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Josh Ritter- The Triste Interview

Josh Ritter - photo MIchael Williams Idaho-born singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has seen his profile rise rapidly in the UK over the first half of 2004. Although very popular in Ireland, the rest of the British Isles had been slow in picking up on his well-crafted songs and his easy-going stage performances, until "The Golden Age of Radio" was re-promoted in the UK 18 months after its initial release. Triste met up with him for an interview in his dressing room at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester suppporting Joan Baez (who had covered Ritter's "Wings"). It seems the UK might finally be getting the message.
Triste: One of the first things that people comment on when theyíre talking about you is that you came from a little out of the way place called Moscow. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Josh Ritter: Itís a beautiful place in the north of Idaho, about 120 miles from Canada and I love it. It was started in the 1860ís when people found gold out there. There actually was a little bit, but then everybody moved out looking for the next gold rush. So a few people stuck around and did farming. Itís a town based on farming and thereís a university there. When the students are around there are about 15,000 people there, otherwise it kind of shrivels up to a few hardy souls. Itís not a place where a lot of music comes through - nothing very groundbreaking.

Triste: So when you were growing up what was the main musical stimulus? Radio? Records? Gigs?

Josh Ritter: No, I didnít buy records until I was on a school trip to Boise. I had just heard Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and I bought a CD from each of them and I was so excited. I got Folsom Prison and Bringing It All Back Home.

Triste: How old were you at this time?

Josh Ritter: I was 18.

Triste: So that would be nine or ten tears ago?

Josh Ritter: Yes. Nine years. I remember listening to them at home and wanting to tell people about them, but there was really no-one to tell about that stuff. The stuff you heard on the radio was the top 40 station and a country station. So when I heard that stuff I realised that there were more people around than you thought. Then you realise that these record stores are filled with artists youíve never heard of. Thatís when I became a maniac for them. Iíd spend hours listening to them and finding more records by them or people like them. Once you realise that itís not all Garth Brooks and manufactured music, and that people like Johnny Cash are ďrealĒ people, then you think that you could do it yourself. When I heard them I realised that was something I could do and that I could understand.

Triste: So at High School did all the musical trends pass you by? Grunge must have been pretty big and what about the more mainstream things like Prince or even Springsteen?

Josh Ritter: In our town we were only four hours away from Seattle. We all always wore plaid shirts anyway and as it was so close and all around you never really noticed it happening. Anyway at that time I was too young to go to shows.

Triste: So did those bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney come and play your town.

Josh Ritter: Oh, Mudhoney did and played a place called Johnís Alley, but I donít think Nirvana ever did. But a lot of those groups like Screaming Trees played, but you heard a lot more about Poison and Motley Crue and bands like that. (Laughs)

Triste: So what made you change form being a teenager with a compulsive interest in music, like thousands of others, to actually going out and doing it?

Josh Ritter: You know youíre trying to find a spot in your life at that age, and some people found it - like the quarterback on the football team - and they seemed to have it all figured out to me, which is ridiculous. At the time I tried all that kind of stuff, but I always felt invisible. I felt like I could see myself doing stuff, but I never felt like me. I felt like I was watching myself through a camcorder and it always felt like I was acting about something. But with music it just seemed so immediate. I felt I understood songs straight away. I felt they were like movies to me: I could understand the people in them, I could understand their situations. I just started writing and didnít really think about the fact that I couldnít really do it.

Triste: But a lot of people would love to do that, but havenít got the musical talent. You must have found out pretty quickly that youíd got a voice and could play a bit.

Josh Ritter: It was immediately. I think I bought a guitar the day after I heard that stuff for the first time. I taught myself how to play by writing songs. So youíd learn the D chord and go over it again and again as youíre writing and every chord I got Iíd write a song with it in. And nobody was listening and nobody was saying this wasnít any good. Even when they did it didnít have an effect on me - it was like ďThey donít get, but they will - eventuallyĒ. I was lucky that I was able to do it, as there a lot of people who would love to do it, but never do, for whatever reason. With me I was lucky enough, that when I first started to write songs there was nobody else giving any input to me - either saying they hated it, or saying they loved it.

