From the moment he started working on his third studio album, Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk had a clear vision of exactly how he wanted it to sound.
Three years have passed since the release of his critically-acclaimed second album, Here’s To Change, and this time around he was ready to take on a production role.
Josh co-produced the new album, Beautiful Tragedy, with Teddy Morgan (Kevin Costner and Modern West, Carl Broemel), laying the foundations at Sound Emporium in Nashville, and finishing at The Orange Lounge in Toronto.
He chatted with me about the album’s launch (13th September), his recent UK tour, and being mentored by Max Weinberg.
Congratulations on the release of Beautiful Tragedy! Tell me about the process of putting this album together from start to finish?
Thank you so much! I’m really proud of this album because it represents who I am and the journey that got me here. When I set out to write and record songs, I want them all to have their own story, sound and feel. That’s what lead me to not only choose these eight songs for this record, but also what lead me to sit in the co-producer’s chair.
Beautiful Tragedy was the end result of different recording sessions that Teddy Morgan and I have had over the past three years. We mixed different musicians with different styles of playing, different studios both in Nashville and in my hometown, and both analogue and digital recording techniques. The album represents how I see my life, as one big contradiction. I’ve never fit into just one category or under one label. I’m influenced and inspired by a lot of different elements that sometimes seem completely opposite, but when you put them together make something really cool.
What had you been up to during those three years – were you focused on touring, live performances and writing?
I’m constantly writing new material and love coming up with new ideas for songs. I’ve also been doing a lot of touring in The USA over the past couple years, playing shows all over the country. In between shows and writing sessions, I’ve also been recording new songs and putting the pieces in place to make this new album.
There’s been some comparisons made on your sound with this album (Harry Styles/Kings Of Leon) …do you think there’s a difference in style this time around?
I definitely think there’s a difference on this album, because my focus changed from wanting to represent a specific kind of sound and style, to representing all of the different things that I love about music. We were able to blend the melodies and hooks of pop music, the energy and grit of rock and country, and the personal and emotional storytelling of singer-songwriters. I’m really proud of that.
Will long-time fans notice any difference, and how would you describe your sound to new fans?
I think my long-time fans will notice some new instruments that we’ve added into the mix and the blending of different styles on each track. One thing I’ve noticed playing the new songs live is that everyone seems to love how catchy the melodies and choruses are. The two things that will never change though are the passion I put into every song I write and the way I tell stories. I think my fans will see this album as the next step on my journey, and a sign of where things are headed from here.
How do you approach your third record? Is it more or less daunting than the first and second?
I’ve been dreaming of making music since I was 10 years old, so every time I get to do it, it’s a dream come true. I was a lot surer of how I wanted the record to sound and, more specifically, the instrumentation and feel of each of the songs that I co-produced. This time around I feel like I’ve learned more than I have making any other record. With this new one, I was taking a much more active role in the production of the songs from start to finish, and I loved what I got out of that process.
What was your writing process? Did you work with co-writers this time around?
My writing process is very organic. Whether I’m co-writing, or working on my own and I try to force inspiration, songs never come out the way I want them to. I find Inspiration comes from just living life and being present in the moment. Someone around me might say something that triggers a line or a verse, or I might find a melody playing my guitar that hits me the right way at the right time. That’s when I write or co-write my best stuff, when I just let it happen.
Were there any particular messages or stories you wanted to discuss in your music?
When I was younger, and felt like I was the only one feeling or going through something, I would always listen to music and find a song explaining the exact same things I was thinking about and feeling. Music is a language that breaks down barriers, it’s something that everyone understands and relates to. It’s the rawest expression of who we are and that’s why I write. I want to connect with people and let them know that there’s someone else out there who gets it.
You took on a co-production role this time. Is it difficult to get into the mind-set of editing and critiquing your own work? Do you think having that experience has helped you grow as an artist?
I’m a perfectionist, and when it comes to my music I’m very critical of what I put out into the world. I’m always pushing myself to find new ways of saying things, pushing myself to try new melodies and chord progressions. When I was writing these new songs, I found that I had a really strong idea of what I wanted them to sound like when they were done. I heard the different instrumental parts, where the vocal would sit in the mix, and the different dynamics that would bring out the raw emotions of each of the stories I was telling. Stepping into the co-producer role just felt like the natural thing to do with this record and I loved doing it.
Tell me about recording in Nashville. Was it the first time you’ve gone over to record? What were the players like who you got to work with?
Recording in Nashville is amazing because you have such a deep pool of creative people who all want to write, record, and make music. It’s also a lot of fun working in the studios because some of the greatest artists of all time made records there. I’ve been really lucky to record in Nashville for about three to four years now and I love spending time down there. Anywhere you get to be creative, make music, and play live is a great place in my books.
You’ve said every time you record new music you discover more about yourself…what did you discover through the process of creating Beautiful Tragedy?
I discovered this ability to produce music which I never knew I had, and how much I love creating music from start to finish. I always knew I loved writing songs and creating melodies, but this album helped me realise that I also love the process of taking that bare bones song and making it into full-blown track.
Tell me how you came to know Max Weinberg (drummer with Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band)? He has some wonderful and encouraging comments about your work…
Max is an amazing mentor and I’m really grateful for his guidance and friendship. I met Max in my hometown of Toronto in the fall of 2011 at the Bar in the Thompson Hotel. He had just finished speaking at a charity fund raiser and I saw him standing at the end of the bar finishing a conversation with someone else. I waited until they were finished, marched over there, stuck out my hand and said, “Max, I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Josh Taerk, I’m a singer-songwriter and I’m a huge fan”. We talked for a while and then I gave him a demo of some of my songs. Fast forward a week later and I get an email from Max and his manager inviting me to open for him in his hometown of South Orange, New Jersey. Since that show, Max has been so gracious inviting me to join him onstage at Summerfest in 2012, and again at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto this past October.
How was your recent UK tour and what reaction do you get from UK fans? Do you still find they are some of the most attentive audiences in the world?
The tour was awesome! I love being up onstage and especially love reconnecting with my fans playing them new songs, old favourites, and making new fans as well. You can’t help but feel the passion people have for listening and watching live music in the UK. People actively seek out live music here and want to be a part of that scene. It’s an infectious kind of energy.
What’s next for you? Where can we catch you on tour and what are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m working on a really cool video for the lead single off of Beautiful Tragedy. I’m very excited about it because It’s like nothing I’ve ever released before. I had the best time working on this thing with Josh Lockhart out of Nashville, and can’t wait for everyone to see it. I’m also starting a College Tour in The USA this year into 2019, and I’m really looking forward to coming back to the UK to play more shows.
Josh Taerk releases his new album Beautiful Tragedy on 13th September 2018. Watch a live acoustic performance of the title track: