Fresh from releasing his twelfth album, Love In The Modern Age, Josh Rouse took some time out to chat with God Is In The TV.
Your new album, Love In The Modern Age, draws on an 80s sophistipop style…you have mentioned The Blue Nile as an influence. I think that you can hear Prefab Sprout in there too?
Oh yeah, I have all those records, I listen to them a lot.
Which Blue Nile stuff do you like best?
Well, everyone likes Hats, but A Walk Across The Rooftops is my favourite record from them. Tinseltown In The Rain, I wish I had written that song, it took a long time to work on that tune! It’s not something that five guys in a room can knock out in two hours, it’s like two years working on it.
Did you consider recording the album in the U.K. to pick up on that kind of 80s synthpop sound?
No, because it just kind of started, you know. I started working on some tracks with my friend Daniel Tashian, he’d be on the keyboards like ‘Blue Nile!’ and we’d start vibing on that, or, you know ‘Roxy Music, check this out!’ He just had some synth sounds that were kind of like that and you know…so, no, I find when you’re inspired in that moment, to just stay there. A lot of times I write the songs, and then I get the guys together and we go in the studio to record them, either the whole thing or a few songs at a time. But with this one, it was just trying to be in the moment, for the most part just trying to be in the moment of inspiration and just trying to get three fourths of the song done. I mean later, I took months and months rearranging stuff, but capturing that initial inspiration is something that I wanted to do. And I could look back in a couple of years and think ‘What the fuck did I do?’, which has been the case with some of my songs! But you just have to be in it, I don’t want to think about it so much…I think if you look at anything too long, or you think about it too hard, you end up not liking it probably.
Many of your albums have a very summery, sunny sound, for instance Subtitulo, El Turista, The Happiness Waltz. Do you agree with that, is that the Spanish influence coming through?
I use a lot of major seventh chords and I think that’s why it sounds like that, it kind of sounds like a breezy afternoon when you use those chords, kind of loungey and jazzy, it’s kind of a bittersweet chord, you know? And very reflective. But yes, I guess I like to listen to all kinds of music, but I think that part of the reason I do it is to give people a warm feeling, make them feel good and get into the lyrics. I don’t do it to put my hand in their face!
How did your collaboration with Kurt Wagner come about? (Rouse and the Lambchop frontman released an E.P., Chester, in 1999)
We met in Nashville, and he lived down the street so we just ended up hanging out all the time and one day we said ‘Hey, we should do some songs together’. I had some musical ideas and he brought all these crazy lyrics, and we did it!
If you could choose someone to appear on your next record, who would it be? You get to choose one person who is alive, and one who is dead!
Well, Leonard Cohen would be great, that’s the dead one, and for the one who is alive, I like this singer songwriter, his name is Mac Demarco, I really like his stuff.
If aliens landed and wanted to hear three songs that were the essence of Josh Rouse, which three would you pick?
Oh, I don’t know if that’s a question for me! It’s tough for me to pick, but I suppose ‘Dressed Up Like Nebraska’ from my first record, and maybe ‘My Love Has Gone’, and maybe something like ‘Love Vibration’.
My Love Has Gone is my favourite, just to let you know in case you are doing a gig tonight or anything! Your UK audiences seem very devoted, where in the world do you always feel like you have a good gig? Any favourite cities?
I like playing Madrid a lot, and Valencia, where I lived. London’s great…there’s so many; San Francisco for the last few years has been really good, yeah. I like playing in California a lot, doing Californian tours and luckily I am able to do that again in one month! On the west coast, you get out there an it’s the first week of June, the sun is shining, it’s just like ‘God, this is great!’
If you loom back at your twelve albums, is there one that’s always your favourite, or does it vary?
I think 1972 is probably my favourite that I’ve done, it kind of came at the right time and caught a good wave there for a while. And I grew as a songwriter with the help of Brad Jones who was producing, he kind of helped me, it was the first time I had someone get inside the songs and just make them a little bit more round, harmonically ad everything.
Is there a song that you feel that you couldn’t possibly do a gig without playing?
