For some reason, the further Josh Rouse moved away from the hard driviní, home grown and good olí fashioned alternative country rock of his debut album Dressed Up Like Nebraska, the more fans he seemed to gain along the way. A new collection of his best songs, outtakes and rarities showcases the astonishing Nebraska-born troubadourís journey from being the Next New Springsteen to being the King of Mellow Country Soul Ė all in just a decade.
In this exclusive interview we speak to Josh about the first ten years of his career, annoying concert crowds and the fact that he might now be moving on to Afro-Brazillian jazzÖ
Interview by Soren McGuire
This new collection marks your ten year anniversary as a recording artist. What thoughts went through your mind when you sat down to pick out the songs for the collection?
That Iíve written a lot of songs without really realising it. Iíve created quite a body of work over the last ten years. But it brings back a lot of memories and at the same time, you go Ďwowí!. Ten years ago I would never have thought that Iíd have a best of coming out. Most people just put out a couple of records and thatís it, right? But itís also a good way of allowing yourself to go Ďokay, what am I going to do next?í It gives you the opportunity to start over.
How the hell can you forget your own songs?
You make records and you play the songs thousands and thousands of times, over and over again at your shows. When you write an album, you try to write songs that people will gravitate towards. But thereís usually three or four songs that donít really connect with your audience, so you tend to forget about them. I was going through my catalogue the other day and there were songs there I had forgotten all about. Itís not necessarily bad songs, just songs that arenít really in my life any more. Or songs that I only play every once in a while. Not b-sides. Iíd rather call them b-cuts.
Do you ever get surprised at the requests people call out for at your shows?
Yeah. That happens. You always get fans who know every song youíve ever written. They call out for these songs and sometimes Iím convinced that no one else in the audience has ever heard of that song. That happens every now and then.
Iíve always wondered about this. Do you, as a performing artist, get annoyed with fans calling out for songs? You DO have set lists after all, donít you?
It depends. Every nightís different. Some nights youíre in a good mood and you go Ďok, letís do that one if the band knows ití. Other nights you get the guy who just keeps yelling out for ĎLove Vibrationí between every songÖ
Like Free Bird!
Yeah. And even before you play the first song, heís yelling out for this one song, and you just want to go Ďdonít worry man, weíre gonna get to that song. You donít have to keep shouting, just chill outí.
This also marks the ten year anniversary of your debut album, Dressed Up Like Nebraska. Itís a damn fine album, but is there anything you would have done differently if you were putting out that album now?
The recording of it I guess. I was very naÔve back then. We recorded it in a friends house where the drummer and I would be in one room and my friend would be in another. We worked on it for about six months on and off. I was paying as little as $75 a day to record it. When I listen to it today, Iím surprised. The songs are really basic, but theyíre good and people liked them. Back then, when I listened to it, I thought it sounded like other peopleís music, the music I listened to myself. I liked it. When you play in bands, you often go, Ďweíre good, but I wouldnít want to listen to us all the timeí. I didnít feel that way with Dressed Up Like Nebraska.
Donít most artists have all these romantic feelings about their first album, despite whatever flaws and faults it might have?
Sure. I definitely feel that way. Itís exciting having your first album come out. Mine came out and I was over in England a few weeks later playing gigs. It was like I had gone from my couch to having some succes, people actually talking about me and coming to my shows. Itís an amazing feeling.
Your music has changed over the years and so have the labels that have attached to your music. Youíve gone from alternative country to country soul to latin influenced folk Ė with a constant growing audience. When did you first feel that your music gained an audience that stretched beyond the alt.country crowd?
Whenever someone tries to label your music, you wanna break out of it. When Dressed Up Like Nebraska came out, and to some extent, Home as well, people were calling it alternative country. My record label was a bit disturbed by it. Alternative country records donít sell, they said. But 1972 was probably the album that tapped into a wider audience. It caught the ears of someone who likes music but doesnít necessarily pursue it like you and I would do. 1972 broke it for me.
Whatís the greatest lesson the past ten years has taught you?
Stay true to yourself. Itís good to take advice from other people, but be careful who you take advice from. Thereís a lot of Ďyou should do this or you should do thatí, but just sit down and write some songs and do whatever comes naturally. Iíve never tried to stylize somethint to make my modern or commercially liable- I want my records to sell like the records I like. I want my records to fit in with my own record collection. On my second and third record I was kinda getting pressured into doing some things that I didnít really want to do. Make singles and producing them in a way so that they sounded like someone else. I tried but it didnít work.
You mentioned earlier that the release of this best of allows you to wipe the slate clean and take a fresh start. What are your plans and does it still involve sounding just a bit country?
Iíve been doing some Brazillian influenced stuff, as far as the rhythms. Iím singing in Spanish, just messing around with some stuff and it sounds good. If you ever get tired of yourself, just sing in a different language. But yeah, itís more jazzy but at the same time also Afro-Brazillian. It sounds really cool. But country is still in my roots and I still listen to it.
Josh Rouse Ė The Best Of The Rykodisc Years is out now on Rhino