, you pretty much just gave me the best compliment – one that my father would love. I feel so seen.

Really? Wow!

Yes, because his two favorites were Jim Croce and Paul Simon!

Both storytellers! Storytelling makes up a big part of your discography, so it makes sense that some formative influences were ones like those two, passed down to you with care.

My parents raised me on some good music, luckily [Laughs].

It seems it! Are there any songs off of though the world will tell me so, vol. 1 or vol. two, that didn’t make the cut for any certain reason?

This was really a travel diary. I had never made an album like this or written an album in this fashion. It was really just a travel diary for I would be somewhere in some country or some city and I’d write a song because I’d feel inspired. I’d sort of look around from there and be like, “Ok, is there a producer here I might want to record this with? Maybe pull in some other musicians?” Usually when I make an album, I’ll write a bunch of songs and go in with a producer and bring a band in, then we’ll make the album over like three weeks or a month or something like that. This was totally different. The tricky part for me was trying to make it sound cohesive in a way rather than a hodgepodge of songs that were written scattered around the world and then recorded with different musicians. I still feel like if I listen to it top to bottom, it’s still me. It still sounds like me.

Agreed! I like that it was a very concise process in terms of where you were, what was around, who was available, what the inspiration was, and how each individual kind of track came together then and there. They all fit very well together – even if you listen to vol. 1 and vol. 2 back to back, as well. How did you kind of decide what songs were going to be on their respective album, vol. 1 or vol. 2? Was it just naturally how it occurred with the timing?

It was completely organically. I didn’t know what I was gonna do; it’s unfortunate that over the last like 15 years or so, the LP as a format is starting to become antiquated, or maybe it’s just totally gone. I mean, obviously people are still making full albums, but I always considered myself more of an album writer instead of like a single writer. Now you have to adapt or die. I just thought, “What if I went to the label and I asked if we could just turn in a song every six weeks for them to just put it out?” It didn’t have to be part of an album. It still doesn’t have to be – it doesn’t have to be cohesive in terms of the production or the lyrical content or anything like that. It could just be, “Here’s another song I wrote – put it out.” It seems like that’s what younger generations are doing now. Their consumption of music is just making playlists so no one even listens to the full album anymore. I was getting a little frustrated with the album I had last, and also with a couple albums I had released previously. You could just see that people would just lock onto one song they like and put it in one of their playlists and then never go back to your album. Of course real fans do, but I thought, “Well, let’s try something as an experiment,” and the [label] was like, “Ok, but, let’s put it out as two EPs.” We did that, but then I said, “As long as it’s on one vinyl at the end, that’s fine,” [Laughs]. So even though it’s two volumes, to me, it’s, one album.

I was thinking about this a lot, and I don’t think there’s one right way to listen to music or put out music or write music. It’s just that things change, you know? Like I said, you adapt or die. When I was growing up, I’d buy an album from a band that I loved and I’d be so excited for it to come out and I’d listen to it all the way through a bunch of times. I would always remember that there’d be some song, like maybe track number seven or eight or something like that that I didn’t really resonate with at first, but then after a bunch of listens, some of those tracks became my favorite by far on the album as a whole. (That’s coming from someone who voraciously consumes music!) I just kept thinking that if kids these days are listening maybe once and just going to Spotify, and Spotify tells them these are the two tracks that are being played the most, they go, “Oh, those must be the best tracks on the album.” Then the deeper cuts that musicians are writing and releasing aren’t really getting their due. People just don’t seem to have the patience to listen four, five, six, or seven times to a song that they didn’t resonate with at first. I think that’s just a real shame. You see a lot of artists these days going toward the back of time – to like the fifties where it was like an A-side and a B-side on a 45 . Everything’s a single! If it’s not a single, it doesn’t get the big playlist. It doesn’t get in a TV show or a commercial or a radio or anywhere that people are going to discover it… it’s a shame. It just is what it is. I don’t wanna sound like an old curmudgeon being like, “Oh, in my day,” or, “This is the way music should be listened to,” but it’s just changing. Sometimes hen you’re so used to a certain way of making music and consuming it that it gets a little harder to change.

