Catch up with singer-songwriter Josh Taerk, watch the video for his single "Anywhere Love Took Us", and look for much more to come soon.
What got you interested in songwriting and in music?
Josh: I've always loved music and it's been a pretty big staple in my life ever since I can remember. Both of my parents really loved everything from Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell and Edwin McCain and all of these different genres of music. Growing up, that was really how we spent a lot of our family time; they would put on their favorite albums or CDs and we would just hang out and listen to them together. My love for music started at a really young age.
I started listening to some of my own music as I got older. I got into the boy band thing for awhile [laughs] when I was, like, 10 years old and I thought that was going to be the kind of music that I ended up singing or performing because I loved it. I had a friend of mine at the time who looked back then the way that I do now - with the long, kind of rocker hair and black T-shirts and whatnot - and he kept joking around with me like, "man, the pop music you're listening to is fine, but that's not really music, you gotta listen to some other stuff". We'd joke around with each other like that, just back and forth about the kind of music that we were into, and one day he invited me out to see a friend of his perform with their band and they played all kinds of classic rock stuff: AC/DC and some new rock stuff, like Nirvana and Green Day, at the time. I had never really been into that world, as far as music was concerned; again, I thought I was going to be a pop singer. So, I went to this concert and was talking with my friend, the band got onstage, and I honestly can't tell you what the rest of the conversation was about. I was so mesmerized by the sound that all of these guys were getting on stage with the electric guitars and the solos and the bass and the drums and just the cohesion of that sound and the way that all of those moving parts came together and the fun that they were having being up there together, actually playing those instruments, was something really inspiring to see. I switched focus and started to learn how to play guitar and really started to sing, because I quickly found out that if I was playing chords to a song, people wouldn't necessarily know what song I was playing unless I sang the words. So that's really how I got into playing guitar music and singer-songwriter stuff and rock & roll stuff.
From that point, I really got into writing through an English teacher that I had in high school. His name was Mr. DeFranco and Mr. DeFranco was - and still is - the most inspiring teacher/professor I've ever been in class with. He was teaching grade 11 English and he was also teaching grade 12 Writer's Craft and I remember walking into the Writer's Craft class and sitting down not really knowing what we would get into and having this huge textbook in front of me with all of these really long terms and definitions thinking, "oh great, I'm getting into another course full of memorizing and regurgitating terms," and he comes in and he turns on his stereo and he's got "Hotel California" playing on his stereo; he plays probably the first 2 minutes of the song and then says, "okay, what does it mean?". I instantly fell in love with his class. He opened my eyes to this whole other world of taking in information from different kinds of texts; it wasn't just about the novels that everyone talks about or the staples that everybody should know - and there's a place for that stuff, I'm a huge Shakespeare fan and I love all of that writing - but he took everything from Coca-Cola ads to short stories that were written by authors that none of us had ever heard of before to poems to movies and taught us how to read them properly: he taught us how to deconstruct them and then reconstruct them. I fell in love with the idea of what stories can do and how stories can take you outside of your world and your environment and things that you're thinking about at that moment and create a space for you to be able to work out different things that you were thinking about but didn't really know were there, or allow you to experience this whole other environment through somebody else's experience and be able to take something away from that. As soon as I started taking that course, I started writing my own songs; by the time I graduated high school, I wrote my first proper song. I had written stuff before then, but the first song that I really sat back and went, "wow, I'm onto something here, I'm really proud of this". That song was "Smell The Roses" off of my first album, which is called the Josh album, and that was the first real song that I ever wrote and, from there, it just all started to pour out of me.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
It's funny, I take on the perception that you can never learn enough about what you love to do and there's always more that you can take in and more that you can learn, not only from the people that have come before you, but the people that are your peers and that are working in the same spot that you are at right now. So I'm constantly finding new music, new songs, new ways of telling stories through listening to other music. Everything from watching TV shows, watching movies, reading books, I never know where that inspiration is going to come from, but it's always really exciting when it does come because it's something that I hadn't experienced before.
As far as music goes, I'm still very into the classic rock stuff, because that's what I grew up listening to; that was what my parents played in the house all the time. Everything from The Eagles to Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp, all of that stuff plays a really big role in the way that I connected with music, but also the way that I see music from a writing standpoint; the way that they focused on the characters in their stories, the way that they focused on really inhabiting the emotional life of the story that they were telling. It wasn't enough to just tell a story, everything in that song linked back to that story, from the instrumentation to the way that they sang the song, the way that they performed that song live, you could feel how important that story was to that artist and you couldn't help but then take that story in and feel something as it related to your life at the same time.
Classic rock definitely holds that very special place in my heart but modern country music, to me, has a lot of those kind of classic rock elements. It almost feels like they took up the baton where classic rock left off. Rock & roll music blended into all of these different genres and different sub genres; you have hard rock, metal, alternative rock that are still very big communities, but rock & roll, as far as the classic rock sound goes, reminds me a lot of what guys like Eric Church, Keith Urban, Zac Brown are doing in country these days and I absolutely devour those albums; I love those guys.
Is there anyone you're hooked on now?
I really like Eric Church. I liked him from the time that he released Chief, but his newer album, Mr. Misunderstood, I know it's been out for awhile, but the songs on that album are really cool. Especially because, to me, it feels like he's telling his story with that song, in particular, "Mr. Misunderstood". There were so many things that, as a young musician growing up and trying to carve out a space in this industry for myself, trying to figure out who I was as opposed to who people saw me being as an artist; as a young artist, you're exposed to a lot of different music, you see a lot of people coming up in different genres, and there are always going to be people that tell you, "oh, you know if you did this, then you'd be an overnight success. If you cut your hair, if you change the way that you were singing, if you used smaller words in your writing, you'd be an overnight success," and they're always trying to help when they give you that kind of advice - especially a greener artist - but, at the end of the day, you've got to stay true to who you are and the things that you believe in. The sound that makes you excited to play, the words that inspire emotions when you write them down and when you sing them to other people, that's when you know that you're in the right place and you're doing the right thing. So, when I heard his song, "Mr. Misunderstood", he talks about growing up and he has one line, "they tried to soften my points and sand my edges so I just grew out my hair"; I loved that. I thought it was great, it felt very honest, it felt very earnest, and the sound of the record too had that raw quality, as well. I really liked how everything from the story to the emotion to the way that they were telling the story all fit together.
How would you describe your own sound?
That's a really good question. I usually let other people tell me what they think my music is. It was funny, for a long time when I was just starting out and I was a little younger, I was adamant, "no, my music is 'x'," or, "no, this song is a 'y' kind of song," but going through university, I studied English Literature and I had a course that talked about the more technical sides of reading text - it was all theory-based and described the different ways that people interact with stories - and there was one theory called Reader-Response theory. One gentleman named Wolfgang Iser, his whole theory was that, to make a text really good, in order to say that that text is amazing, there has to be a level of communication between the writer in the text and the reader in the text; meaning the writer will lay down blueprints or a map in their song or story and it's then up to the reader to go through and pick up on those little pieces of evidence that will lead them to a certain understanding, emotion, or conclusion. A great text allows that reader/listener to then be able to go back through that story and, knowing the path that they took the first time, be able to pick up on different triggers and different things in that text that will lead them to a completely different conclusion. When I read that and started to figure out what that meant, as far as my relationship to what I was doing writing songs and the relationship of the listener and myself in that creative process, I realized I can say whatever music means to me and I can describe it however I feel it should be for me; but I know that I'm onto something really good and I know that I've done something really good when somebody else listens to my songs and goes, "man, I love that track 'Anywhere Love Took Us', that is so Top 40 country". They categorize it and the audience will relate it to something that they love and that they appreciate and feel is important to them. I really try not to define it as anything other than, I'm a singer-songwriter. My focus is on telling the story in the best way that I can and however anybody else wants to categorize it, I think that's great because, to me, that means that they're connecting to something in it and it's speaking to them and they want to relate it to the genre that speaks to them.
Could you tell us more about your inspirations behind your single "Anywhere Love Took Us"?
