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by Matt Dornan
unedited transcriptSince he first set foot on a London stage, as part of a Slow River showcase that saw him shine angelic between the bar-band romp of Tom Leach and the altogether more sinister musings of Willard Grant Conspiracy, Josh Rouse has been kicking against the confines of the all-encompassing alt.country/americana tag whilst maintain-ing a healthy distance from that most shrouded of institutions, the sensitive-singer-songwriters club, for whom his sprightly brand of pop will always remain a tad too chirpy.
I don't mind the 'Americana' thing because I play American music and it is Americana, you know, he says over a pasta lunch of questionable origin in one of Ladbroke Grove's less-desirable eateries
. But I don't know if there's a country aspect. I really don't hear [that] in it. If somebody says Americana music that's fine by me. It's a generalisation but it's definitely pop music... I mean they're crafted pop songs that I work on.
And, I venture, Americana open to a little British influence (the live covers of The Cure's Boy's Don't Cry and The Smiths' Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want should convince any doubters that Rouse isn't likely to be found sitting on his front porch cursing his lack of luck with women and liquor, no sir!)
Oh sure, just the melancholy melody stuff you know, even if a lot of the time I mix melody with hope. I think Robert Smith is one of the best melody writers in my time. He writes amazing little pop songs.
Josh's second album, Home, takes that popcraft to heights only hinted at on his delightfully understated debut, Dressed Up Like Nebraska. It's an exercise in classy, considered songwriting, so polished you'll swear you catch a waft of alpine freshness from the CD player each time it's played.
The next record is going to be mistake crazy, which Home wasn't enough, he admits
. It was just too slick which bothers me...it was my fault. I'd do several takes of the vocals which I don't really do anymore and if there's pitch [problems] I just leave it. And my engineer David [Henry] he's really into that. The next one we won't do that, if someone messes up but it's a good take we'll just keep it.
The drums on Marvin Gaye, for instance were right 'in the pocket,' never once straying from holding down the beat. It could have used a little more sloppiness.
Yeah, well he was playing with a click track on a lot of that stuff and I'm not gonna do that anymore. He's grooving but it's not a natural thing. We just thought 'let's get the drums down'...but I'm learning what's best for me.
Rouse's recent co-headlining tour with Lambchop's Kurt Wagner (the two collaborated on the more experimental Chester EP), saw him performing solo, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar; a format which puts the focus firmly on his vocals and allows his songs to prove their worth unfettered by the lush arrangements of their studio counterparts.
That's just what I do but the next record will be way more intimate, there'll be some stuff that's really stripped, he says
. But part of what I do is string arrangements and horn arrangements - I'm just really into textured recordings - I always have been. I remember the first time I heard the Tindersticks, my jaw just dropped. I thought it was the most amazing sounding thing. I have all these string parts in my head so I just have to get them out there.
In search of a new approach, Rouse has handed over the production reins to Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Lou Reed, Freedy Johnston) for his forthcoming record (working title Kitchen Ballads)
I've done a little bit with him and it's just amazing," he enthuses. "My songs stay the same but he has great ideas and great ears. It's probably a little more psychedelic, more moody. I'm already moody so he brings even more of that.
The songs on Home are, lyrically, more direct than the occasionally obtuse Dressed Up Like Nebraska, suggesting a more narrative approach, a direction he seems keen to pursue.
I'm getting better at it, he says
. I'm not a great storyteller or anything but the songs make sense, there's a theme to them. It's not like Michael Stipe where you can't tell what the fuck's going on in a song. My new record [is] definitely way more narrative, it tells a story and you have to listen to the whole record to get maybe one song in particular because it follows a certain order. But it's defintely more narrative and it's intimate.
Rouse addresses his role as a songwriter on Home's Parts & Accessories ("The game has begun, it's too late to turn back")
That's just about being a songwriter and seeing if I can make a living at it and what's gonna happen with me... there's times I wish I wasn't touring, and I wasn't away from home so much. I'm married, so I've got to find a medium where I can tour and make records but not be away from home so much.
Also in the pipeline is the now obligatory side-project. Josh explains.
I've got another thing that I want to put out under a band name. I could put [these songs] on a record with my name on it but I can put this out on my own under a band name which I've been wanting to do for a long time. I don't have any contract ties to my label if I put it out under another name. I've just been up in Canada recording with a guy named Hayden, we just did three or four songs up there in his studio. They're just different players and a different vibe. It's atmospheric and some of it's instrumental stuff that maybe I wouldn't put on one of my records. But...he concludes
, they're good songs, they're great songs.
And you know they will be - however they're dressed up.
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000