I do ‘Come Back’ pretty much in every show, people like that song…so whether I’m acoustic solo or with the band, we usually do tha song…I don’t know why! It’s easy!
The quality control of your albums is very high, you always seem to release a 30-40 minute album…
Thank you! Yeah, I think that a long time ago, before I started putting out records, I read a quote and I realised it was true, from Bob Mould who said ‘I can’t listen to the same singer for more than 30 or 40 minutes. If it’s up to me, I just want to hear someone else, the human ear will get tired’. Even if you love Nina Simone or Billie Holiday or someone, after about 30-40 minutes you will be like ‘That’s enough!’
Obviously, vinyl lent itself to that kind of album length…
Yeah, I was just speaking with the head of my record label, he’s from North Carolina and came to the show in Liverpool, and we were just talking about how tough it is to sell records now…in one way it’s bad for them, bad for everyone in the music industry really, because they made a lot of money selling something for £10-15, now it’s digital, and people are streaming it. People are still buying records, but it’s not hundreds of thousands, it’s five thousand. But at the same time, it can change, like if I come up with a really great song, a single, it’s of more value than ten years ago. If you can have one song, it can really get out there, which harkens back to pre-60s, when people were making LPs. I kind of like that too.
I think when CDs came around, artists felt like they had to fill a CD, didn’t they?
Oh yeah, there’s tons of bands where there’s one good song on there, like they had a single and and it was like ‘Fill it!’ – I’ve be never been that kind of artist.
When you are at home, how do you like to listen to music, do you go for vinyl, CD or streaming?
I listen to CDs in the car, or the radio – they have some great radio stations in Nashville, free form, just people who love music and will go on there and have an hour or two…I do have vinyl at home, but I spend a lot of time travelling so (use streaming too)…I don’t feel guilty about it at all. Now Hags, (James Haggerty), my bass player, he’s the hi-fidelity guy, spends all his spare change on hi-fidelity, he’s got the Tidal streaming service, collects vinyl and has his gear and everything – a lot of it! Reel to reel players, everything! He’s really into it.
Do you get asked about releasing your early stuff on vinyl?
Well yes, someone enquired last year, and then they just disappeared, they were really excited for a couple of weeks – I think they were from here, the UK…I think the problem with it is, well it’s not a problem because Yep Roc have released 1972 and Nashville – it’s great but it’s not a great deal for anyone involved because Warner owns the records and so what they do is press them up and they sell them to Yep Roc, and Yep Roc put their name on it. I think someone has to be really passionate about it, I’d love for it to happen, I was gung ho for it to happen but it hasn’t…
I think CDs are underrated anyway…
Oh so do I! They’ll come back!
Your song New Young on the last album, (which pays tribute to Neil Young), did you ever hear any feedback from Neil Young on that?
I think he’s too busy auctioning off all his shit! No, he’s great. That whole song was just…it wasn’t even called that until the very end of the song, I just put that line on the end of the song, because I was watching a show on the BBC, a 1970s (show) right before Harvest came out, it’s him sitting down and playing the acoustic guitar and the piano, and it’s so good, I mean it’s just, it’s difficult performing on television, you get nervous, but that particular concert he did is just really, really good. Old Grey Whistle Test has some good stuff too. I looked at my wife and I said ‘Nobody’s that great anymore’. Seriously, I’ll never be that good! That’s how that ended up.
What do you think is the best album ever made?
It’s actually a collection of singles, but one of my favourite ones is Chet Baker Sings. They’re not his songs, but I just love that record, I never get tired of it.
Is there a song that you think ‘I wish I had written that song!’?
Oh, all the time! There’s so many, it’s on a weekly basis probably. Anything that’s a success, any hit! (Laughs) I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, sorry!
So if Bob Dylan knocked on your door and wanted to do one of your songs, which one would you want him to do?
Hmmm…let’s say ‘My Love Has Gone’
Love In The Modern Age is out now on Yep Roc Records.
Josh Rouse returns to the UK for more live dates in July – see joshrouse.com/shows for more details.