Joshua Path is a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. His 2009 album Headlight in the Sun saw a surge in sales after the moody song “Spider of Love” was featured in trailers for season six of the medical drama House. Path recently took some time out to speak to Praxis about music, books, Bobby Brady and Buddha.
AN: Can you talk about the inspiration behind the title track “Headlight in the Sun”? I’m particularly interested in the lyric: “You sang for free in harmony/With the has-beens and the wanna-be’s/You lost your fans to nothing bands/Whose songs will never stand the test of time.”
JP: It’s really about the death of a dream. Headlight in the Sun is my fifth CD. And I’d say 99.9% of the people reading this article have never heard of me before. So at a certain point, you just have to wonder, Is this really gonna happen? Shouldn’t it have happened by now if it was going to happen? If someone told me about me—a white singer/songwriter named Joshua—I probably wouldn’t give two shits. My eyes glaze over when I hear the names Joshua Radin, Josh Ritter and Josh Groban. So why should Joshua Path be any different? Some might call that pessimistic. I call it realistic. Not just because I think my stage name is the equivalent of vanilla. To be a successful singer/songwriter, you need to be like a politician running for office. Constantly traveling from town to town, shaking hands, handing out CDs, grabbing beers with the locals, visiting the local radio stations and record stores, podcasting, updating Twitter and Facebook, not to mention your own website, etc., etc., etc. Wasn’t too long ago that all a band had to worry about was trying to get an A&R person to take an interest. Now it’s a DIY world for musicians. Which can be liberating for some bands, paralyzing for others. Unfortunately, I’m a horrible self-promoter. Case in point: Within the first few sentences of my first answer of your first question, I told your readership that I wouldn’t even listen to me. It’s not where my talents lie. I know I’m a good songwriter. I know I’m a decent player and a decent singer. I know I’ve got great stage presence. But schmoozing and chatting up colleges on the phone and constantly plugging myself is not something I’m particularly good at. And in today’s market, if you’re not particularly good at promoting yourself, you’re pretty much doomed. What’s sad is there are so many mediocre songwriters out there who are EXCELLENT at promoting themselves. And they’re the ones getting all the attention. William Butler Yeats once said: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”
So I guess in a way “Headlight in the Sun,” both the song as well as the entire album, is about coming to terms with the fact that – as the band Rush so poetically stated – “My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.” Or in this case, my ship isn’t coming, and I’m too damn insecure to build one.
As far as the lyric you’re referring to, that was a dig at all my peers who suddenly decided they were singer/songwriters. These are people who should be dentists, accountants, etc. So I’d check out their shows, and all of their friends would be there, going absolutely crazy for their music – and the music was pretty crappy. And I’d be sitting there, scratching my head going, “Really? You like this? You think this is good? Okey dokey.” Every so often I’d be asked to perform with one of these bands. For some reason I would. Though I’d be gritting my teeth the whole time.
AN: What is your biggest frustration with the L.A. music scene?
JP: My biggest frustration is the sheer number of bands/songwriters there are here. It’s staggering. And most of them are so appallingly bad, they make The Shaggs look like virtuosos. But I can’t spend all my time being pissed off about it. I’ve made a choice to stay in Los Angeles, knowing full well how congested this town is. It’s Hollywood. Throw a rock and you’ll hit an actor or a musician or a screenwriter. Many times a combination of all three.
AN: How has the scene changed since you first started making music?
JP: I see a lot more stage banners with web addresses printed on them. Besides that, not much. I guess that’s the most surprising thing to me. This might be more of a commentary on music in general rather than the L.A. music scene specifically, but over the past twenty years, people seem to be writing the same songs over and over and over. I’m guilty of it myself. You listen to songs from the late 60′s, early 70′s and early 90′s – those songs pulled the rug out from under your feet and left you lying flat on your back having conversations with God. People don’t write songs like that anymore. Today’s songwriters are more concerned about trying to get placement on Gossip Girl–or House–than shaking you to the core. Again, I might be guilty of that too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just wonder what the point of making music is if you’re not out to change people’s lives.
AN: Speaking of television, your song “Spider of Love” is an interesting choice for House. Why do you think the producers chose that song in particular?
JP: Maybe they’re manic depressives. When they told me they wanted to use “Spider of Love” I was shocked. It’s not what I’d consider a radio-friendly or network-friendly song. But they said they were looking for a dark love song. And “Spider of Love” certainly fits that bill. I had never seen House before, so when I saw the “Spider of Love” video, I was floored by how well it fit the mood of the show. I’m extremely flattered they chose to use one of my songs.
AN: All of the songs on Headlight are very emotionally charged. Which song was the most difficult (emotionally) for you to write? Can you tell me the story behind that song?
