Josh Fix Speaks – Interview pt. 2

Here, as promised, is the continuation of a conversation I had with Josh Fix a few weeks ago…

If you squint, its almost like Im holding my arms around a giant fro.

If you squint, it's almost like I'm holding my arms around a giant 'fro.

I’ll be in SF this weekend. Tell me about your favorite restaurant.

Izzy’s Steak and Chops! Enough said.

Powerpop artists are notorious (not saying that’s a bad thing) for wearing their influences on their sleeves. Some of your songs from “Free at Last” trigger an immediate “influences” response in me. Tell me what you think…

“Whiskey & Speed” — Brian May guitar choirs

Guilty as charged.  But let me explain: it’s not that easy to get the sound like that. So, I’m really proud that I got some of them to come out that way. The key actually lies in getting a rather small and shitty sound out of each individual guitar, so that only together do they conjoin into a megarrific “guitarmy.”  Same with the vocals- It’s a counterintuitive process, but sometimes less really is more.  I think all the guitars for that song were done in my closet, and then “flown-in” during the main mixing sessions.  Damn, I love computers sometimes!

“Rock and Roll Slut” — “Millionaire Waltz” (esp. the John Deacon-y bass run that climbs up the 10ths under the backwards harmony guitars in the intro)

John Deacon, and Steve Harris from Maiden are my bass gods.  Every time I lay down bass tracks, I try to make them a combination of those guys.  I love the album “A Day At The Races”, and John Deacon’s playing on that whole album is amazing. The interplay between the piano and the bass in the beginning of “Millionaire Waltz” is genius. But the middle section is my favorite—the slow middle section is so frickin’ sad and prophetic, in retrospect: Freddie singing “my fine friends, take me with you and love me forever…” Whewwwww!

“Free at Last” — very Django-ish solo break

Yeah! I mean thank you! But yes. What happened is that I was trying to lay the solo down in the studio at Hyde Street, and was just not happy with any of the takes I did.
I took it home and re-recorded it in my closet, but I’d left my nylon-string at the studio, so I had to record on a steel string.  I wanted a gypsy feel. The classical nylon guitar gave it a more flamenco feel, but the steel strings are what probably makes it sound more like Django. That’s a wonderful compliment by the way. Thank you.

“Tiger on a Treadmill” — Supertramp (castanets and Wurly, kids!)

Hell yes. There’s a big trunk of percussion instruments in the corner of the live room at Studio C, and since the beloved vibraslap was being used—PRODIGIOUSLY—on a couple other tunes, and the cowbell was making an appearance in the album, I wanted something different and cheeky for “Tiger.”  The Wurly was already a big part of the arrangement, and as anyone who listens to Supertramp knows, Wurly and castanets go together like chocolate and peanut-butter!  So, it’s my cheeky chocolate-peanutbutter moment.

“Water in My Brain” — ’80s (90125)-era Yes… you do a good Jon Anderson

I’m not sure WHAT I was going for with that one!  The early demo was part of my first foray into electronica. It was originally written as part of an aborted hare-brained scheme of mine to try to get out of a bad contract that I’d signed. (The ol’ “contractual obligation” recording.) Everyone I played it for didn’t get the joke, but liked the tune! So it got a bit of a facelift, got re-recorded and now it’s the song we usually close our shows with! I love that it’s on the album.

“Bad with the Superbad” — Ben Folds

Ben Folds is a huge influence (obviously). I love his punk ethic. In a lot of ways he’s way more punk than any of the so-called punks you have nowadays. Punk isn’t a t-shirt, dumb-dumbs!

I love how obnoxiously big his makes his piano sound on his recordings.  I figured, I’ll just add some extra guitars for the shit-kicker factor. I wanted the drums to sound like Dave Grohl on a combination of acid and steroids. (And I managed to use the word “biatch” in a song, which has been a dream of mine for like 10 years. Hehe.)

Enough about influences — what’s your writing process like? Do you hear arrangements in your head and “know” them immediately, or do you work it out in the studio?

I usually don’t even ENTER the studio without pretty exhaustive, kitchen-sink demos already recorded into a Pro Tools session. So I just show up with a bunch of hard-drives under my arm. Although I manage to squeeze a lot of production into a very compressed timeframe when in the studio, for whatever reason—maybe it’s all the toys, gizmos and flashing lights—I freeze up in the studio when it comes to writing. I probably could if really HAD to, but it’s not my favorite place to write. I usually come up with the important ideas when I’m doing things that are superficially unrelated to music, like taking a shower, shooting things in a video game, or jogging around the block. I can’t even begin to tell you how many tunes I’ve written just waiting on a platform for a train.  I do a lot of singing into my cell phone voicemail, and usually at times and places that are very embarrassing for anyone else who’s with me.

And yes, I do seem to hear complete arrangements in my head pretty early on, if not immediately. But sometimes you’ve got to let ideas bounce around in your grape for an extended period of time before they manifest themselves into anything musically meaningful. In the studio you’re constantly on the clock, so for me at least it’s not the best environment for that side of it. But I think the reason I’m able to get so much production shit done in the studio is because of all the pre-production and arranging before I go in.

What’s on your plate next?

EUROPEAN TOUR!!!! (more on that later…)

What’s on your iPod lately?

Radiohead, Zeppelin. Jordan Carp. Leonard Cohen. Randy Newman. And I’ve been on a Berlioz, Bruckner and Puccini binge lately too.

Are you surprised by the positive reaction to “Free at Last”?

I figured the best and only thing for this album would be to try to maintain a certain level of musical “honesty”- at all costs, including maybe some commercial costs, frankly.  But I’m glad I did.  I fought (sometimes with myself) to maintain this attitude through every process of the album: writing, recording, producing, mixing, mastering.

With that frame of mine, I hoped that somebody somewhere would get it, eventually. (Not everybody has, mind you.) But I’ve been pretty blown away by some of the things that are being said about the record. It’s so nice to know that sticking to my guns yielded something that’s being enjoyed and appreciated by others.

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