Josh Garrels

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Josh Garrels

In retrospect, Home was an obvious result.

In the few years following Love & War & The Sea In Between, Josh Garrels found an ever-increasing, well, everything. From the number of tour dates to the sizes of venues to the numbers in attendance, the Portland artist’s popularity grew in scope equal to the epic album he’d released. His songs were heard in Starbucks and on American Idol, featured in Billboard and NPR and over 200,000 people grabbed ahold of Love & War.

For an artist as thoughtful as Garrels, it took considerable time to flesh out these songs — or even to find the personal space needed to create again. In the midst of tour dates and a special DVD project with Mason Jar Music (The Sea In Between), Garrels slowly began chipping away at a new set of songs — ones that would eventually embody the name of the album they’re on: Home. They serve as a response to the grand scope of his last release. They’re intimate. They’re warm and vulnerable. They’re also some of his best yet.

SSv: At what point did you know these songs were going to be about this feeling and theme of Home?

Josh: To be honest, I never really know what I’m working with, or toward, until I’m quite a ways into the creative process. On the front end I’ll have vague impressions, very few words, and upwards of 30 to 40 audio sketches. My first big edit is to cut this number of potential songs in half, and then begin further development of the remaining 15 to 20 songs by writing lyrics and adding some sonic layers. It’s not until maybe halfway into the album-making process that I realize which ideas, sounds, and themes I’m gravitating to in particular. Once the personality, or theme, of the work has been recognized, the task then is to create focus and harmony between the songs, which often means cutting a few more songs. In the case of Home, I was left with 11 songs that I felt could work together to create a cohesive album.

SSv: Is there one song that’s really the theme of the album?

Josh: I don’t think so. There are definitely songs on the album that are more literally about home or homecoming, but I don’t think any one song fully fleshes out what it is I’m trying to get at, hence the need for an album of songs. Sound continues to be a mystery to me, in that one could create infinite songs focusing on the same subject, but depending on the melody, instrument choice, minor or major key, time signature, etc., each song could elicit an entirely different response. So, just as we all have mixed emotions when contemplating our family, our faith, and the homes we’ve grown up in throughout our lives, this album is a mix of sounds and stories that more or less revolve around these emotional subjects.

People often ask if I have a favorite song that I’ve written. And the answer is yes, but it depends on the day and what mood I’m in…

SSv: Is there any part of this that was a response to Love & War?

Josh: When beginning to work on this album my simple pursuit was to find “joy” again, yet I wasn’t conscious of this being any kind of direct response to Love & War. As an independent musician the relative success of Love & War was the type of thing I could have only dreamed about, or hoped for in prayer. I gave away hundreds of thousands of albums, had a growing fan base, was able to buy a home, build a studio, play sold out shows and provide for my own growing family. The landscape of my career changed, and on paper it all looked so good!

Yet for all the amazing blessings that came, I was also troubled by increasing responsibilities, more travels, more voices, and what felt to me like growing expectations from within and without. The kettle was heating up and I didn’t realize that I was slowly succumbing to fear and anxiety, which have a deadening effect on the heart and soul.

I was intuitive enough to know that I needed to find my center again, my first love, and prioritize the simple things in life that bring true joy. Those who have near-death experiences will confess with sobering clarity that they’d previously let unimportant distractions draw their attention away from what was most important. What’s truly important? God and family, every time. In searching for joy I was also seeking to simplify my life once again, and come back to the things that really matter.

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SSv: Did you find that answer musically? Was the music cathartic in that way, in finding the joy you mention, and the simplicity?

Josh: Interestingly enough, the process of making this album was pretty difficult on all fronts. I’d hoped it would be an enjoyable cathartic process, and the change within my own life would have paralleled the subject matter of the songs, but that simply wasn’t the case. It’s one thing to recognize a change is needed, but it’s another thing to find it, lay hold of it, and live into it. This takes time. It’s as if my heart knew where it wanted to be, and I poured this longing and hope and promise into the songs while waiting for them to become true for myself.

Since the album’s completion, me and my family have had a lot of beautiful breakthroughs, and our hopes are breaking into reality. In a sense I feel like songs can be prophetic in this way. I’ll sing about things my spirit longs for, or great truths that I’ve been shown but have yet to experience, and many times, even years later, I get to taste and see for myself what I’d previously only sung about. I can relate with David when he says, ‘I’ll solve my riddle to music of the lyre.’ Music is where I instinctively go when I’m perplexed and hard-pressed.

SSv: Have you had that experience or relationship with the music before, where the things that you sing about turn into your lived experience?

Josh: Yeah, the story that immediately comes to mind is when I first met my wife Michelle. I’d only known her for two days, but one night in Indiana I sat under the stars on the roof of my house and wrote “Songbird” for her. We were both young and naive, and neither of us had ever really been in love, yet the song maps out with surprising clarity the long and difficult road ahead of us before marriage. ‘A lesson in love is the hardest thing you and I will ever learn, because our hearts are so shy.’ We weren’t married until four years after I’d written that song. We almost lost each other several times, and it was indeed one of the hardest lessons we’ve ever learned.

SSv: There are places on each album where you almost become a shepherd of sort, and I know there are similar songs on this album. I’m thinking of “Farther Along” from Love & War and certainly “At The Table” on Home among others, where you sort of place your arms around the backs of your listeners and invite them into a healthy perspective to see the world as it should be. How much of that is intentional, like some sense of calling?

Josh: As a younger musician I would pour my heart and soul into the songs, and then just be stoked that anyone actually listened and liked it — or better yet bought the CD! As more people listen and become fans of an artist’s work, then the artist has increasing ‘influence.’ I think influence is king in our media-driven culture, yet, as I get older I increasingly ask, ‘influence to what end?’ Many with great influence aren’t actually leading people anywhere, or some channel all their influence back into themselves to become a sort of modern idol among men. Worse yet, some use influence lead people into great destruction and deception.

As I get older I’m realizing more and more the responsibility that comes with any measure of influence I’ve been given. A responsibility as you say, to ‘place your arms around the backs’ of those who decide to listen, and boldly sing songs of forgiveness, hope, and change. Ultimately, if I have any influence at all, I want to help people look up, and see that the Lord’s alive and well, and His love can change everything.

SSv: The new album is on the horizon. What else is there if you look up?

Josh: I’m definitely excited to finally release Home, and to do a bit of touring thereafter! It’ll be fun to share these songs. Yet, after doing some heavy-lifting over these past few months, I feel like my creative muscles are in good shape. So, I’m excited to begin working on the next projects right away, and keep refining my songwriting on a daily basis. I feel like I have a lot of songs in me, and I’m hopeful this will be a more life-giving yet prolific rhythm to get them all out.

*Photo: Ray Spears


Comments

  1. Greg says:

    I have never, nor will I ever love an artist the way I love and appreciate Josh Garrels. Thank you for your music!

  2. Amos says:

    Great interview with a great talent, Matt. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. William J Pointer says:

    Great interview. Really learned from it. Cari and I have been growing together, often by the time listening and considering the wonderful words and scriptures that are in Josh’s music. We just recently have married and also have found out we are having a child. Also, we just closed on a house last week. A perfect album from our most favorite Artists. We will play your music in our home often! The Creator bless you Josh and your family!

  4. Guy Pfanz says:

    My friend from back in my Muncie days is seemingly doing well. Listen for a meaningful time.

  5. Shawny says:

    Josh Garrels is one of those artists who simply authentically and unoffensively touch the soul and provoke the spirit.
    This is why his music is heard everywhere from tattoo shops to coffee shops to concert venues and everywhere in between.
    This article gives a beautiful glimpse into his heart behind the album. Thank You.

  6. Riley says:

    As an artist myself, I can really relate to what Josh said about feeling the temptation to succumb to fear and anxiety. This interview really gave me some prospective and now I know that I’m not the only one who deals with this. Thank for being to vulnerable.

  7. scott lloyd says:

    Definitely my favorite artist for the last 7 or 8 years. I am a chiropractor and take care of people of all ages. I have all of Josh’s music and play on in my office on repeat. It amazes me how many different types of people and age ranges (from little ones to seniors) ask “I really like this song, who is this?” The music and gifting is Transcendent. I am glad Josh made a conscious decision years ago to stay independent and not give up his creative gifting to some label that would most likely stifle it. God Bless Brother

  8. Linda says:

    Congratulations on your new album. God’s Blessings!

  9. Amy Mitchell says:

    Slightly obsessed with the album right now. I really, really appreciate having music that can package up some real life experiences into a song without making it feel like something got left out, but bringing it down into something you can really take in within the space of a 2-4 minute experience. Also really appreciating the depth each song takes on in the context of the album as a whole. Thanks for this interview as an intro and context for the music!

    (P.S. Along similar lines check out the band Sleeping at Last)

  10. Amy Mitchell says:

    P.P.S. These words are all right on target:
    “‘place your arms around the backs’ of those who decide to listen, and boldly sing songs of forgiveness, hope, and change. Ultimately, if I have any influence at all, I want to help people look up, and see that the Lord’s alive and well, and His love can change everything.”

    For myself and others, I really have to hang onto the idea (and reality) that His love can change everything. Definitely appreciate coming across things that are really encouraging in this area.

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