JP: Definitely “It Was Over Before It Began.” The melody had been written for years. But I could never find any appropriate lyrics. All I had was mumble jumble. Literally. I would drive around singing “Shim bah lee ba simba ba doo ba doo…” I knew the song was going to be about admitting defeat. Which is not an easy thing for me to do. I like to say I’m a pessimist, but I think deep, deep down there’s an optimist that never wants to call it quits. And now here’s a song about throwing in the towel. So I thought, fuck it, if I can’t have this – whatever or whoever it is – I’d rather be dead. And there it was. A verse was born. “Think I’m gonna move off to Paris France, die just like Jim Morrison in the bath…” Interesting that the second verse came first. But that’s just the way my muse works sometimes.
The first verse didn’t come until the day before the recording session. I literally had to force it out of me. Just sat there with a pen and paper writing whatever bullshit came to mind. Eventually I stumbled on the lyrics “Driving down the road to nowhere again, praying that the side effects don’t end…” In the end I think all the pain was worth it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
AN: In “Angels Don’t Come Around Here No More,” you name-check Bobby Brady. I’m assuming you were referencing the character from the 1970′s sitcom? Is Bobby Brady a metaphor?
JP: Yes. Although I didn’t realize it until after I wrote the song. I’m the youngest of three, and Bobby, of course, was the youngest son, so I think that’s the correlation.
AN: Where did you grow up?
JP: I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My family moved out to Los Angeles—specifically the San Fernando Valley—when I was three years old.
AN: What sort of influence did that environment have on you?
JP: Growing up in the Valley was a wonderful, yet admittedly a somewhat sheltered environment. Up until around eight years old, we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in Canoga Park, a suburban part of the valley surrounded by lots of trees and rolling hills. Our house sat on top of a hill which overlooked the entire valley. At the bottom of the hill was a public park. The neighborhood kids and I would just wander down the hill to the park and play all day. No adult supervision. This was the 1970′s, before McMartin preschool turned parents into paranoid psychotics. Additionally, being the youngest, I think my parents had a bit more of a “hands off” attitude with me than my siblings.
I remember those years being, at the risk of sounding cheesy, a magic time. Music played a huge role in making me who I am today. Everyone thinks of disco when they think of the seventies, but I remember that era for the intensely emotional songs constantly playing on the radio. Songs about loneliness (“All By Myself” by Eric Carmen) or regret (“Same Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg) or escape (“Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright, which is still one of my favorite songs of all time). My mom listened to these songs all the time when she was driving around doing errands, me in the backseat of the car. I think I was born with a certain amount of melancholy, so that might be why those songs resonated with me so much. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. My older brother was always listening to Boston or Led Zeppelin. One of my fondest memories of childhood was falling asleep on the pull-out mattress of my brother’s trundle bed. He would always fall asleep listening to either to Zeppelin IV or ChangesOneBowie. I swear, listening to “Space Oddity” at that age was a spiritual experience. The ceiling would melt away and I’d see stars.
AN: What was the first instrument you learned to play?
JP: Guitar. I didn’t start learning until I was sixteen. Late bloomer.
AN: Do you remember the title of the first song you wrote?
JP: I think it was called “The Music Man.” Not the one from the Broadway musical.
AN: Your bio states that you began writing music in earnest after a gig as a summer camp song-leader. What was that job like, and why did it have such a profound effect on you?
JP: Being a song leader was three months of running around acres and acres of land with a guitar, singing and teaching songs, playing and teaching guitar, being a friend and a role model–scary to think I was ever a role model–to kids of all different age groups. It was exhausting, but exhilarating as well.
Before I was a song leader, I was just some dude sitting around writing songs and singing them to the bedroom walls. Suddenly, as a song leader, I had an audience. An attentive audience. Especially in the evenings, when I had to sing to the kids and the counselors at campfires or in their bunks.
Then I’d find myself walking around camp, and off in the distance, I’d hear kids singing my songs. What an unbelievable feeling. To hear my songs being sung back to me. It was the first time in my life that I thought, “Hey maybe I can do this music thing after all.”
AN: You’ve mentioned books like American Psycho and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in your blog posts. Are you an avid reader? Being a songwriter, is there a novelist whose prose particularly speaks to you?
JP: Avid, avid reader. LOVE books. I don’t care what they’re about, so long as they’re written well. By far the novelist who changed EVERYTHING for me was Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the greatest book I’ve ever read. Might be the greatest book ever written. The way he weaved surrealism seamlessly with reality shook up my entire world. I wrote “Eastern Town” while reading that book, which might explain the other-worldly quality of that song.
AN: In blog posts, you’ve alluded to experiencing some struggles in your (Buddhist) spiritual beliefs. How does making music help you work through those issues?JP: Christ, this is a good question. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Buddhist. Although I certainly subscribe to many of Buddha’s teachings. I’m just a very spiritual person. When I was blogging about my struggles, I was deeply involved with a meditation center. I’ve since left the center. But I’d still consider myself a spiritual seeker.
Usually when I’m struggling with something spiritual, it’s because my mind is getting in the way, making problems for me. Making music helps take my mind out of the picture. This happens most often when I’m performing. I literally lose myself on stage. And my favorite songs of mine are the ones where I don’t sound like me at all. Probably because I wasn’t present when I was writing them.
Am I freaking you out yet?
Read more about Joshua Path and check out his music at www.joshuapath.com