Absolutely! It was a really fun song to write. It was the first time that I had written with my producer and good friend, Teddy Morgan, and his really good friend, Jack Williams. Teddy and I had just finished writing a song and we were waiting for Jack to come over to the studio and I had this guitar exercise that I would do just to keep my fingers loose and it was just something I would play in my spare time and not really think about; I started playing it and Teddy stopped me and went, "that was really cool, play that again," so I played this little riff again and he said, "ah, man, you gotta play that for Jack when he comes in". A couple minutes later, Jack walks in, we say hi, and he says, "did you guys have any ideas," and I said, "well, I played this for Teddy and he really liked it, it's just kind of a guitar exercise, but if you like it we can start writing something around that," and that guitar exercise became the main guitar riff for the track. It was the first time that I had really written a song around a riff. I had written songs before that I'd come up with the melody beforehand or I'll come up with the chords beforehand or I'll hear a really lovely piece of music that my songwriting partner at the time is playing and that'll inspire words, but never before had I taken it from a lead guitar part and branched out from there. It was really exciting and that guitar part really set the tone for the rest of the song; the way that the words sound, the way that we sang them, and also the story that we all wanted to tell in the process. That guitar riff had this really light, forward motion to it that made me feel like people could dance to this and I want people to feel that fun, danceable energy. But there was this very retrospective feel to it as well, almost like you were looking back in order to move forward, and that really inspired me to think about love as a journey. Love is a commitment between two people and a relationship is ever changing and ever growing and you gotta be up for the ride, for the adventure, the detours and the little things that will happen along the way; but if you remember what made you fall in love in the first place and you remember the roots of where that relationship started, then you're going to have a pretty amazing journey ahead of you and you're going to be able to face whatever comes up in the meantime.
Are you planning on releasing an album with this new single?
Yeah, after we did the music video we were playing around with, okay, do we release a full-length album, do we release an EP, do we go with another single? So, we're in the beginning stages of figuring that out at this point, but I can guarantee that Spring/Summer of 2017, there's going to be some new music. Whether it's a full-length album or an EP or even another single, I don't know yet, but I can guarantee there will be some new music to go along with "Anywhere Love Took Us". In the meantime, the video is up there and we also have a behind the scenes video that we shot during the filming process and that's a lot of fun. We had a really great time shooting that music video and being on set with those guys was fantastic. The feel of shooting the video was the exact same feel that I wanted to get in the video; light, fun, just kind of traveling and taking these shots and finding these really cool places and going, "we should do something here," or, "we should get a couple shots of you guys in the car, driving around," or, "oh, wow, this is a really nice wooded area, we should get a couple shots of you guys in here doing stuff". It felt like the making of the music video was very much like the message that we were trying to do justice to in the song.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
That's like asking to pick a favorite child! [Laughs] Favorite track? There are a whole bunch of them that I find people really love live and really get into and that makes the experience so much more fun for me on stage and for the band, because live music is a lot like stand-up comedy in the way that I see it; you get that instant gratification and you know right away when your audience is connecting with a song and you know right away when they're not and so, to get that feeling - to not only know that they're connecting with it but, at the same time, see them getting up and dancing - it's fantastic. We have this one song that we play, "Learning To Let Go", and we do a kind of sing-along in the middle of the song and it blows me away every time we play it how into it and how much fun the audience has doing that with us.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
It's always been a dream of mine to be the kind of artist that my heroes were for me meaning, whenever I was thinking about something, whenever I was going through something, I could listen to a song by Springsteen or Tim McGraw or John Cougar and it felt like, not only were they describing the way that I was feeling at that moment, but it felt like, "okay, there's somebody else out there that understands this, there's somebody else out there that gets where my head's at right now," and that always inspired me to do something constructive with that; with feeling that way with knowing that somebody else out there is thinking about this stuff, has gone through this stuff, and it's worked out for them. It's a way to almost start lines of communication between people, is how I really see my job as an artist and as a writer, is to start a conversation. My dream is to have people listen to my music and know, like I did listening to my heroes, that somebody else out there has gone through this stuff, has thought about this stuff, has felt this way, and inspire them to make changes in their lives; inspire them to keep moving forward and, if nothing else, let them know that that line of communication is there, that there's someone that gets where they're at at that moment.
Is there anything you want to add?
I love that instant back and forth that social media allows because, no matter where that audience member or that fan is in the world, I can get that message as soon as they send it and send them something back. To all of the readers and all of the fans reading this, thank you so much for being a part of the journey and make sure you tweet me, Facebook me, send me a message on Snapchat or Instagram, and I'll be sure to respond.