20 sep. 2023Josh Island
Photo: Josh Island, © Lynn Theisen
Josh Island's debut album, In My Head, is available on CD and digitally since last Friday. Although the album's release party isn't scheduled until November – the 11th, at the Opderschmelz cultural center in Dudelange –, we wanted to catch up with the singer-songwriter to talk about this beautiful, dynamic pop album with its deep lyrics and perfectly calibrated sounds. Interview.
Josh, you obviously keep your promises. When we interviewed you in April 2021 for the release of your Love Don't Come Easy EP, you promised a debut album in 2023. And so it is, with the release of In My Head last Friday, the 15th. What have the last two years been like for you, musically speaking?
It's been a phase of discovery and exploration, finding and polishing my sound. This was important to me before recording my first album, and after Love Don't Come Easy and working with producer Nelson Canoa I really felt like I was getting close to where I wanted to be. Creating a catchy pop sound with soul and folk influences that stays authentic. So, for the past two years, I've been writing a lot of music, recording in Portugal over several weeks spread out across the year, and releasing five, all very different, songs since July 2022 leading up to the album. You can only make your first album once, and I wanted to make it with confidence.
Of course, we've also been able to play more shows again coming out of the pandemic, which I am very grateful for. I love being on stage – for me, it's the best part of this 'job' – playing and connecting with people through my stories.
With a title like that, we can't help but wonder: What's ‘in your head’?
Always way too many ideas and thoughts! I need to slow down... My brain is always rattling at full speed down the Autobahn. Ideas for music, strategies to reach a bigger audience in a difficult music industry, but also my general interest in things outside of just music. I think these songs, and music in general, help me give them a place in the outside world and clear my head. It's a creative outlet for me.
“When a piece of music inspires me or gives off a certain energy, often the words start to take shape by themselves.”
And what's in In My Head? Tell us a bit about these ten songs, the themes they deal with, and the reasons behind these choices: mental health, the search for identity, hope for the future... These are deeper subjects than on the EP, which was mainly about love.
Yes, that's true, it's funny, my last EP was mostly about love! I think I just have a much broader pool of inspirations to pick from now, something that possibly comes with maturity... Of course, I always love singing about love, though! It's something we can all relate to, and it's so deep.
It's interesting, I don't really think about the themes before or while writing. When a piece of music inspires me or gives off a certain energy, often the words start to take shape by themselves. Only later, once I take a step back, do I realize what I am singing about. These themes come very naturally to me. But I am a very optimistic and positive guy, so that is definitely a red thread through my music: finding courage, not giving up, believing in yourself and others, taking one step at a time. Songs like Rewind, Where Did You Go, and Make It talk about that, for example.
Some of the songs definitely have autobiographical elements, and others are sung in the first person but are not necessarily about me. I put myself in first-person position, imagining stories and experiences, and singing them from that perspective. For example, Rainbow is about finding a pot of gold and being greedy. Or Pieces Of The Ocean, which is about an old man who dives deep into the sea and has seen powerful things and who knocks on the door of my beachside cabin late at night. These are fantasy stories I like sharing, like short stories.
The album is very fresh, very pop, very melodious, very pleasant to listen to, but you can still feel the particular importance of the lyrics. That's the Josh Island touch?
Music is about storytelling and communication for me, and lyrics play a key role in that. As a listener, even if I hear great music but can't connect to the lyrics, I lose interest... So, I would say I definitely always pay particular attention to the lyrics and story, leaving space for my own interpretation but painting a canvas in the listener's mind.
"Some arrangement or production ideas are very set in stone prior to entering the studio, and others happen spontaneously.”
There are also a few little eccentricities, like whistling on In My Head or scratching on Rewind. It makes sense, it goes with the lyrics, but it also shows a specific interest in the music. How did you work all this out?
Some arrangements or production ideas are very set in stone prior to entering the studio, and others happen spontaneously. For example, the Rewind reverse sound was an idea we had at the start, as the song is called Rewind, and it sounded really cool and funky. On a car ride, once I started whistling a melody to that guitar demo of In My Head, and even though I never imagined whistling on a song, it seemed to fit perfectly with that mood. So, I wanted to capture and keep that magic.
I'm very involved in the arrangements of the music, and I have the privilege to work with incredibly musical session musicians in Portugal who really contributed to the shape and direction of the songs. Rui Pity, Miguel Casais and Guilha Marinho (who play with The Black Mamba, Sara Tavares or Aurea) really gave everything and sometimes opened an unexpected door in the music. That really inspires me, and this freedom is important. Music creation is about sharing, and this album is a group achievement.
You recorded this album in Portugal, like your previous EP. What was it about Portugal that made you go back there to record?
I love working with Nelson Canoa, his style of production, his love for similar tastes and styles, and of course, also his interest in working on my music. He is also not afraid to push me to new boundaries in terms of songwriting and performance, and through this, I uncovered things I didn't know I had before. For example, I sang with more power and edge in some songs, which then developed my singing skills, which I now use live as well. And, like I mentioned earlier, the musicians he likes to incorporate are wonderful.
Of course, I also just love being in Portugal, in the region of Torres Vedras. It's not a holiday – we work six days a week, 12 hours a day – but I still feel that I can switch off and be in a new space, which gives me a fresh mental and physical state, which is then transferred into my performance. I think if you don't feel well or comfortable, you can hear that in recorded music.
“I hope this music and these stories accompany listeners through their everyday lives, lift their mood, or make them think.”
The album comes out on September 15th, but your next concert in Luxembourg isn't until November 11th in Opderschmelz. Why the delay? Why not a release party as usual?
Yes, there are CDs available, and I am considering making vinyl, maybe for the one-year anniversary of the album in 2024. The release show is late (in two months), but it is the final show of the tour, and by then we will have played all the songs at least 40 times, so it's going to be very tight and musical. And what better way to finish the tour than with a big party at home?
What else is there to say about In My Head?
I hope this music and these stories accompany listeners through their everyday lives, lift their mood, or make them think. I look forward to sharing these songs on the road, and I’m glad I get to do this for a living and that I can see my audience growing year by year. In My Head is a very honest representation of me, my experiences, and my stories at this time in my life.