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Leaving Science for Rock 'n' Roll

Question: Who were your\r\nearly musical influences?\r\n\r\n

Josh Ritter:\r\nWell, I started playing music when I was really little.  I\r\n started playing violin and I played\r\nthat for a really long time, 13 years. \r\nAnd it never felt like music to me really, until I—I never got \r\nthat\r\nfeeling that I was playing music until I was putting on some of my \r\nparents' old\r\nrecords.  They had a record player\r\nand they had all kinds of vinyl. \r\nAnd we lived far out of town, so you’d come home from school and \r\nnot\r\nhave anything to do... except throw rocks. \r\nAnd I uncovered this record player one day and my brother helped \r\nme plug\r\nit in and I put on—they had all kinds of records, but the record that \r\nreally\r\nstruck me was “Nashville Skyline,” Bob Dylan record with Johnny Cash.  It was the first song; it was “Girl\r\nFrom the North Country.”  And I\r\ndidn’t grow up around grunge, or punk, or anything like that, but that \r\nfeeling\r\nthat that song gave me really made me—I think that’s the same feeling \r\nthat I\r\nhad, was like this was suddenly kind of a door opened and I could go \r\nthrough it\r\nmyself.


Question: Why did you quit neuroscience in college to study music?


Josh Ritter: I\r\nguess it really, both of my parents are scientists and the talk around \r\nthe\r\ndinner table was always about science and it was about the brain and it \r\nwas\r\nabout whatever they were working on. \r\nAnd they would talk to each other and my brother and I kind of \r\ngrew up\r\nin this world where "serotonin" was somebody down the block, you know.  And to me, it was never a question that\r\nI would go into science.  I took\r\naptitude tests and it said that I could be an undertaker or a plumber, \r\nor\r\nsomebody who worked in the woods. \r\nAnd that was it, forestry. \r\nAnd so I thought "That’s ridiculous.  I’m \r\ngoing to be a scientist."


And then my chemistry teacher in high school said, \r\n“You’re\r\nnot going to be a scientist.”  And\r\nI said, that’s totally ridiculous. \r\nI’m going to be a scientist. \r\nThat’s—what else is there. \r\nAnd I went to school for science and about halfway through I \r\nrealized,\r\nman, I’m just not going to be a scientist.  I’m \r\nnot going to—it’s not happening.  I was really in \r\nlove with scientists.  I was in love with the \r\npeople who\r\nstudied science and was in love with the people who came up with the \r\nideas and\r\nwith their lives and how they got interested in those things.  And what were their breakthrough\r\nmoments, you know.  Like how did\r\nWatson and Crick discover, like, the double helix... or these beautiful \r\nmoments,\r\nthey always seem like incredible things.


And as I started to write songs, I started to \r\nrealize that I\r\nhad those moments myself.  And\r\neverybody who’s an artist, like a scientist is an artist; an artist is \r\nanybody\r\nwho has those moments and realizes them and so that’s how I kind of came\r\n to that\r\nrealization.  I was studying for an\r\norganic chemistry test and I just—and it was a final and I just knew it \r\nwasn’t\r\nlooking good.  And I left the\r\nscience library and I called my parents and I said, “I’m not going to be\r\n a\r\nscientist.”  I’m going to be a musician.  And they were great about it.  They\r\n said, you know, we figured you\r\nwere never going to be a scientist.

Recorded April 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen

Josh Ritter had an epiphany while studying organic chemistry in college: he was meant to be a musician, not a scientist.

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