Josh Pyke is pretty proud to release his fifth studio album, But For All These Shrinking Hearts, at the end of July.
In fact, it’s the first time he’s felt truly confident about a release. His music is often described as “happy-sad” and that’s something he’s decided to run with for his upcoming album. We chatted to Josh about the hype surrounding his music video for “Hollering Hearts”, themes like consumerism and the state of the world, which he weaves into his work, and what happens to his music once it leaves him and becomes part of someone else’s life.
We’ve seen that Facebook picture of you in the skeleton suit for the “Hollering Hearts” music video. Can you tell us anything about that or will we just have to wait until the video is released?
Well I’ll try to keep it fairly secret but basically there’s going to be an animated building-up of my body from my flesh. I saw a first edit this morning and it looked really good so hopefully it will turn out great.
Is it good to get into the studio and see everything come together after the writing and composing process?
Yeah, I absolutely love the studio. It’s kind of my favourite place to be. The big thing for me about this record was that I did so much at my own studio in my backyard so all the writing, demos and initial experimentation was done in there. As much as I love it there, it was really great to get out of that space and get into a couple of studios that I wasn’t that familiar with. John Castle did the record with me and he always works out of his studio in Melbourne so it was a foreign environment for him too. It helped to make it sound really cohesive.
Your latest single, “Hollering Hearts”, really captures what makes your music so fantastic. Your album, But For All These Shrinking Hearts, is a really nice mix of melancholy and uplift with that signature dose of nostalgia in there. Are you excited for fans to hear the album?
Yeah it’s funny. I’ve had my music described a few times recently as “happy-sad”. That’s always what I’ve gone for I guess. I’m really excited to get it out there. It’s always nerve-wracking and there are no assurances that it will go well but for the first time, I feel confident. It’s really only now that I feel like an established artist, which sounds stupid to say after 10 years. I don’t really know why but it’s the way it is and it’s a good feeling.
My favourite songs from the album are “Songlines” and “There’s a Line”. Have you got a favourite or one that you love to perform? Or is that like asking a parent to name a favourite child?
It’s definitely tough. But the performance aspect is a bit of an unknown so far because I haven’t played these songs live. I’ve played a couple acoustically but I haven’t played them with a band. All that rehearsal is starting soon. For me it’s often the album tracks that I like and “Book of Revelations” was one of the first ones that I wrote for the new record. It set the tone for the rest of the album, especially lyrically with the melancholy happy-sad thing that’s going on. There’s a bit in it that just really defines my personality, which is kind of obstinate and stubborn. It’s talking about if you’re going to cut me out, cut me but make sure I die. I don’t really do things by halves. That line really makes me laugh when I sing it. I also play drums in that song. It’s not the greatest drumming but it’s mine, you know?
Speaking of lyrics, I have a confession to make. I actually have had some of your lyrics in my “About Me” section of my Facebook. It was up there for about six years and the lyrics were from “The Summer”, a song I really love.
[Laughs] Oh wow thank you. Which lyrics? “Time is like the ocean”?
[Laughs] Pretty much the whole thing?
[Laughs] Thank you.
As a songwriter, do you like that your lyrics speak to people like poetry? Or do you feel a bit weird about the lyrics being taken out of the song, like someone just looking at a picture of a sculpture?
No I love it. It’s kind of the greatest compliment you can get, when someone likes something enough to….
To put it on their Facebook page?
[Laughs] Yeah yeah to put it on their Facebook page. No I think it’s great. I’ve had lots of people come up to me and show me tattoos with lyrics and some of the artwork over the years. I think it’s all those kinds of things that make me feel established. People have told me they’ve played my songs at weddings, funerals, and births of their children. That’s really the connection that goes beyond being played on the radio. It’s not me, it’s the songs that go out into the world and leave me and become a part of people’s lives. That’s a very special thing. It really has nothing to do with me after the making of the songs. And I like that. I like that they can be separate from me and be different for different people. It’s very special.