Triste: So you didnít get any positive feedback from your friends at all to keep you going. Did you keep it all to yourself?

Josh Ritter: I really kept it all in myself. That was my thing. If I played it to anyone, well nobody really listened. Thatís the thing about growing up in a small town and I lived eight miles out of town. We lived really out of the way. What else do you do with your time before you can drive? You just sit around and write songs. Itís nice that it happened under the radar. You write more from yourself rather than going out round New York every night hearing new bands. Iím glad about that. It gave me time to think about what I was doing.

Triste: I would imagine that a lot of teenagers in that situation would form bands.

Josh Ritter: None of my friends played music. In sports I never was very good with teams. I did my own individual thing. Even now I play with a band, and theyíre great, but it took a lot of time to learn that. But I tend to be really particular about songs and that I get the songs right before I play them to anyone.

Triste: I suppose your next step would be going to university and following in your parentsí footsteps and doing neuroscience. Did you have any inkling that your destiny was going to be in music and writing?

Josh Ritter: Yeh, it felt like a horrible secret to me. It felt like not doing science or an academic subject would be a failure as so many people in my family had been scientists or other academics. My brotherís in graduate school in Computer Science going for his PhD and thatís the kind of thing you do. I felt like I loved playing music, but I couldnít let people down and falling short. It was ridiculous, but it took me such a long time before I finally said to myself ďWhy am I not going for music, when itís really what I love.Ē It took me two and half years and a lot of heartache before I could decide that. Once I came to that decision I never regretted it.

Triste: Did you actually drop out, or did you change the course?

Josh Ritter: I changed the course and went on to study American History through music - a lot of narrative music. Then I went to Scotland for six months at the School of Scottish Folk Studies there. I did a lot of study of American religious music and the music of the late 19th century, the popular ballads and cowboy songs.

Triste: And parlour songs?

Josh Ritter: Parlour songs and whole lot of American Civil Way songs like ďDrummer Boys of ShilohĒ and that gave me a whole feeling for that type of music. Itís kind of comforting that people had done this kind of thing before.

Triste: After that did you make a conscious move to Boston?

Josh Ritter: I moved back to Idaho for three months while I figured what to do, but Boston was the place I was reading about in books. It was the kind of place where people like Joan [Baez] got started. I was really afraid of living in New York or somewhere like that. Boston seemed like a good place to go to.

Triste: Is it still a good place to go? Youíre talking about the 60ís there. Is there still a tradition of being supportive to your kind of music?

Josh Ritter: Yes. There are a couple of places which really do a good job and theyíve been around forever. The other thing is that there a lot of students there and youíre not too far from New York, Philadelphia or DC and you can drive there. Itís a place where youíre not going to make a living unless you tour a little bit. Boston seemed like a place where I could make some friends. There has to be a place for people to start out.

Triste: Itís also a nice city, generally, in which to live.

Josh Ritter: Itís great. Iím hardly there right now, but when Iím there itís really good to see friends. Itís been really good to me.

Triste: So at this stage where you doing temporary jobs by day and playing at night?

Josh Ritter: Thatís right.

Triste: Were you playing proper gigs or was it a series of Open Mics?

Josh Ritter: Mostly Open Mics.

Triste: So I assume you didnít get paid much. Did they pass a basket round?

Josh Ritter: Not even that. When youíre starting out you have to have time to do all the calls and write songs, so Iíd work for two weeks and then do a week of shows. Then the weeks when I was working Iíd do three Open Mic sessions. Sometimes Iíd do two in a night. You know, you play your one song and youíre off. Itís like that Tenacious D thing - ďLearn to play guitar in front of a real audienceĒ. Thatís what it is - itís freaky! You know you see some people who are geniuses who you know will never go places and then youíll see other people who are terrific and donít know it. I really love Open Mics. They teach you that, as much as songwriting is about sitting in your room and trying to write something, Open Mics are the slap in the face that remind you that if you canít perform it live, then all your hard work is rather wasted. I learned a lot from Open Mics.

