by Aaron Kinney
Joshua Worden’s been performing for 15 years and practicing music for a few more. He studied jazz guitar in college and has performed with two groups—A Pause in the Desert and Badlands Trio. Now he’s releasing a solo EP, The Withered Tree, the debut party for which will be at The Underbelly July 27. We talked with Worden about his experience as a musician and his preparations for the upcoming show, which will mark the live debut of the album’s six tracks.
EU Jacksonville: Have you done many interviews?
Joshua Worden: Honestly, just a handful. Maybe four or five. This is a new project for me, this solo thing, and I’ve been interviewed in other bands, but never for this project.
EU: How would you describe your style?
Worden: That’s a question that I’ve struggled with a lot. You know, the best I could probably say—because it’s a blend of a lot of different musics that I love. I guess R&B, rock, electronic, Americana. I guess I’m really waiting for somebody to tell me how to describe it. I know that’s sort of a cliché answer, but I’ve struggled with it.
EU: Who are your influences and how does your work reflect them?
Worden: I’ve been a musician and a music-lover since I was a kid, you know? I think you can sort of pick out influences from way back when. Like, when I first started listening to music, I was listening to grunge. You know, Nirvana and Soundgarden—bands like that. From there I sort of moved into the classic rock, like Zeppelin, Allman Brothers… In high school I started playing jazz…guitar. I went to college for jazz guitar, and I guess there are certain jazz elements in the music as well.
Most recently I’ve been checking out this scene in the U.K. It’s sort of like a post-dubstep/soul kind of thing. There’s guys like James Blake, Jamie Woon, SBTRKT and a couple other guys. They’re… doing some stuff that I find really interesting. Not trying to copy, but definitely some elements of it come out in what I’m doing.
EU: You’ve played with multiple bands in the past. Are there any remnants of their respective styles in your music?
Worden: Definitely, yeah. I was the singer and songwriter for both of the other bands. One was Badlands Trio, which was, we kinda played around town in 2008, 2009. We did pretty well in Jacksonville. And then the last group I was with my good friend Michael Valenzano, which was called A Pause in the Desert. It was sort of a short-lived project, but I was the singer and songwriter for both groups. They were essentially my songs. Stylistically, they’re very different, but I’ve been told that I have a very particular way of putting songs together. You know, people say, “Hey, that’s a Josh Worden song!”
EU: You have an album release party later this month. How would you describe the album?
Worden: I guess just a sort of reflection of what I’m doing right now. You know, I started writing maybe in December, so it’s a pretty short project from beginning to end. The first song was written in December. Started tracking right away, sort of an organic way of… You know, I wrote in the studio, so a lot of the elements on the actual album are very raw… They’re the original recordings. Some of those guitar parts and the keyboard parts, it was very fresh. I had just written it maybe four hours before I recorded it. That sort of set the bones up for the album. I went back and polished the vocals, and re-recorded some stuff, and had live drums on some songs.
But what’s important to me, and I think helps the album, is that spontaneity that’s still there. That kind of clean, original moment that I captured. And it was really quick. It was a really quick thing. It’s short. It’s an EP. I wrote six songs, probably spent two or three months tracking and mixing. The album was actually finished the beginning of last month—actually, the end of May—but I haven’t physically released it or played out yet.
EU: Two or three months?
Worden: Yeah, you know, it’s weird. I go in different cycles. Sometimes I’ll sit around and work on lyrics, and maybe just spend an hour a day honing songs and writing new ideas. Others, I’d spend eight, 10 and 12 hours a day tracking and mixing. But I like to move pretty quickly… I like to keep things fresh.
EU: Did going solo have any impact on writing it? Is there a “Here I go again on my own!” moment (to quote Whitesnake)?
Worden: Yeah. There is. It’s nice to not have to compromise. I’m sort of bull-headed on a lot of artistic ideas. I was lucky, in both groups I was in. I was in groups with some pretty easygoing guys that kind of let me have my way with a lot of stuff. But there was always a compromise, you know, and because this is my project there is no compromise. Kind of lets me be the bull-headed asshole that I am sometimes.
EU: The release party, is this the first event that you’ve done?
Worden: I’ve been playing live for 15 years or something, but this music has never been performed live. It’s gonna be interesting, because it’s just me and one other person. And we’re playing everything. You know, all these parts. Some of these songs have seven or eight parts. We’re playing them all live. I’ve been really spending a lot of time trying to figure out my setup for that. Essentially, I’m gonna be playing keyboard, synth, guitar and APC… all at the same time, or kind of bouncing in between. So, I’ll have the guitar on—I don’t know if you checked out the video of my friend Will and I rehearsing, but it kinda gives some friends and idea of how we’re gonna do it. I’m juggling a lot of stuff. Singing, doing different parts, triggering loops. Will is my—my friend Will Montgomery, he’s an amazing musician; great drummer, great keyboardist, great bassist, amazing singer—he’s playing drums and singing. The drum setup is a little different, too. We’re using mostly sample pads with some acoustic cymbals and a snare mixed in, and he’s gonna be singing with me.
It’s really challenging for both of us. It’s something… musically, we’ve been working musicians for as long as both of us can remember. I was talking to Will yesterday, we were hanging out. He was like, “Man,” because we kept messing up this song, you know, we were really working on it and we kept forgetting things because there’s a lot going on. He’s like, “Man, I love this.” Because if he’s playing at a gig, he’ll be texting a friend, playing with one hand… “But this, there’s so much going on. So many little, intricate parts and samples. Things that we have to do that it kind of requires this concentration level that… This is pretty demanding, which has been fun and challenging.”
EU: Seems like there’s a lot that can go wrong with that. What’s rehearsal like?
Worden: It’s high-stakes, which kind of makes it fun. You know, that’s an element of jazz that has kind of stayed with me. It’s definitely not jazz music… but I think one of the spirits of jazz that I think is still there is that risk. That willingness to take that risk, like if I trigger a part wrong, if I trigger that one part a quarter note off—if you’re playing an instrument, you can cover it up and nobody’s gonna notice. If I trigger that part a quarter note off with the APC, the controller, everybody’s gonna know. Because it’s gonna be cacophony. It’s gonna sound awful.
Which is fun, you know? It’s risky…
If we don’t get our parts exactly right, it doesn’t have that fluidness. There’s no ability to compensate. There’s no ability to go with the flow. If it’s not within the structure—because it’s computers, sequences in computers—so, if everything doesn’t fit perfectly in the structure, there’s no way to compensate. It’s just fucked. There’s nothing you can do.
If you mess up, it’s almost like those guys who do the skydiving in the flying squirrel suits. You’re right on the edge. If you hit the edge, you mess up, then the song’s dead. Which is scary.
EU: Sounds stressful.
Worden: Yeah, which is fun. It’s fun to aspire to that level of mastery of what we’re doing, because we’re definitely not there yet. We’ve got this timeframe to keep working at it and try to get it.
EU: With just a couple of weeks left (before the show), how do you psych yourself up for that?
Worden: Lots of coffee.
EU: Thank you for your time.
Underbelly debuts The Withered Tree
by Aaron Kinney