In anticipation of his Saturday, April 17 visit to Boise for an in-store at Record Exchange during Record Store Day, I caught up with Josh Ritter a couple of weeks ago to chat about his new release, So Runs The World Away, due in stores Tuesday, May 4 (but available on vinyl at Record Exchange now).
BW: Thanks for taking some time to chat with me this morning.
JR: I'm thrilled. I’ve got a chair in the sunlight. I’m very happy.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Brooklyn.
And the weather is good?
It is, finally. I was about to go out in the backyard and start building an ark. But it’s fine now.
So, this new album comes out about a month from now. Obviously, you guys have sent out some advance copies. Have you heard anything back on it?
You know, not really yet. But this is always the most exciting time of putting out a record, when you’re done. At least it’s the most exciting in modern times. It used to be that it was exciting when I got it back from the factory. There were no advances. With all the other stuff that will go on, it’s nice to have a little time between when you finish it and when you put it out. It’s always a crazy, emotional period. I always have to have a bunch of other things to do, so that I’m not thinking about it. But, yeah, all the vibes are good. It’s exciting to be at this place where stuff is starting to heat up again.
Say that I’m not familiar with you. Maybe I’ve heard your name, maybe a tune or two. But somebody puts this album on my desk and this becomes my real introduction to you. Clearly this is where you are as a musician because this is the album you put out, but is it a good representation of you? Is it a clear evolution of where you started as a musician or do you feel like this album is on a different trajectory?
I always like to think that somebody thinking about their album progression, whether artistically or romantically or however, that …we tell ourselves that we’re making a break with something because we like to believe we have free will in those sorts of situations but the fact is, our choices of the past lead up to our present. While there are certainly portions of the record where I feel I made a break with things, I know that’s not the case.
But it’s not effortless. You work really hard to get to the places that make you happy, the sounds that make you happy, the stories, the songs and working hard to present that in a cohesive way is something that takes a lot of time even if the progression is there, even if there’s some sort of road map. I’ve always thought that I make kind of rock and roll with lots of words. I haven’t gotten away from that. I also believe that you stay as close as you can to the people who listen to your music. Those things kind of define the music I make. At the same time, the exciting part is finding the space for artistic growth within certain boundaries. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. And I think that’s a smart way to look at it. When you step back a little bit objectively and think, “The people who do know me and who do listen to me, are they going to get me? And am I being true to myself?”
There’s such a high emphasis put on a trademark idea, but really … I look to other musicians and albums and authors, people doing stuff as they help me to figure out what I’m doing in my life. Heeding so close to what I’ve done in the past is not useful to me or anyone else. "Oh, wow. Josh put out another record. It sounds good. It’s like the last album. Great." The songs might be different, but it won’t feel like there’s any work being put in. If I pay someone $12 for a record, if I pay $25 or $30 to go to a show, I expect to see something someone put some real work into. Usually that means taking a chance and going places where people might not get it. People aren’t lazy that way. If they invest in a show, they want to see where you’re taking a chance not where you’re not taking a chance. Times for not taking a chance is when making dinner.
As listeners, we loved to be surprised, especially by a musician we feel close to. It feels like we’re part of the process.
Yeah. And these days, it’s more clear that not only are those chances good to see, but musicians are also being given chances very directly by the people who do buy their records. It’s so easy to just get stuff for free.