Triste: You need to know how to hold an audience. Sometimes a quiet song will work, other times you have to play loudly. Itís a gift that some people have got and others donít. Some people have all the banter between the songs while others can barely say a word.

Josh Ritter: Joan Baez calls that the quiet charm. Some people get up and, for whatever reason, everything goes quiet. Nobody knows how that works, but itís amazing.

Triste: But some people totally lack that and itís terrible to see. Thereís something in their body language which gives off the wrong kind of vibes to the audience.

Josh Ritter: Who know? Sometimes I think itís almost like a smell. Some nights you feel the performer totally fill up the room with something, and some people, rather than pushing the energy outwards are bringing it all in. It can be deadly. Performing is so strange anyway. Itís like thereís this gauze between you and the audience and you push against it and they push back. Itís a great feeling, but you have to learn how to sense that. Open Mics teach you how to deal with situations. Itís not just about getting through the songs and getting through without forgetting the words. Itís also about how you respond and react to certain kinds of crowds without making.

Triste: How comfortable are you as a performer now on stage?

Josh Ritter: Iím getting more and more comfortable. Iíve only really been performing for audiences of my own for a couple of years. Iím getting better at it. I really love performing as itís a chance to show my songs.

Triste: How much of your real personality comes across on stage. You seem to have a little of that ďAw shucksĒ, modest, persona on stage. I donít know if youíve ever seen footage of that Neil Young concert he did for the BBC in 71, where heís premiering songs from Harvest, but he spends time going through this routine where heís fumbling with his harmonicas. According to the books, Dylan was like that too in his very early days in Greenwich Village. Is there anything of that in your performances as a means of protection?

Josh Ritter: I think that when you perform thatís the chance for you to be who youíd really like to be. When Iím on stage Iím nervous and Iím happy and that part of the thing is really genuine. I also think that itís a defence mechanism at times because, as different as youíre feeling from night to night on stage, you donít always want to bring it out: partly out of consideration of the audience and partly out of consideration for yourself. This is a dream job, so why whine about things. But also there are some things that you donít want people to know about, but I didnít really understand that until I started playing a lot. You need a space in your own head where youíre not a performer. I love the way that Neil Young interacts with the crowd. Iíve got this DVD of a Silver and Gold concert and itís so interesting to see his interaction with the crowd. They feel they can yell out tings and heís like this great immoveable block. Heís got this weird respect with his audiences.

Triste: Going back to your time in Boston. Did you have a demo tape that you used to get gigs, or did you use this [the self-published, self-titled CD - available now only Josh Ritterís website] to get gigs?

Josh Ritter: I made it during my last year in college and I brought it with me and sold it at Open Mics and I sold it at shows, and Iím glad I had it as I think the demo route is like so much quick sand. You make demos and then if you donít get signed, well you make more demos rather than making a record and going out with it. I mean I just wanted people to have something if they liked a song and wanted something to take away with them. And that helped me get my first shows and I kept a record of how many I sold and it started to be a source of income I could use for rent and stuff like that. And when I first went to Ireland, while I was still doing Open Mics, I sold a ton of them. Then I started thinking that I could actually quit my day job.

Triste: You can make more money sometimes from CD sales then you actually get paid by the promoter for doing the gig itself.

Josh Ritter: Oh yeh. Merchandise for a gig like tonight keeps the gas in the van.

Triste: When I saw you play the Night and Day Bar before Christmas Iíve never seen such a rush to get to the merch store and buy the albums.

