JOSH ROUSEJune 8, 2006 | Author: Steven Hocking
There’s something about Spain that stirs the imagination with dreams of eternal summer, languid siestas and free romance. Whatever it is has clearly rubbed off on American singer-songwriter Josh Rouse since his move to the south of Spain last year, for his new album, ‘Subtitulo’, is infected with an easy optimistic grace. Steven Hocking chats with Josh about the making of the album.
After bidding a blue goodbye to his adopted home city of Nashville with his critically acclaimed fifth album, Josh Rouse broke up his band, left his record deal and hopped on a plane to Spain’s Mediterranean coast. ‘Subtitulo’ is the first album to be released since that time and it seems heavily influenced by that dramatic move. I’m curious to know whether Rouse believes the album would have been different had it been recorded elsewhere. ‘Usually what I’m seeing around me will creep in there somehow,’ says Josh Rouse. ‘I think as a songwriter I get ideas from a lot of different places. All of that stuff kind of happens subconsciously, you know. I don’t consciously set out to do it.’
Josh Rouse started turning heads a few years ago with a string of bittersweet acoustic albums that didn’t quite fit the alt-country tag with which he was labelled. His intelligent lyrics and melancholy vocal style have generated a strong word-of-mouth following and helped him reach a progressively larger audience with each consecutive album.
‘Subtitulo’ discards the gloomy edge of Rouse’s past records; with jazzy songs about new beginnings and bright odes to quiet towns and lazy summers. The music is buoyant and fresh, often simply acoustic guitar and voice. It’s a change from the full band country-soul of ‘Nashville’. Is it the sound of a happier life, or am I confusing the music with the man? ‘I was experiencing being a foreigner for the first time’ says Josh Rouse. ‘It’s different from when you’re travelling around. When you’re living in a new country for a long period of time all of this stuff comes out.’
‘I just wanted to do a stripped-down record, you know,’ he continues. ‘I wasn’t rehearsing with a band anymore but just writing songs on an acoustic guitar. I thought “I’ll try and make them as much like this as I can.” I guess it’s a matter of what you want to do. Sometimes you want to make things big and lush, sometimes you want things a bit more folky.’
Rouse is clearly pleased with ‘Subtitulo’ (Spanish for ‘subtitle’), the first album to be released on his new independent record label, Bedroom Classics. He credits the relaxed atmosphere in the Spanish recording studio with the free sound of the finished tracks. ‘Where we were recording was somewhat out of town. It was in the south of Spain, kind of like a big country home. The feel of the place entered into the record. I wanted to keep it as raw as possible so I played a lot of nylon string guitar and we used some bossa-nova beats because they suited that style of guitar.’
Josh Rouse explains his song-writing technique hasn’t changed much over the years, despite having jettisoned his band. He starts with an acoustic guitar to fish out the beginning of a song and often has many unfinished pieces on the go at any one time. ‘I have a lot of ideas and often don’t finish them until later,’ says Rouse of his method. ‘Sometimes you can sit down to write a song and a lot of tunes will come out immediately. Other times you just get a simple chord progression or a melody. If you can’t find where in the song it goes you have to weave it around. Hopefully, eventually you pick it up to play with it and it works.’
The last time I spoke to Josh Rouse, he was feeling the pressure of doing a string of back-to-back interviews while being dragged touring around the world for months on end and the cracks in his usual polite demeanour were beginning to show. This time around he’s open and relaxed. When asked about the pressures of touring, Rouse explains the benefit of being an independent musician with his own label is that he can now choose his own touring schedule. ‘There are times when I just don’t want to be there [touring] at all,’ says Rouse. ‘But other times I really enjoy it. I’m kind of one of those people that don’t like to be on the road all the time.’ Rouse enjoys the time not touring to be able to play the guitar without thinking of it as rehearsal. ‘I played a little bit last night, but I think if I’ve got a tour coming up I’ll practise a little bit more,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of like being an athlete, you have to be in shape, and that goes for singing as well. Especially if you’re playing solo acoustic shows.’
Our conversation concludes with Josh Rouse asked to name one CD in his collection that would surprise his fans. ‘Wolfmother,’ he says after a moment’s thought. ‘Are they popular in Australia? I like that album, it’s rock and roll and a lot of fun. It sounds like kids having a good time.’
Josh Rouse’s subdued but cheery ‘Subtitulo’ may be half a world away from Wolfmother, but there’s an unmistakable connection: the sound of musicians having a good time. When recording his last album Josh Rouse was clearly having the time of his life, and it shows. ‘Subtitulo’ is his best album yet.
JOSH ROUSEJune 8, 2006 | Author: Steven Hocking