You are very valid in your feelings and this is quite the intellectual approach to navigating the ‘now.’ It is frustrating that a lot of great art is being made but it kind of flies under the radar because of how it’s release or where it’s placed on an album. I am hopeful that a lot of these deeper cuts will become the standouts of an artist’s career as they get rediscovered down the line by an individual fan, then the masses. There’s so many ‘older’ songs now that people are saying are getting a well-deserved a second life, having a second wind.

Yeah, and it is difficult as an artist and frustrating when you put all this effort into something and the two most commercial, hooky-sounding songs are the ones that tend to break through. Of course you just feel lucky that that even happens, but you can’t help but think, “What would it be like if I was putting this album out 20 years ago and all my fans were actually listening to the entire album?” I’m still thinking about that. I’m not sure what to do. I mean, I just wrote a new album; I’m figuring out who I wanna record it with and where. I’m in that mode right now and it’s interesting. Should I make an eight song album? I wrote like 20 songs for the album, so I am going to have to pick my favorites. Is it even worth it to put out 10 songs at one time anymore? Because you know half of them will get lost in a shuffle and the algorithm won’t pick ’em up. The fact that I even have to think about an algorithm… [Laughs]. It’s just bizarre. It is what it is, but it was what it was. Again, I’m not complaining. It’s more noticing and trying to figure out a way forward to keep some of that LP love alive in this more modern era.

I would like to think that you are doing that, because even with the changes over the two decades since your start, music and art are still all about expression. I don’t believe that is going to change with technology and trends, but it is going to continue to change what actually gets expressed and/or received. It’s tough, but I’d like to also think that authenticity rules, you know?

Yes, exactly! Like I said, I’m not complaining, because there are so many amazing things that are happening in the music world because of streaming. [The music industry] is so much more democratic now. There were three guys running three major labels in the early sixties, and it was like they had the keys to the kingdom. There were so many people that were like, “Well, I can’t break through like that,” but now you’ve got a kid working on a laptop in the middle of Africa that just puts something up online and, if it’s amazing, it tends to rise. I love the democracy of that, and the fact that people can make their own music from wherever they are. It can sound really good, too – you don’t have to go into a major studio. That’s why all these major studios out here in LA are dying, and because it’s so expensive to record in them. Younger kids are like, “Why do I need that? I can make it sound just like this in my living room.”

It works for them. I know we were talking about how the songs on though the world will tell me so were written and recorded in a handful of different places as sort of travel diary for you. When you yourself particularly listen back to certain songs, or even just play them live, do you hear things in them and reflect on that place, that studio, that moment in a way that the rest of us really won’t pick up on?

You know what, that’s a good question, but I never listen to my own music once it’s out. I wouldn’t say never, but my albums really are like my diaries. I don’t know if you ever kept a diary, but let’s say you kept a diary when you were in sixth grade. It’s going to read different if you read it all the time, but if you go back 15 years later, you’re like, “Oh, ok! That was the moment in time.”

I haven’t listened to my last few albums at all since they’ve been out; I just hear things I would like to change and it becomes frustrating. I try to remind myself that it’s all just a moment in time, so I appreciate it more and I get back to that place when I wrote the songs and when I recorded them and who I recorded them with, but only if I really let some time pass,

Let it live its own life before you, I get that.

Exactly, and I find it interesting that if I let it sit out there for a while, some of the tracks that I didn’t think were as strong initially end up becoming more of my favorites. I start seeing how they are received and how certain audiences react like if it’s a sleeper track and someone three years later calls and says, “I’d love to use this in this movie I’m making, or this series,” and I’m like, “Really? Wow. It seemed like no one was listening to that song when it first came out,” but are you saying before, like in Stranger Things with that Kate Bush song that became so huge… I love sitting back after you put your art out into the world. You think about what it can do, how it can travel, and who it can hit, because, for me, I write music for one reason and play music for one reason: to connect people. If someone tells me that they like a song that I made a long time ago and I can’t even remember how it goes, now I’m gonna go back and listen to it – maybe hear it how they do. There is a sort of magic to that.