Josh Ritter: With something like the first album, and it not being out on a label, it was nice to have with me at gigs. Itís quite something that at a certain point it could fund a tour. Itís amazing; itís not something I was expecting. I thought they might get me gigs, but I didnít think it would let me quit my job.

Triste: So what do you think about the songs on the debut album now, looking back on them from a few years on? Obviously a few of them, like ďStuck to YouĒ (the Science song) are still in your set.

Josh Ritter: I actually like them all. Iím not going to be like Tom Waits and denounce the early songs I was writing, you know, because theyíre important. Theyíre part of what was going on in my life at that time and I was really proud of the then. I chuckle now at how earnest some of them are and how wide of the mark they are, but as a first attempt Iím still really proud of them and down the line , if I make 30 records Iíd still be proud of my first one. There are some which are funny.

Triste: So how did you get from the self-titled debut to The Golden Sounds of the Radio? I believe itís been out a couple of times. How did you get picked up by a label?

Josh Ritter: I made it about a year and a half after the first one and I made it on my own for the cost of about $1000 making it.

Triste: So was it thought of as being in the same style as the debut? To fill a similar purpose?

Josh Ritter: It was basically the same thing. I made it and put it out and I was hustling it and I met Jim Olsen who runs Signature Sounds in Massachusetts, near Seattle and I was doing a show and he really liked it and so he put it out. Things like that just came around. I didnít send it out to anyone. The guy who started to book my shows just heard it and The Frames who invited me over to Ireland heard it and suddenly people were starting to hear about it, when it came to time, I pout it out on Signature and I put it out on a label in Ireland and it all came together that way. It sold okay and everything, but I never was really expecting it to sell a lot. I still think about each record like this one (tapping on the case of the debut album). Itís like ĎWell you did it and itís there!í If people like it they like it, if they donít get it, then maybe theyíll get it later on down the line. Maybe theyíll understand. I donít want it to be complicated or presumptuous, I just want it to be a case of ĎThese are the songs I was writing at the time and if you donít like it thereís another one coming along laterí.

Triste: So how different are the songs on the Signature Sounds album to the version you put out. Have they been remastered?

Josh Ritter: We remastered it and we recorded one song - ďThe Golden Age of RadioĒ - again. Just did a few little changes - little things which seemed to make a bit of sense. I moved the songs around in a different order. Itís a cool ting - you have a record for a while and youíre excited about it but then and you realise that there are a few things youíd change. I didnít think a lot about it, I just made a few little changes.

Triste: Itís a lot more expansive record than your debut - in terms of instrumentation and recording.

Josh Ritter: Yes. We did the first one with just three mics and all recorded live.

Triste: But even The Golden Age of Radio is still relatively lo-fi: you can hear the Pís popping.

Josh Ritter: Definitely. Half the songs on this were recorded on a minidisk and when we took it in to get mastered the guy there freaked out. You look at the sine waves and theyíre all over the place. I know people who make their first records and they sound really slick but sound nothing like their show and I like the idea that what you make sounds like the show. Itís honest; it shouldnít have to be something big to matter. Thereís so much stuff in the world, music-wise, that doesnít seem to matter to me and I want to make records that matter. All the other stuff diverts attention from the words and the feel of the record.

Triste: Itís got a warmth to it which you canít always capture by spending six months in the studio. It might be perfect sonically but itís lost its soul.

Josh Ritter: Hundreds of thousands of dollars are not going to make a bad song good. I cringe when I hear those stories. I recorded Hello Starling in two weeks and I could probably have done with one more week. But two to three weeks is about right. You get to the point where if the songs are there then why worry about anything else. Make it sound good enough, so that you can listen to it, and it doesnít hurt your ears, but itís much more about the message than the medium.

Triste: ďMe and JiggsĒ was released as a single in Ireland and did pretty well. I gather youíre huge over there.

