Josh Pyke

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Josh Pyke


“Well, I don’t really know”, he begins. “It’s always interesting trying to decipher your own stuff and I never really think about it until someone asks the question. But there’s definitely a sense on this album of the idea of, you know… what you’re going to leave behind? What kind of life do you want to lead? In turn what will that lead to you leave behind”.

While the ghostly aura surrounding several of the songs on the album seems to allude to a sense of loss, surely the birth of his son eleven months ago must have been the catalyst for those kinds of musings also. “I wrote a lot of the songs on the album before that”, he explains. “There are songs on the album about that process but I like to write songs that could be about a number of different things and are a bit more open to interpretation, so that they’re relevant to more people than if I just go [sings]: ‘Now I’ve got a kid and things can be really tough but things are great’ and that kind of thing”, he continues. “And yeah, my Grandma died last year – but I think more than having anybody die around me, it was also that new life makes you reflect on the passing of life as well. That was the kind of stuff I was thinking a lot about because I was kind of struggling to find a new voice for this record. I didn’t want it to be the same as the last two records. I wanted to sing about some different things and explore the idea of what sort of person I wanted to be and the example I want to set”.

Pyke says in order to broaden his conceptual horizons while writing for Only Sparrows he tried to draw inspiration from outside influences, in a process that stretched him creatively. “I didn’t just want to talk about my own life because I’ve so often written that way previously. I wanted to challenge myself as a songwriter and find situations in books and in paintings and in other people’s stories that I might have seen in my travels and stuff”, he recalls. “I’d try to turn those things into stories that could be relevant to lots of people but that would also be applicable to me personally. I’d then try to express my perspective on those situations…but in a way that would seem intimate to other people, so they’d still seem like intimate tales but with broader influences than just my personal stories”.

This was something Josh found challenging. “I found it a much harder way to write”, he says. “It’s easy to write about yourself, because you know the subject matter so well. It’s much harder to do it the other way. But it was a good thing; it’s what I wanted to do, to challenge myself in writing this record”.

He also experimented with new techniques for coming up with lyrics. “This time I did a lot of writing of prose – just constant stream of consciousness stuff. So then I’d have a couple of pages of just writing that I’d go back through and I’d kind of pick out a couple of lines that I thought sounded good and like something I could hang the rest of a song on, and then I’d go from there”, he offers. “Again I found it to be a more difficult way of doing things to how I’d done things in the past, but at the same time much more rewarding when I got something good out of it”.

Another point of difference on this album is this time around he recorded with a full band, rather than playing most instruments himself as he’d done on 2007’s Memories And Dust and 2008’s Chimneys Afire. He explains that it was his experiences touring and his time recently spent in Basement Birds that led to his decision to enlist the services of a band. “I tour with a band all the time when I’m playing my own shows, and I really became aware of how songs develop on the road and how they take on a new life when you play music as a band. So I wanted to explore that side of things more because in the past it was very much my fingerprints on every element of every song and this time I wanted to have some outside points of view in there.” He pauses. “I still had this bird’s eye view approach of trying to keep tabs on everything, and still trying to direct the songs in a way that I was comfortable with, but I just wanted to be able to hear some different ideas and hear some surprises in there that would take me by surprise when people would suggest them. I wanted to just be open to those things and that process more”. Something else he was open to was his partner’s suggestion to rope in Little Birdy’s Katy Steele to help out with vocals on the hauntingly beautiful, Springsteen-esque (complete with automobile reference) ballad Punch In The Heart.

He retells how the coupling came about. “We were brainstorming and she said, ‘What about Katy?’ and I was like, ‘Fuck – that’s perfect!’, because Katy’s got a very unique voice in Australia, I think, in terms of women vocalists. It’s very strong but still has that vulnerability that the song needed. And I’ve known Katy for quite a few years now and she’s absolutely awesome and I knew she’d be up for it. It was a no-brainer from that point”.

On the eve of his national tour and with festival season fast approaching, there appear to be no foreseeable signs of Pyke slowing down or taking a break from any of the aspects of a career he navigates so well. “I’m terrified of taking breaks,” he insists. “I love this being my job and it didn’t really kick off for me until much later than a lot of musicians I know that started out at eighteen and got a record deal at nineteen and were touring the world by twenty. So I guess I’m a bit scared of it all disappearing, and I feel like I need to keep ploughing away so that it doesn’t”.

He offers another perspective: “At the same time I don’t want people to get sick of me, so that’s why I feel that doing different things and showing different sides to what you can do is so important. And apart from that I get bored really easily so I think it’s good to always have something new to strive for and something to push against”.

Seeming to have arrived at a point in his career where he can now enjoy a level of objectivity in his work no doubt adds to the personal satisfaction of writing, recording and performing his music: he’s an artist that comes across as being refreshingly grateful to be able to do what he loves for a living in a job that he describes as “the best in the world”. He’s also happy to reveal the other reason why he maintains such an industrious loyalty to his craft. He laughs, “This is the only thing I’m good at – so I really need to stick at it because I don’t know what else I would do”.