josh pyke

Memories & Dust

I have actually achieved a lot, far more than I ever thought was possible when I first started out.

Josh Pyke

Marking an end to a lustrous career, one of Australia’s favourite sons Josh Pyke has announced that he will be hanging up his boots. After 12 years on the road and having performed at almost every imaginable in the land, Josh will be touring one last time and before he signs off. We take the chance to speak with the man about his tour and future plans.

Hi Josh and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Musicology.

You have decided to call it a day which begs the question why and why now?

I’m definitely not calling it a day, I am just going to take a break from touring my own stuff for a while. The reason being is that it feels like a good time. It has been 12 years of solid touring and bringing out the Best Of compilation and doing this Memories & Dust tour where I am playing the whole album. It felt like a nice book end to what I have done so far and there are a few other projects like film / TV work and some other musical avenues I have been wanting to explore for a long time but touring has always made digging into those projects difficult as I am often pulled away to go on tour.

You will be performing Memories & Dust in full followed by a second set of crowd favourites. In performing these live, do you feel that it is as much as a farewell celebration for the fans as much as it is a farewell celebration for yourself in that you are saying good-bye to a massive phase in your life?

Yeah that is exactly how I am viewing it. I am not saying good bye to it, I will always play these songs because they have given me so much and mean so much to me. Doing this kind of tour was the perfect way to celebrate that period and symbolically step off that period of my life and onto a new era.

Having toured the country so many times over the years there must have been some truly standout shows that will remain with you forever. Can you share one of those highlight performances with us and what made it so remarkable?

The one that always comes up in my mind is Sydney Symphony Orchestra shows that I did at the Opera House. Having such an esteemed bunch of musicians playing my music in such an iconic venue was a really career defining moment for me.

Of your vast body of work, which songs are you most proud of and for what reasons?

That’s hard but songs like Middle Of The Hill I will always be proud of almost in a fatherly way because it was a song that came out of nowhere and opened all these doors for me. Then there are songs like Parking Lots which is one of the favourite songs I have written and New Year’s Song as I really laboured over those songs to get the lyrics out so I am proud of them in a working way. It hard to pin them down to a short list because I stand behind them all creatively.

Lyrics can often be the sticking point in any song creation, either because you have laboured over them or they arrive in a flash of brilliance. What made you so confident in the way that you have written some of the lyrics you are most proud of?

It is a bit of both really. I will have a theme or some small line that I tend to hang the rest of the song around. Those little moments tend to come pretty quickly and organically and then it’s really finding all the other stuff that explains those motifs. Those main elements of the song and finding all the other stuff around the verses to support that meaningful hook has always been the thing I get a lot of satisfaction out of. I never want to make a verse a throwaway verse, I want to make them all as meaningful and poetic as possible. Even if something comes to me quickly it will take a long time refining the thing until I am happy with it.

Having meet so many musicians and interesting characters over the years, were there any words of wisdom or defining interactions that really resonated with you and altered the way you approached your craft?

I have learnt stuff from everyone I have worked with and co-written with. I have never meet anyone who has the exact same process as me which would lead me to believe that everybody’s process is different and that is valid for them. In one way that is the most important thing I have learnt as it makes me not doubt myself when I see other people writing five songs in a week because they sit down and write songs like that. It’s not how I write but knowing that everybody’s process is different makes me not freak out as much because essentially my process is to sit around and wait for lighting to strike and be in the position to capture it when it happens. My process is a bit more haphazard which can lead to more stress but knowing that everyone’s process is different has been an important thing to learn.

I recall seeing you one time at The Rollerden in Sydney and you were performing for Busking For Change, a charity event for Indigenous Literacy. Bringing awareness to important causes has always been something close to your heart. What changes have you witnessed in the activities that you have supported that have been brought about directly through your music and awareness that you have raised for these causes?

With the work I do with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation I have been out to the communities in East Arnhem Land and Tiwi Islands and have seen first-hand how the literacy programs work and how they have affected the communities there so that is really powerful and has been rewarding. In terms of the advocacy stuff that I have done through APRA AMCOS and starting my own grant (JP Partnership), I have seen first-hand how advocating for the arts helps. I have been to Canberra and meet with Richard Di Natale, Tony Burke and Wayne Swan and a bunch of other politicians to try and convince to help with either funding the arts or reconsider things like fee use and copyright law in Australia and I have seen how the money the winners receive from the JP Partnership fund writing or recording trips overseas to progress their careers. You need to see those kind of results because you are doing things you think are good but if you don’t see any evidence of it, it isn’t as powerful.

After 5 studio albums and over a decade of performing, knowing that you have firmly added a solid stone in the Australian musical path must be an amazing feeling. Is this something you have had time to fully consider and appreciate?

Probably not yet, I think that is part of the reason why having a bit of a break from touring will be a good thing for mentally I guess because the last 12 years has just been go, go, go. Since the first tour it has all been on and since that time I got married and had two kids so to balance working life and family life and many other challenges in my personal life has been full on and you don’t often get a chance to reflect on what you have contributed. There is also that classic Australian cringe of not wanting to be proud of yourself. We don’t sit around and pat ourselves on our back like Americans seem to do. I think this process of doing this tour and releasing the Best Of was that chance for me to go wow I have actually achieved a lot, far more than I ever thought was possible when I first started out. It also made me realise that I will achieve more and I am excited by that. It is important for people to reflect upon their successes because we more often think about our failures which is not really helpful.

As you depart from your Josh Pyke the musician duties, what now is on the horizon as Josh Pyke the free agent?

I have two firm plans I am working on. One of them is a project is am chipping away on with an Australian author called Margo Lanagan and we are doing a concept album. I worked on Justine Clarkes kids television show this year recording five of the songs for that, including the theme song. I found that really rewarding producing songs as I produced and recorded all the instruments on those songs. I just loved that process so I want to do more. I have done some writing which I am keen to get better at as it is something I have always been passionate about but I have spent the last 12 years honing my craft as a songwriter writing prose which is the opposite of trying to extrapolate things that are three minutes long. Beyond that I am open to ideas and probably end up producing music for other artists I reckon so once the touring commitments are done I am just going to open myself up to the universe and see what happens.