Ten years, five albums and many beautiful songs; it’s an extraordinary achievement to say the least. With new album But For All These Shrinking Hearts, celebrated songwriter and performer Josh Pyke demonstrates exactly why he’s endured for so long in the notoriously tough music biz. We had words about his fifth album, beautiful lyrics and the vital importance of creative thinking.
Instagram tells me you’ve been testing out the vinyl version of But For All These Shrinking Hearts, how’s it sounding?
It sounds great, it’s funny, there really is a difference listening to the album on a record player and watching it spin, we had to change the track listings to make it fit, so it was also great to hear the songs popping up in a different order.
You were in Melbourne for Tram Sessions recently, how was it?
Awesome, it was the second time I’ve done it, it’s such a great idea. I didn’t know where I was going until I stepped on the tram, but it was ended up being great.
Did you touch on with your Myki, or did you get busted by the ticket inspectors?
No! It’s funny, someone mentioned it when we finished and had to get back on the tram to get back to the car. I didn’t even know what a Myki was, but no, I didn’t get busted!
But For All These Shrinking Hearts is your fifth album in ten years. Congratulations. You must be proud.
Yes, I am proud and surprised, to be honest, to still be in the game. It’s a tough industry, so I am proud.
I’m really interested in what you say about the album art, ‘The Perpetual Motion Machine’. In reflecting on the history of the machine, you say “our society doesn’t value creative output as the amazing asset it really is.” I agree and I believe it’s an important point we need to talk about on a wider level.
Yes, it’s a massive conversation. Basically, I think creative thinking can be applied to so many other things other than just art. Learning how to be a creative thinker through artistic and creative pursuits leads you to be a better thinker all round, it helps you apply creative thinking to other problems. I don’t think we value that, we value the learning of facts and figures and rote learning far more, as opposed to thinking outside the box.
We shouldn’t think of art and culture as just a background to real life, it’s what informs us as a culture, and informs other cultures about who we are by looking at our creative output.
So I think it’s a problem with education and what we teach our kids. In my household, our whole lives are based around creativity, so it’s something I think about quite a lot.
One of my favourite songs on the album, Book Of Revelations, is one of the songs you mentioned you’re particularly proud one. Can I ask, what is the lovely chiming sound I can hear, what instrument are you using?
Thank you! That’s an autoharp, a zither, it’s a stringed instrument you press down buttons to make work, I put it through a delay pedal and whacked the strings to make it twang.
Another one of my favourites is Momentary Glow, the track you co-wrote with Dustin Tebbutt? How did that come about?
I got to 15 or 16 songs I’d written by myself and I was happy with them, but it’s always good to push yourself a little bit further, so I organized a co-write with people I admired. I called Dustin up, I’ve known him for a few years, and invited him to come over and write a song. I did the same with Marcus Azon from Jinja Safari and Patrick James, so it was good, just a fun day hanging out with friends writing songs, it’s not hard at all.
You’ve got your little boy singing on new single Hollering Hearts, is that right? I couldn’t hear him!
Yes, it’s included at the end, he’s quietly in the background during the chanting. I wanted to hear another higher pitched voice in there, so I just recorded him on my iPhone and sent it to the producer to mix back in.
Well, lucky you had a four year old around to help you out with that higher pitched sound. Now, Still Some Big Deal, I’m quite captured by these lyrics…
“You, you’ve been the calm and I’ve been the storm, you’ve been the storm and I’ve weathered you well, you’ve weathered it well. You’ve seen it all to the point of collapse, and I’ve seen you carry the weight on your back, and I can be an atlas for you, that’s still some big deal. Don’t you think so?”
And these from Someone To Rust With.. “I’m not looking for shiny love, I’m looking for someone to rust with”
And I really love this…
“I’ve callused my hands holding onto us”
All so beautiful! Are lyrics something you put a lot of time and effort into?
Lyrics are the most important part, it’s not for everybody, some people don’t really focus too much on them at all, but it’s always been the most important thing for me. I really pushed myself hard on this record to make sure I was happy with every single word.
Now, you’ve performing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and you’ll soon be joining the West Australian Symphony Orchestra onstage. Seems to be all about the orchestras at the moment for you!
In a few weeks I’ll be playing in Western Australia with their orchestra. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was very challenging creatively for me, but it was an amazingly gratifying experience.
I saw a video on YouTube about your Sydney Symphony Orchestra experience. On the vido, you say don’t read music at all. I can imagine it would have been quite an experience to be playing with very technically-proficient musicians, maybe a little daunting?
Yes, because I don’t read music, the only way I could practice was just to play along with a midi rendering of the arrangements. There were only two rehearsals before the show, so it was a real baptism of fire, a real sink or swim moment, but luckily we all swam together.
You’re doing special Fans First shows for people pre-ordering the album, tell me more.
I’ve done if for the last few albums, I do these intimate shows and keep it to small venues, it’s our way of thanking the people who’ve been there with us and a good way to kick off the album.
Now, check out Hollering Hearts performed live on the 86 Tram courtesy of Tram Sessions: