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February 24, 2009

Joshua Radin: Whisper Rock King

The singer-songwriter discusses saying "No" to a record label and establishing his success independently, singing with his idol, and the state of the music industry.

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Joshua Radin

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His second album, Simple Times, has received rave reviews and shot to number one on the iTunes charts. Last year alone, he performed at Ellen DeGeneres's wedding and recorded a duet with Patty Griffin, one of his favorite songwriters. Hard to imagine he started writing songs merely four years ago.

Currently on tour supporting Simple Times, of the record, Radin has said, “I just wanted to go back to how life started four years ago. Just as honest and organic as possible, and as simple as possible.” And that he does. Read below as he speaks candidly about the album, his break from Columbia, and whether artists truly need a record label.

This is your second full-length album. How was the recording process different for you this time around?
We definitely did it in less time. The first record I made with a buddy of mine in his bedroom. It took about six months because I didn’t have any money and he was just doing it whenever he had time, which was so rare. So, this one was the first record I ever made with a label and got to hire the producer I wanted. We took six weeks at my favorite studio and I hired these amazing musicians. It was quite the experience.

What inspired your first single, “I’d Rather Be with You”?
Every song I write is true. The feelings I go through, they’re like journal entries. The record itself is about falling in love, falling out of love, it’s about my friends, it’s about my family, it’s about the world I live in. It’s a little more expansive, I think, than the first record, which was pretty much a breakup record. “I’d Rather Be with You” is a song that has more of a grove to it. I just wanted to make every song, production-wise, sound a little different.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?
I think my favorite would be “You Got Growin’ Up to Do.” It’s one of those songs that came out in 15 minutes, which is pretty rare for me. And also, that I got to record it as a duet with one of my favorite songwriters in the world, Patty Griffin, which is a complete and utter dream with just about the coolest person ever.

Are you ever scared to write too much in a song or be too personal?
Yeah, I was when I first started writing. I started writing songs about four years ago, but I realized really quickly what people respond to is brutal honesty. That’s what people relate to. I’m as honest as I can possibly be when I write.

You were on Columbia for your first album and then you bought out your contract to release this album.
Yeah. Well, essentially what happened was I made that first record, We Were Here, on my own. Then Columbia signed me after hearing that record to a five-record deal and re-released that record under their name as is. This was the first record I made with Columbia. I turned it in and they wanted it more poppy-sounding, and I said no. So I bought myself out of the remaining four-record-deal contract and put this out independently.

For a lot of artists, it’s their dream to sign a record deal.
Well, it’s much different nowadays. The major record companies are dinosaurs, it’s impossible to get anything done with them. When I signed with them, originally it was to my understanding that I would have full creative control of what I released. And they were by no means dropping me; they just said, “We want a single on here that’s gonna make top 40 radio.” And I said, “I don’t do top 40 radio.” I don’t listen to anything that’s on top 40 radio. At the end of the day you have to be able to sleep and be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, “I did what I believed in rather than what some guy in a suit in some office in New York believes in.”

Do you think artists have to be on a major label to be successful today?
No, not at all. In fact, there are so many that are hindered by being on major labels. It’s one thing if you’re Beyoncé or someone like that. But, they don’t have the money to develop artists anymore. They’ve lost so much money by piracy that there’s just no money to develop artists. If you’re a huge pop act or you’re in hip-hop that’s one thing, or country music — those genres in our country sell like crazy. But, for my genre, which I deem whisper rock, it’s not going to see millions and millions of record sales. The only way for me to keep creative control for what I put out is to do it independently.

And you have Ellen DeGeneres backing you too.
Yeah. She’s really cool. I played on her show in January and she came running up to me and said, “I would love it if you would play at my wedding.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” So a couple days before the wedding someone from her show called and said, “She’d love to fly you in and you play her wedding at her house.” She’s been such an incredible support and she’s been talking about me on her show. She couldn’t be a more down-to-earth, mean-what-she-says type of person.

You’ve been called this generation’s Simon and Garfunkel. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think that’s it at all. People always want to put you in some sort of box to make other people understand what you’re doing creatively, and I understand that. I’m just trying to sound as much like Joshua Radin as I possibly can. It’s pretty ridiculous, "this generation’s Simon and Garfunkel." First of all, I’m only one person. Second of all, they’re incredibly prolific and music icons. I just started.

I read on Amazon that Rolling Stone called me this generation’s Bob Dylan and that’s absolutely ludicrous! Bob Dylan invented music. That’s putting a bull’s-eye on the back of my head for everyone to be like, “No, you’re not. You’re not really as good.” And I’m like, “Of course I’m not as good, I wrote my first song four years ago!” And I probably never will be as good. But, I bet you I’ll be much better at being Joshua Radin than Bob Dylan is. That’s all I can hope for.

Watch Joshua's music video for "I'd Rather Be with You" below, and for more information check out his MySpace.



Annie Reuter is a freelance writer and music blogger who covers shows in and around the tristate area. In constant pursuit of the next show to attend and band to interview, Annie keeps up her own music blog, You Sing, I Write, where you can listen to her full interview with Joshua Radin and read more on the latest up-and-coming bands.


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