– by Hannah Nissen
It’s been 10 years since I first heard Josh Pyke’s resonating verses and prose on his Feeding the Wolves EP release. To me, listening to his music transposes time, back to sitting in the back seat, driving along the coast with the faint smell of ocean and clean air and clear thoughts, it takes me to a time I would go down south with my family and have nothing but time and a cousin to create a killer dance routine with. A time when spending all afternoon writing messages to friends in the form of sticks on sand dunes was worth all the hours in the world. Why? Because it was. It has been a long 10 years, and the transition into adulthood is not an easy one. My time has seemingly become more and more invaluable the more I live it. I put a lot of my time and stress aside for trivial things that don’t ultimately require it of me. We forget the older we get what amazing things we are capable of creating, yet we continue to move in the direction of the established.
Josh Pyke’s latest album acts as a testament to his young heart and his ever-burning passion for the words he writes and the melodies he sings. I got the chance to chat to Josh just before the new album had dropped, and after listening to him speak a bit about But For All These Shrinking Hearts, it’s incredible the amount of commitment and fire that has gone into evoking such emotions on a record, and it’s easy to see how Josh’s heart has continued to stay young and holler, inherently, with as much drive and definition as 8-year-old me had as she spend hours trying to accomplish the ever impossible handstand shimmy, merely because she believed she could.
So I’m curious to know what your process is when you begin to create a song, everything you’ve written tells a story, has that always been your approach? Does the lyrics come before the melody?
Well, I’ve been writing songs since I was 12 years old, I was in my first band and we were writing our songs, I always did write short stories and things like that, but I’ve definitely focused on writing lyrics more than any other kind of prose. And it used to be very much that the music and the words would come at the same time, but I’ve found over the years that generally the lyrics come after. Now its more like the lyrics come last, so generally I’ll pretty much have a complete song, and then ill start trying to put lyrics over the top of it.
I think it makes the work more open to creative approaches like just writing lots of prose and then trying to fit them into the phrasing of the song or things like translating gibberish, which is what I did for a few songs on this record.
I love this new single ‘Hollering Hearts,’ it really captures this balance between light and dark, it has this melancholy feel over upbeat music, and I was curious what your interpretation was for the hook “all of these hollering hearts howling into the dark, need to holler?”
Well, for me the idea of a hollering heart is a visual metaphor, for the idea of someone who is bursting at the seams with some kind of passion for something… it can be anything. For me, its music, but being passionate about something isn’t all good, or positive you know? When your passionate about something and you want to pursue that, it comes with enormous challenges and enormous sacrifice.. but you need to do it, it’s like your compelled to do these things. It’s this idea of your heart bursting at the seams with joy, with challenge, with triumph, and with disappointment, but you just have to keep hollering. That feeling like you’re just going to explode if you stop doing these things, and for me that’s what it’s about, so it’s definitely a bittersweet thing, but there’s light and dark to everything.
I wanted to ask, I know personally I find it easier to find inspiration to write and vent about more negative emotions like sadness and heartbreak. A lot of your songs have a really upbeat melody underlying more somber themes and I just wanted to know what sort of song you find it easier to write about/ whether that changes according to your disposition?
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever written a happy song. People think a lot of my songs are upbeat and positive, but I’ve never actually sat down really happy and gone “Oh I’m gonna write a song now,” it just doesn’t work like that. Even the songs that sound happy have been brought out of some kind of challenge. For me, writing songs has always been a process of figuring out stuff that’s going on in my life, trying to work through it and making some kind of sense of it, and trying to put a positive spin on negative things, so the songs end up sounding happy, but I honestly think every song I’ve ever written as quite a sad song.
So how do you know when a song is done? Is there an over-arching moment that you step back and can say “yep it’s finished”, or does it involve a lot more? When are you satisfied with your work?
It’s just all instinct, I guess. Like there’s songs that I’ve written that have taken two years to feel finished, and then there’s songs that I’ve written, including ‘Hollering Hearts’ that came quick, which felt finished once I had done the structure. On this record, songs like ‘Doing What Your Told’ and ‘Book of Revelations’ they were more songs I did as a recording project, like I recorded them first, and so that took a lot of editing and restructuring before I was happy with it. ‘Book of Revelations’ is a good example where I was kind of thinking to myself ‘does this need another section or anything, does this need a middle 8 or something like that?’ …and then I had to just say “Nup, I think this just needs a fade-out” which is pretty unusual to do these days, like I don’t think you get a lot of fade-outs on a record anymore, but it didn’t feel like it needed any more, my instincts just said that it was done even though my academic brain was telling me to keep going.
So the lyrics video to Hollering Hearts is awesome! I love seeing this little heart-ship floating off into the distance, it really resonates with the style of the song and especially the sing-a-long lyrics and the pirate ship bouncing over them, how much involvement did you have on that video?
Well, underneath every layer of animation was just me wearing a skeleton body suit. Jefferton James that did the clip, he and I workshopped the ideas a lot, and we would go back and forth a lot to do the editing because it’s all his animation and it’s all his collage work, so he’s very much responsible for that.
I saw you at the Fremantle Arts Centre a few years ago following your Chimneys Afire tour in 2009, and I just remember you being so humble and thankful to the crowd, how do you maintain that after 10 years of being a renowned musician?
Well I have the same group of friends that I’ve had since pre-school, my wife and I have been together for 10 years, before anything happened to me musically, I have two kids that I’m hanging around all the time, its pretty easy to stay a normal, humble person when your just hanging out with great people, you know what I mean? Also, the biggest thing for me is just to never forget that I owe my audience my career, it’s a two-way street, like they love my music, and I massively appreciate that, but if they didn’t love my music then I wouldn’t have a job, but you’d have to be a bit of d*** to let it get to your head.
Do you not get tired of the countless promo vids and stuff like that? Just off the back of writing an album, like is it something you look forward to?
You know what? To be honest with you, it’s definitely not something I look forward to, but like, it’s part of the job, and if this is the worst part of the job then you know you’ve got to be in a great line of work.
This morning I was just at rehearsal with the band that we got back together for the first time in a year or so, and we’ve been playing shows together for ages, and it’s the greatest thing, I just love playing music with my mates, and having a jam, and that’s why touring is a joy, if you get the right balance of it. I haven’t been on the road, in about five or six months now so I’m looking forward to it.
So do you have the same band on every tour?
Essentially…different member have come and gone but its pretty much the same band.
And do you find that comfort helps you stay connected to your sound while touring?
Yeh I mean theres always someone moving on to other things, but there are a few core guys, like our guitarist Matts been playing since Memories of Dust and Russel who plays drums has been there for the last 3 albums. The thing is where not playing every week, that really keeps things fresh because we wont see each other for a couple of months and then get together for a gig and its just awesome, like catching up with best friends
What would you recommend for anyone wishing to follow music as a career path in the future
It’s definitely a career that you just have to have a huge amount of persistence. It was almost 10 years since I finished high school till the time I released my first record and the whole time I was doing everything I could do be a musician, but it took that long till I could release an album.
The people that don’t have that persistence will drop off, the pool of competitors will shrink and shrink until most persistent remains.Its almost like a war of attrition. The key is not to wait for anyone else to present opportunities for you, because that’s just not going to happen. You have to create opportunities for yourself, and you just have to have enormous amounts of persistence.
Josh Pyke will be touring But For All These Shrinking Hearts throughout August.