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The Reinventions of Josh Ritter

Question: Did you\r\nconsciously turn away from political songwriting after “The Animal \r\nYears”?


Josh Ritter: Well\r\nI guess I just didn’t think it was, like I thought about it a lot like a\r\nsurgery, you know, like there was something there that—I remember I was,\r\n with\r\n“Animal Years” I had just started—when I was writing that record, I had \r\njust\r\nstarted running, and I was running and running—I was back in Idaho and I\r\n would\r\ngo on these runs down these long gravel roads, and I remember sometimes \r\njust\r\ngetting so angry about nothing specific. \r\nJust free floating anger, and I felt like it was growing in me, \r\nand I\r\nfelt like “Animal Years” was about just cutting that out and getting it \r\nout.  And then once that was out, I felt\r\nlike—I felt pretty expunged and purged of it.  So,\r\n I didn’t think that was, it wasn’t like I was trying to\r\ngo out there and teach anybody a lesson, I wanted to go out and say what\r\n I\r\nfelt... which I felt “Animal Years” was kind of about religion and \r\nwhatever a\r\nreligion is getting taken away from people, and used for kind of cynical\r\nends.  And I thought that—but after\r\nthat I had no desire to tell people what to think.  That’s\r\n one of my big pet peeves.  Like most political \r\nsongwriting I would say is just about\r\nteaching people like they’re children or like they had never had no \r\nexperience\r\nwith the world on their own.  People\r\nbelieve what they believe for a reason and I just think that music is \r\nthe wrong\r\nplace to kind of teach somebody. \r\nEspecially because I don’t like artists who are—you’re a \r\nmusician, you’re\r\nnot a political scientist, or... you know. 


So, and then—going from that to “Conquest” just \r\nfelt like it\r\nwasn’t so much that I wanted to stop writing political I just didn’t \r\nfeel the\r\ndrive to do that at that time, you know. \r\nAnd it was just really fun, like “Conquest” was a lot about—I was\r\nworking with Sam Kassirer, my piano player, and my producer for this \r\nrecord as\r\nwell.  And it was like I just did\r\nan experiment and it turned into this great fun game of recording, which\r\n was a\r\nhold new discovery, you know, getting to work with somebody who really \r\ngot what\r\nI wanted.


Question: What did you\r\nset out to achieve in your new album that you hadn’t before?


Josh Ritter: I\r\nthink in a lot of ways, this was a real defining record for me, making \r\nit.  I guess the major one is the fact that\r\nI turn 33 and I have six records out. \r\nAnd at the end of my last record, really I was touring a lot, and\r\ntouring and touring and I had a chance to do a lot of stuff.  And kind of in the back of my mind\r\nwhile I was doing it, I was thinking, "What’s going to happen now?  What am I going to write about, how am\r\nI going to keep from being just—how am I going to keep this new?  How am I going to keep making new\r\nmusic?" And I was worried about it and it’s just, I wrote, and wrote and\r\n nothing\r\nseemed right.  It felt like—it just\r\nfelt like I was repeating myself. \r\nIt’s like the Springsteen song, you know, “Same old story, same \r\nold\r\nact.”  And I just always felt that\r\nI fought to get a career where I could play music and I could do that \r\nfor the\r\nrest of my life.  And I felt like\r\nwhen I got to that point, I suddenly felt like, "Do I have anything else\r\n to\r\nsay?"  It’s sort of like, you’re\r\ncampaigning for an office and once you get there, you have no idea what \r\nto\r\ndo. 


And I think that that’s dangerous and I feel like \r\nI’ve met\r\npeople who have decided that they’ve got to that point and then they’re \r\njust\r\ngoing to play their songs that people know, their hits, and that’s it; \r\nand they\r\nstop developing.  And I didn’t want\r\nthat to happen, so I spent a lot of time just kind of chewing on my \r\nfingers and\r\nthen trying to make sure that, like, I could write some songs that \r\nactually meant\r\nsomething new. And out of that came eventually, out of a lot of working \r\nand\r\nstrife, life strife, I started working on some songs, one of which was \r\ncalled\r\n“The Curse,” and it started as just the idea of a mummy’s curse and what\r\n would\r\nhappen if the mummy and the archeologist fell in love.  And\r\n it was like—you only need one song\r\nusually to get you going, you know, one song to make you feel like you \r\ncould do\r\nthis again and you’re not as bad as you think you are at the moment, you\r\n know. And once that happens, the world kind of opens up.

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

From the politically charged songs of "The Animal Years" to the more playful narrative style of his new album, the singer has consciously avoided repeating the "same old act."

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