Joshua Burnside | Interview
By Gerry Walton • Photography: Conor Kerr
Joshua Burnside has been bubbling underneath the musical radar for some time now, and 05 May 2017 saw the release of Ephrata, his full-length debut album. Judging by the singles, ‘Blood Drive’ and ‘Tunnels Pt 2,’ and a new Hollllllogram EP featuring Alana Henderson, Joshua is set to become an even bigger household name. Over a pint of the black stuff, we discussed his journey so far, one that took him to places as far-flung as Colombia.
Starting with a love of Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac inherited from his parents, this bloomed by his teenage years into an appreciation of the songwriting talents of Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst. These influences can be traced back as far as early single ‘Black Dog Sin’, which brings to mind the Fevers and Mirrors era Bright Eyes. On this comparison, Joshua is happy to go into detail – “I could really relate to his angst and he made me really think about lyrics for the first time and what a song really means. Telling a story and creating an image in a person’s head, as opposed to just a catchy melody to sing along to.”
“I feel like I’m always treading a line between a stream of consciousness, psychedelic style of writing and a more structured simple kind of storytelling, one where you don’t really know what is going on, creating a mood more than anything. I like songs that have a keyhole, voyeuristic, snapshot sort of thing to them, and a mystery.”
A listen to the most recent single ‘Blood Drive’, which has cracked national BBC Radio playlists, will tell you that the preferred mood is often lilting, yet equally the upcoming album contains more paranoid moments such as ‘Tunnels Pt 2.’ And yes, there is a part one. Technophobia is a theme that cropped up for Joshua in the writing process.
An even stronger influence for Joshua was his trip to Colombia last year. His three-month sojourn was one that in many ways birthed Ephrata, as the majority of the new album was written there during his stay with his cousin and her husband.
“I had been stuck in a rut in Glasgow, drinking too much. I wasn’t writing very much and I just had to get out,” … he admits, while reassuring me it is one of his favourite cities.
“In Colombia, I listened to a lot of cumbia and vallenato. Some of it is very accordion-based. The singers just kind of belt it out, and it is very raw and strained, but beautiful. There are so many rhythms, it is great, that is what attracted me to it. I got to play with a local band and they showed me a thing or two. I’d love to go back and record with a few musicians out there, maybe for the next album.”
The aforementioned ‘Blood Drive’ is one that has certainly got his time abroad written all over it, with its insistent forward momentum and what Joshua describes as a “bouncy Latin-esque rhythm”.
“I sang it in the cupboard to get a really dry sound, and I found the quieter and lower I sung it, it just worked with the vibe of the song. I kept tuning my guitar lower and lower too.”
To add to the album’s globe-trotting theme, the title of Ephrata is derived from the name of a small town in Pennsylvania he visited while touring with his band.
“It was a mad experience, kind of an Amish town started by a mystic order. I’ve always been drawn to mysticism.”
“ … We were living with this guy whose father had recently passed away. He was a minister; he let us stay in his father’s room, which was a bit surreal as nothing had really changed since he passed away. There were fire engines going past the whole night because the local market was on fire.”
On a more local slant, with a song called ‘Red and White Blues’ released earlier this year, Joshua doesn’t shy away from political inspiration. Lyrics reference a “grandad in the DUP, but it never meant that much to me”.
While his work can take on an elusive quality, his current frustration on this topic is evident – “Symbolism of flags and red, white and blue pavestones is like dogs pissing on their territory, isn’t it?” With a turn of phrase like that, I suggest writing a whole album’s worth of political songs, but we agree that one will do!
Touring in the UK and Europe is already well underway, before Joshua hits the States again next year, including SXSW in Texas. As for the new Hollllllogram EP, out on 15 September 2017, it features two new songs, ‘Grapes’ and ‘Dinner’, and we can expect “heavily layered electro-folk” and “distorted vocals” from the new stuff. Anyone familiar with Ephrata will know these are very good things. Album number two is mooted for possibly as early as next year and may bear the fruits of Joshua’s growing experimentation with coding software.
“I’m kind of obsessed with it. It’s all I really think about. For everyone else is the new album, but for me, it’s the old album!”
Based on the sessions for Ephrata, a flurry of instrumentation can be expected too. In the four studios visited Joshua picked up a guitar, banjo, accordion, and piano. Oh, and a bicycle.
“For a song called ‘Unrequited Kind’, there was a bike sitting about in the studio, and we thought it would sound great if we span the wheels and held a stick to the spokes. The engineer was laughing, as it was the first time anyone had recorded a bike in the studio.”
If you’re looking forward to how that sounds, Ephrata is out now on the Quiet Arch label. Click here for Ephrata album review.
Issue 11 of the printed magazine, featuring Joshua Burnside interview.