Josh Pyke should be taking notes from the Arapaho Indians of North America or the sub-Saharan Bedouin clans. Whether he is a perpetual nomad, a slave to his music or just a sucker for punishment, it seems that, no sooner has he transferred his jocks from suitcase to washing machine than he’s stowing them again for his next period of gig-peppered meanderings.
His latest album, ‘The Beginning And The End Of Everything‘, was punctuated by the obligatory major-cities tour, leaving a swathe of resounding reviews and fulfilled crowds in its wake.
But Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane do not the greater public make and Josh’s fan base spreads far wider than CBDs and city limits. And so, barely unpacked from his last tour, he is tracing white lines and following black-top pathways once again, a 24-stop tour planned of regional outposts and less frequented venues.
“I never quite get downtime,” Josh says of the preciously brief periods spent at home. “I’ve been rehearsing for this leg of the tour and I’m doing a live CD and DVD box set from the last leg of the tour, so I’ve been going through all the tracks and mixing them myself – basically compiling the best performances. It’s been pretty hectic actually, but it’s been good.”
Whetting the appetites of loyal fans, Josh’s limited edition collector’s boxed set features a double CD/DVD, five exclusive postcards and, for the retro hipsters out there, a blast-from-the-past Viewmaster, complete with two slide discs filled with images from his shows.
“It’s limited to a thousand copies and I wanted to make it something special, really catering to my core fan base. I really thought it was time to document some of these shows that have been so special from the last tour… And [The Viewmaster] was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had!”
His ‘Lone Wolf’ tour, both the major city portion and the upcoming events, has been Josh’s first time solo on stage for some time, drawing not only on the new album for material but also his entire back catalogue. Now with a young family, he has bisected the tour, breaking it into a more manageable timetable, affording him some time at home but also allowing him a little more indulgence, making this, by his own admission, the best tour he has ever done.
Being just a guy and a guitar, leaving the big production and extensive orchestra at home, has allowed Josh to explore the country far more than the logistics and expense of a more grandiose production would allow.
“It’s been over two years since I got out to Darwin and places like that,” he says. “Doing a solo tour makes it a lot less prohibitive, cost wise, because it is expensive taking a whole band to some of these places. Part of the beauty of doing it solo is that it allows me to get to a lot of these places that I wouldn’t be able to take a band to because the population is a bit too small to support a larger production.”
Working with Melbourne-based producer, John Castle on ‘The Beginning And The End…’ Josh has created a much richer sound than in previous albums. Sometimes, such as in the title track, it is through a fuller, multi-instrumental orchestration. But even when stripped back to the bare essentials, just Josh, six strings and a wooden box, there is a maturity that rings through the album.
“I haven’t worked with [Castle] previously, so he definitely imparted a lot of his vibe onto it. But I also have a studio at home now. I’ve always had little set-ups here and there, but I’ve got a proper, dedicated studio now, which has allowed me to experiment with songs a lot more before taking to them to John. I think that’s had a big impact on the record.”
‘The Beginning And The End…’ is a step away from the conventions of the singer-songwriter mould. Simplicity still reigns through several of the tracks but, through lyrics and production, Josh has created an album that, instead of inducing goosebumps or that synonymous laid back atmosphere, allows you to wallow in its melodies, sink into its lyrics and be enveloped by its harmonies.
It is as if the genre has come of age, moved on from its awkward, pubescent years, shed its ill-fitting wardrobe and is returning in a fresh, tailored suit, manicured beard and Elvis Costello glasses. And indeed, Josh’s life reflects this gentle nudge into adulthood.
“For me a the writer, it is definitely a cathartic, breath-of-relief kind of record because it was coming off the back of having two kids and looking at an uncertain future, as everybody is. Every time I do another record, I always think of it as kind of starting again. No matter how much success I’ve had in the past, I think you always have to think of each new record as trying to put your best foot forward again.
“But when I finished this record, I was just so happy with it that I definitely had that ‘mission accomplished’, deeply satisfying feeling.”
‘The Beginning And The End…’ Isn’t the only album Josh will be presenting to Australian audiences this year though. Reprising his performances of 2009, Josh, alongside Chris Cheney of The Living End, Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson, Tim Rogers from You Am I, will be touring one of the greatest and most influential records of all time: The Beatles‘ ‘White Album‘. The resounding success of the ’09 tour has brought the four very disparate musicians back together to play the album start to finish, from Back In The USSR to Good Night, for lucky crowds around the country.
Kicking off less than a week after his solo tour, Josh will barely have time to catch his breath before taking to the road again with his three fellow musos and a 17-piece orchestra.
“I’m an absolutely massive Beatles fan and I’d definitely say that The Beatles have been a huge, seminal influence on both my music and imagination. I remember spending hours and hours listening to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s…’ when I was a kid, my dad had all the Beatles fan magazines, so they’ve been a huge part of my life.
“When I was first approached to do it, and when I found out that Tim, Chris and Phil were already on board, of course I said yes. But then when it came to doing it the second time, I wondered if we should. The response for it has been so overwhelming that it’s made me realise that it appeals to Beatles fans but also fans of the four of us. But mostly, it’s testament to the amazing and current popularity of The Beatles still, because The Beatles never performed ‘The White Album‘, so it’s a chance for these huge Beatles fans to see it presented not by a tribute band but to see this experience in a way you wouldn’t normally get to see it. It’s a proper phenomenon, an unexplainable thing. There’s never going to be another band like The Beatles so it’s a real honour to be part of it.”
Kids, parents, grandparents – they all were thrilled by the 2009 performances and the encore, though five years on, will no doubt be equally as, if not more popular than its predecessor.
Five albums, numerous tours and countless hours spent calling a suitcase home, Josh Pyke doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Fatherhood has enriched his musical sound, matured his work and given him cause to reassess, even re-evaluate his career. But in no way has it slowed him down.
‘Lone Wolf’ he may be when he’s traversing the country for a string of shows from Woop-Woop to Whereversville, but it is the sanctuary of family that illuminates his music.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jun 6, 2014