A Great Song Feels Like a Great Suit

Josh Ritter is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, named one of the "100 Greatest Living Songwriters" by Paste magazine. He started out studying neuroscience at Oberlin College, but later switched to a self-created folk music major. His albums include the self-released "Josh Ritter" (1999), "Golden Age of Radio" (2000), "Hello Starling" (2003), "The Animal Years" (2006), and "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" (2007). His newest album, "So Runs the World Away," was released in May 2010. Ritter's first novel, "Bright's Passage," is due to be published by Dial Press in the summer of 2011.
  • Transcript


Question: What mistakes or clichés do you try to avoid when writing songs?

Josh Ritter: Well, I think—I have lots of like, tics, that I think that—or lots of things that bug me.  I sort of think about it, it’s kind of like fashion.  A song has to feel good when you’re singing it.  It has to feel like somebody will put on a suit.  You have people that you know that put on clothes and they look effortlessly good in them and it’s like, there was no work.  And whether or not that’s the case, the fact is that you have to feel comfortable singing what you’re singing and so some things that make me feel uncomfortable are rhymes that seem a little too obvious.  Rhymes that seem a little too—rhymes that are overused: “girl/world,” girl/world syndrome, “knife/strife,” “shelf/myself,” you know, I stay away from all of those.  I don’t like autobiographical songs.  I don’t think that they’re—and I don’t like autobiographical singing.  I don’t want to think about the person singing the song on stage.  Like I feel like the song is your chance to like—like a short story, or anything is a chance to live inside a character that’s been given to you.  You are being given this character and then you can live inside it, not a chance to see inside somebody else’s private life.  You know, I don’t like that, and I don’t think it leads to very original songwriting.  You know?  Those are some things that bug me.  And good songs, they’re just things that you can sing in the car, on the way home without a guitar, that you can play yourself and learn how to do.

Recorded April 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen