Melbourne producer and songwriter Josh The Cat returns with new single Happiness, proudly premiering today on WildnFree, the first single from his excellent forthcoming EP out through Freudian Slit (Germany)/Independent (Australia). Soft, raw, poignant and paradoxical, Happiness explores the pursuit of itself, a undertaking not always successful, and one so often experienced as only a temporary reprieve from pain. Wrap those fully-relatable sentiments in slow-jam folktronica with a gentle and sincere vocal, and there you have Happiness in a song at least.
Confronting ghosts and teenage-era escapades into self-medication, Josh explains, “There’s a bit of irony in the title. In the space that happiness could occupy, we so often end up finding ways to numb ourselves. I wanted to dive into those emotional crevices and investigate what beauty and vulnerability was there.”
Did you say beauty and vulnerability, Josh The Cat? Her two favourite topics, WildnFree was compelled to find out more. In a heartwarming and enlightening interview, Josh explained more about the emotional and physical journey behind Happiness, both the song and the EP of the same name releasing on November 24.
Having spent five years living and working in Berlin, Josh recently returned to Melbourne in order to reconnect with home, with the community and most importantly, to search for the right people to join the ride. Releasing his own music was the toughest part of the ride. “I finished the EP before we left Berlin and it was really special,” explains Josh. “I gave it a lot, it came from the heart, and I became very close to the producer Jim Hickey. But after getting some initial outside interest in one of the songs, and then re-working that song twice after spending a lot of time on it already, I got a bit disillusioned and I second-guessed everything. I learned a lot, but I didn’t know how to move forward.”
Feeling stuck, Josh simply focused on working on other people’s music for a while, such as fellow Melbourne singer-songwriter Phia‘s excellent album The Ocean Of Everything, new EP The Women Who Counted The Stars and the popular Melbourne Indie Voices choir. He’s honest about the reasons why he did so. “I think because these songs were so raw,” he shares. “The production is raw, and the performance is raw. If you’d asked me the same question 12 months ago, I probably wouldn’t be able to say this, as I don’t think it was clear to me.” At heart, the songs were just too close to home for him to be comfortable just yet in releasing them. “The songs come from a place of crisis,” he confesses with a laugh, “and I was having a crisis about releasing them!”
Such normal, human and relatable vulnerabilities can be very much excused, and will no doubt reassure others stuck in the same creative boat. “I think some people are good at embracing and accepting their vulnerability and seeing it as part of their process,” says Josh. “But I came back to Melbourne, heard how vulnerable the songs were, and became self-conscious about it. I was also given some feedback that the songs weren’t quite ready. I’ve grown now, but at that time, I took it to heart. To some, the songs sounded raw and almost demo-ish, so that played into my insecurities I guess.”
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but sometimes it’s only one person’s opinion that truly makes the difference. In this case, Josh’s sister played the role of game-changer. “When I was back in Berlin on tour with Phia, my sister, who’s an electronic musician, suggested I release my music on the label she works with, simply to honour the circle I began, to honour the commitment I made to the music and get it out there.”
And with that, everything changed in a flash. “Within two weeks of having that conversation, I’d planned a release show in Berlin, loosely planned a release schedule for the music, was working on artwork and choosing press photos, and all these things that I couldn’t do in over a year and a half!” says Josh. “At that time, I just needed someone to say, “This music’s great, why wouldn’t you release it? Just do it!”
So he did it. At the release show, he stripped back all the layers of tech and played with only a guitar. “I forgot lyrics!” he says, laughing. “I hadn’t sung them for a while and I didn’t have a lot of time to practice, as we’d only just finished the Phia tour! I was talking to another musician who was feeling nervous about performing, and I used this experience to share that it’s not always as big a deal as we make it out to be.”
Having taken the pressure right off himself, everything ended up being more than just fine. “I got a really good response,” shares Josh. “I found removing the layers of technology and just getting up there to sing and play made me feel really relaxed. Anytime I forgot something, I found it funny instead of worrying about it.”
And as so often happens when you let shit go, people started to respond to Josh’s performance in very encouraging ways. “Someone wrote a private message to me telling me how much they liked the sound of my voice, and the songs, and who it reminded them of,” he says. “You forget that people are often listening to who you are as an artist, and not the technical stuff at all.”
Reflecting on the process of creation, Josh offers some beautiful advice warming WildnFree‘s heart, making her feel like nothing’s been wasted or lost. “I feel like there’s something about time,” he says. “The more you hold back, the more time is passing, and you never get that time back,” he says. “In some ways, that’s morose and existential, but in other ways, you can definitely view it as positive. All you have to do is plant little seeds in the past by doing things now.”
Huh? What is this magic?
“It goes back to the Berlin show,” he explains. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation now if I hadn’t have had that conversation with my sister, setting in motion that show. It was just a matter of someone saying ‘Just release it and put on a show. I wouldn’t have known that just saying ‘yes’ would lead to all these things happening.”
Listen to Happiness, the juicy fruit of seeds planted and grown through the usual doses of self-doubt and fear. What seeds will you plant after listening?
Happiness EP Launch
Thursday 30 November – The Old Bar – Melbourne.
Image: Louisa Stickelbruck