Josh Ritter: Yeh: It got crazy in Ireland. Itís a small country with good word of mouth and I went over and suddenly within two weeks I was starting to play my own shows there. I was opening for the Frames, which was terrific, and then later I would start going over on my own and I made a lot of good friends. A lot of the really good friends I have are Irish just because I met them doing the same sort of thing. Now some of them have got really successful - like Damien Rice, whoís a really good friend of mine from over there - who was recording his first record when I first went over. And then thereís The Frames too. Itís pretty neat that things are taking off for them too. For some reason I got invited into that kind of scene and it was great.

Triste: Looking at the advance copy of Hello Starling that Iíve got here, you can see that the Irish connection is apparent here as well. Thereís David Odlum producing for a start. Heís worked with Gemma Hayes?

Josh Ritter: Yeh, Gemma Hayes. Heís fantastic. He was the guitar player for the Frames for a while when I first met him and I liked his attention to the words of the song and the fact that he gets into the studio enough, so you know heís taking care of things, but heís a great motivator as well. He really cares about songs. This record, Hello Starling, went great over in Ireland and also in the States. Itís really amazing that that can happen.

Triste: You did a getting your ďhead together back in the countryĒ thing for Hello Starling. A kind of Big Pink thing where you recorded the album at Black Box studios in the middle of rural France.

Josh Ritter: When we recorded The Golden AgeÖ it was like hell. We were driving around to wherever the studios were basically free. I couldnít really pay and it was hot and the middle of summer - it was terrible. So when I came to make Hello Starling I think I spent most of the money on making the record on plane tickets! Dave Odlum really loved this studio, and it was out in the middle of nowhere and it was for two weeks and Iíd been touring for so long that two weeks was incredible just to have that much time to hang out.

Triste: Iíve just heard Hello Starling and think itís a great record and Iím sure it will do well in Britain when itís released over here next month. I believe it was very successful in Ireland.

Josh Ritter: Number two in Ireland - itís amazing!

Triste: Youíve mentioned before about the dangers of the fame machine taking over and now youíre going to be playing tonight as support to Joan Baez in this great concert hall. Obviously you donít want to be marketed as the young new ďwhateverĒ. How do you try and control that yet not hinder yourself from being pushed forward. How do you strike the balance?

Josh Ritter: Once you get inside and se how that stuff works you see how easy it is to get your face on a billboard. Look at Jordan! Iíve only been over here a few days and I know all about her! (laughs) That stuff is so easy and yet so replaceable. I get a lot of inspiration from those writers - you know, whatever else happens you still need a space to write. Anything else that accrues, like popularity, or reputations come from writing the songs and not from acting out some kind of fantasy about what itís like to be a famous musician.

Triste: Thatís probably okay if youíre JD Salinger or Thomas Pynchon, but itís more difficult for you. They can disappear for 20 years but you canít, you have to physically be out there doing shows.

Josh Ritter: You always have to have time and a place to go and you also have to have a spot in your head, where you realise that things like that are good, but itís only a passing thing compared to sitting down and writing the songs. Really the songs are where it all comes from, so if you like that sort of thing, then youíve got to keep chucking stuff out there. I feel like, right now, Iím earning enough that I can pay my rent. And thatís great and I donít feel like I have to live up to any reputation. People compare you to people like Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but I donít find those comparisons a lot of pressure, because I donít think like that at all. In 30 or 40 years time, if youíre still writing good songs, then that sort of stuff falls buy the wayside. It doesnít really have an effect.

Triste: Does it affect you that people are comparing you to people like Damien Rice and David Gray - more your contemporaries than the greats?

Josh Ritter: Iím proud to be members of their scene and their successes have kind of made it easier for me. Damien worked at this for ten years and David Gray for 12 or 13 years to get to the point theyíre at, but for me itís been relatively fast. I havenít had a lot of money pushing the records. People who are playing quiet music and are successful just make me feel really good. I donít particularly feel that my music is like Damienís or David Grayís or any of those people anyway.

Triste: But there are common elements.

Josh Ritter: Exactly. It can walk in the same door. For some reason with music, as opposed to writing for example, thereís a real emphasis on sales. Important writers donít always have huge sales, but itís more a case of asking if they have anything to say. Someone like Philip Roth wonít necessarily have a book on the best seller list, but heís judged by whether the book is good or not. And I feel the same way. I think itís important that you have a lasting career, rather than an enormous number of sales. I love that about Tom Waits, or Neil Young. I think his best selling record was in 1971 or 72.

Triste: 72 - Harvest, and he later claimed he hated it.

Josh Ritter: But all his stuff is so good. All of his stuff is so ďinnarestingĒ.

Triste: But then going back to people like Nick Drake, youíve got a bloke who sold maybe a few thousand of each album in his lifetime and the lack of success seemed to have rebounded on him badly.

Josh Ritter: Yes, he just didnít seem to have anything else in his life but music and I think that itís a real shame.

Triste: Posthumous acclaim isnít much consolation, is it?

Josh Ritter: No. Like who cares! That romantic thing is so stupid.

Triste: The Golden Age album, you said, was recorded in various studios, but it does seem to have a theme running through it. One of the critics mentioned thereís a certain disconnectedness about the people in it and thereís definitely a feeling of leaving or moving on or escape. Was that symptomatic of how you felt at that time?

Josh Ritter: Yes, that totally came through - far more than the first record and with a different sort of theme to Hello Starling. Those songs which I put on Golden AgeÖ I felt they were all about...

Triste: Small towns?

Josh Ritter: Yeh, small towns and about leaving them - having to go. And I must have written eight or nine songs that were little bits of ďMe and JiggsĒ before I finally got everything into that song. Thatís what kind of happened with a lot of those songs. I wrote them - and didnít feel happy with them - and then they started to rearrange themselves and make sense. Thatís what happened with a bunch of that stuff and I wasnít really thinking about it until the record was coming together and thatís when you look back and realise that subliminally that theyíve got so much to do with the rest of my life. It wasnít conscious. I was thinking of making the record so that it was about some of the musicians, who I loved, and paying credence to them. So the record should be like hearing some of your favourite people on the radio and loving them. Like Nick Drake. I wanted to write a Nick Drake song.

Triste: You also explicitly doff your hat to Townes Van Zandt on ďMe and JiggsĒ as well, donít you?

Josh Ritter: That was in my head as what I thought it was about before I started to realise that what it really was about was leaving home and starting to make music.

Triste: Thereís also a strong element of nostalgia in that song. I know itís not about you, but itís certainly filtered through your experiences.

Josh Ritter: The nostalgia I was thinking about was really nostalgia for a time I wasnít around for. I didnít know about Nick Drake or Townes Van Zandt, before he died, and Patsy Cline was so far removed thatÖ well. But I love that nostalgia that someone like Gillian Welch has. Like ďElvis Presley BluesĒ, where thereís a nostalgia there for a time she never lived in. I love the way she brings out certain details there - I think itís really mysterious and cool.

Triste: I noticed too that there were quite a few religious references there too. Are you a religious person or is this just vocabulary that you appropriated to illuminate the songs. Like ďThe MagnificatĒ and ďThe 23rd PsalmĒ are mentioned. Is that conscious?

Josh Ritter: Thereís a lot of religion in culture, but itís not always used as such. Something like ďThe 23rd PsalmĒ is such a cultural touchstone whether youíre religious or not - itís just everywhere and thereís a feeling about it. Thereís a feeling that everybody brings there own assumptions to it and I love that. I canít imagine being a songwriter without having a respect for some of the most incredible writing ever. There are classics in there - such as Job - where thereís a surface story, but also all this poetry.

Triste: So these references came from the literary side of the fence, rather than say the spiritual side, or even the musical side of it - such as Gospel music?