I love the connections you’ve drawn between the perpetual motion machine, which features on the album cover, and the modern consumerist lifestyle. I noticed as well in the video for “There’s A Line” that there seem to be themes about the devastation of environmental degradation. Is that just me reading into this too much or is that a running theme throughout the rest of the album as well?
Well I think it kind of seems like a theme that has emerged but I don’t think I did it on purpose. The film clip was more just paying homage to the post-apocalyptic film and that genre in general. We wanted to explore that and I also wanted to avoid any kind of cheesy boy-girl narrative. I’ve never done a clip that has that. I’m always trying to look for a way to do something a bit different. We liked the idea of a guy who’s apparently in a post-apocalyptic landscape but is still searching. There’s still an element of hope to his search.
I read an article about Pope Francis’s views on the world, which was pretty bleak. It talked about how people are either catastrophists or dynamists. The catastrophists believe that we’re moving too fast and that we’re going to ruin everything and it will end in tears while the dynamists believe that we will continue to innovate our way out of trouble. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about the Fermi paradox or the Great Filter? He’s this physicist called Fermi who had this theory that the reason we haven’t discovered aliens—even though it’s mathematically probable—is because every culture and civilisation gets to this point where they advance to the point of their own extinction that’s called the Great Filter, and that’s why we haven’t found aliens. And he proposed that we’re in this Great Filter right now—that we’re causing a great extinction. Whereas a dynamist thinks we will innovate our way out of it through, you know, genetically modified vegetables or whatever. So I think about this stuff maybe too much? At the end of the day I think I’m inherently an optimist, and that we will innovate our way out of trouble.
I’ve always been an optimist. I think we’ll get through. I’ve had discussions with people about people who think that when they get old they won’t be contributing anymore and they won’t want to be around anymore. But I want to be around, just to see what happens.
How about the album name, But For All These Shrinking Hearts? Where did the inspiration for that come from?
I always like to try to find the album names from songs on the album and there were a few lines that I could have used but when I was looking through—I have a big file of lyrics—I was trying to find a line that summed up the album and I couldn’t really find one that did it justice. Then I found this little verse I’d done when I was in the UK. Whenever I get any inspiration, I write little snippets of lyrics or prose. And I’d written, “You were a shadow held aloft, in a world less vast but for all these shrinking hearts” and it really just summed up the whole vibe of the album, the whole happy-sad thing. And I like the idea of “but for all these shrinking hearts”. It’s an exception. It’s an answer to a question that I wasn’t asking anyone.
Now fans can pre-order your album now but it’s more than just the album isn’t it?
Yeah there are a couple of different packages. There’s the Fans First package where you get the album and you get a show for free. You also get little bonuses like fridge magnets and stuff like that.
Are you looking forward to the tour?
Yeah I can’t wait. The Fans First ones are my favourite ones to do. It’s like reconnecting with old friends. It’s great to touch base with your hard-core supporters before you go into the scary world of an album cycle. It makes you feel like you’ve done something right.
Now you’re coming to Melbourne and we’re a Melbourne-based blog so we have to ask, what’s your favourite thing to do when you come here?
I don’t often have that much time but I like going to the Collingwood Children’s Farm so I go there with my kids and eat. My sister lives in Melbourne so I catch up with her. And I catch up with Johnny-boy Castle. So yeah, friends and booze.
I know you’ve done the summer festival scene a few times over the years. Any plans to make appearances this summer?
I’m not sure at the moment but I know I’m doing Caloundra and a festival over in WA. I don’t know about New Years yet but fingers crossed!
Hometown: Sydney, Australia.
Upcoming album: But For All These Shrinking Hearts, to be released July 2015.
Sounds like: Summer, sadness and hope.
Say what? Josh has been an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and has raised over $50,000 for them through his Busking For Change gigs. What a legend.
With sweet, summer kisses from Cath.