Josh Ritter: Too me itís really hard to distinguish. When I read great literature thereís a real spiritual feeling - a real fervour - and when I write songs itís the same feeling. There are so many religious stories where you get this feeling of transmission. With songwriters, you listen to something like a Leonard Cohen song and thereís this feeling of true inspiration - whether you put the word religious to it or not, is up to you - but you feel that, for a moment at least, he could write better than he ever could write. Or a song like ďJohn The RevelatorĒ contains all these incredible things and thatís really attractive to me.

Triste: You mention there about being a vessel or a conduit - but you take someone like Leonard Cohen and a song like ďHallelujahĒ. I think he said it took him two years to write it. That song was obviously chiselled away - unlike someone like Dylan who you feel splurges out words. What kind of writer are you? A craftsman working on your songs slowly and in measured style, or someone who just rattles the words and music off?

Josh Ritter: Most of my songs are like spewed out. But Iím careful about what I put out on a record. You get a lot of stuff where you get three quarters of the way through a song and it feels great while youíre writing it, but you come back the next day and it doesnít have that same feeling. I think itís worth waiting around for the songs that feel really good. And I think Dylan probably does that too.

Triste: Possibly in the 60ís - that 1965-66 period when he made two single albums and a double album - the songs were coming out so fast that he probably didnít edit that much. You see film of him tapping away frantically on a typewriter, but now probably he has to work that much harder and craft the songs a lot more.

Josh Ritter: I donít think it makes you a better songwriter to write more, but I think a large part of what makes you a good writer is the ability to throw away or hold back on stuff until itís ready.

Triste: You seem to be a reasonable guitarist, but do you ever feel limited by your ability - in terms of helping you write songs?

Josh Ritter: No. Because itís mostly like youíre building a track for the song and typically youíll find that a lot of the best guitarists are not great songwriters. The better musicians have that many more options that they can easily get confused. Some of my favourite guitarists, like John Fahey or Mississippi John Hurt or even Johnny Cash, play such simple stuff that you can really love the beauty in it. You can appreciate the notes they play, rather than someone like Steve Vai, who I canít follow at all! (Laughs)

Triste: You take some of the greatest writers like Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie and theyíre writing songs with three chords... or even two chords! ďJambalayaĒ is only two chords.

Josh Ritter: ďRambliní ManĒ is only one chord! A minor, I think. I love that! (Laughs)

Triste: If you take the Beatles, when they were writing their songs, theyíd often try writing on the piano rather than on guitar, just so they could discover new things, which theyíd never do on guitar. Have you ever tried writing on other instruments?

Josh Ritter: Definitely. Iíve written songs on the piano and Iím not a piano player. The melodic and harmonic options are that much more open to you, but I havenít done it a lot. When youíre on the road the guitar is the nearest and most easily available instrument to you.

Triste: And ďBone of SongĒ, does this sum up your feelings about songwriting? Is it true that the song came from a dream?

Josh Ritter: It really was a dream. I had a dream where I was in a museum where they were putting away the Rosetta Stone. Personally I love the idea of the Rosetta Stone because where thereís one, thereís got to be hundreds of those kind of things lying around. I love the idea that thereís somewhere in the world where all the songs get remembered. If you think about the song being remembered for a long time it takes away all those desires. You see how fleeting everything is compared to just writing the song. I mean, in a hundred years time whoís going to know who wrote ďRing Of FireĒ. I like the idea that people will probably still be singing the song and yet being unaware who wrote it. I think thatís great. It just makes you stay that little more honest about what youíre doing and takes away any delusions of grandeur that itís about you. Itís such a clichť that itís about the music, but if you can remember that it really is about the music. There are so many distractions but the music is what really gives you the buzz. Being famous and successful is fine, if it happens, but it shouldnít really change what your goals is, which is to have respect for yourself and put out music you believe in. Thereís so little time to do that and your life is so short. Itís like when you get up in the morning and you have the choice between writing a song or paying bills and doing errands. You know if you miss that moment, youíll miss that song.


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