Josh Pyke’s seventh album, To Find Happiness, came together during a prolific writing streak while enduring COVID-19 lockdowns and the corresponding shutdown of the live music industry. The album – out now – reunites Pyke with producer Wayne Connolly (You Am I, Paul Dempsey), with whom he recorded his debut album, Memories & Dust, back in 2007.
To Find Happiness arrives hot on the heels of Pyke’s 2020 release, Rome. “I wasn’t planning to make another record straight after Rome,” Pyke said. “But, the juices were flowing, and I didn’t want the ‘COVID Years’ to be defined by inactivity and stalled plans.”
Pyke has announced a series of To Find Happiness tour dates this June, including headline shows in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Fremantle. To celebrate the release of To Find Happiness, Pyke shares the story behind each of its ten tracks.
1. To Find Happiness
I really wanted to write a simple track, kind of inspired by The Kinks or Daniel Johnston. I started mucking around with a chord progression on my super old rickety nylon string and the lyrics just came out. I ended up getting Glenn Hopper on accordion and piano on the track, but kept it pretty stripped back. When Wayne Connolly mixed the track using his beautiful old Neve console, (which incidentally Memories and Dust was mixed on back in 2007), it just took on a really nice old school vibe.
It’s not a song about being happy. It’s actually about the fact that we rarely are happy, but that there are good things out there if you make an effort to look for them.
2. Circle of Light
I feel like this song was just there one day. I wrote and recorded the demo of it in one day and I remember being a bit hungover and having a really raspy quality to my voice, which I liked, so I never re-recorded the vocals “properly”. I was doing a co-write with Elana Stone one day and got her to play accordion and sing heaps of backing vocals, which added such a great kinda soul element to the track.
Matt Fell replayed my bass track and made it (actually) good, but apart from that it’s just me mucking around in my shed, playing drums and singing my way through a dusty day. The lyrics were quite stream of consciousness in their appearance, but it seems to be about the thoughts that barrage you in that state of consciousness somewhere between being awake and asleep.
3. The Hummingbird
I love how this song came together. It was during one of the lockdowns in 2021, and I really wanted to write a song with Sophie Payton, aka Gordi. I had a bit of a chord progression, which I emailed to her. Sophie took the chords but changed the pattern and vibe, and we just went back and forth until it started to emerge. I’d write some lyrics, and then she’d tweak a vocal line, or add a synth line in the demo.
Eventually the time came to actually track it properly and luckily there was a tiny window where Sophie was going to be in Sydney and we weren’t in lockdown. So, we were actually able to hang out at my studio and do the vocals in the same room. That took about 20 minutes and the rest of the time we played pool and drank coffee.
4. A Town That You’ve Never Been To
I wrote this song over a pretty long period and the final lyrics actually popped up in Joshua Tree in California when I was on the way to Portland to mix Rome. In the high desert air, I heard a bell for the dead. It’s about freedom and exploration and making friends with your failings. I wanted the end to be orchestral and joyous and when I was in Byron Bay, mixing the record with Wayne Connolly, he asked a local singer Yolanda Kuhn to add some vocals, and we tucked my wife and kids’ voices in there too to give a different texture to it.
I love this song. I find it really rousing and it evokes all kinds of cinematic images in my mind’s eye when I hear it.
5. That Light, That Glow
This is another one that I don’t feel comfortable delving too far into lyrically, but the production is interesting to mention. I wanted a kind of chamber ensemble sound, flutes and plucked strings. I couldn’t get hold of a flute player, so I played the recorder and pitched it up or down using Autotune. It was quite labour intensive, and probably would have been easier to just track down a flautist, but I think it worked in the end.
This song wasn’t initially going to make the album, but Wayne thought it would fit really well if it just had a middle eight section. We mucked around with a bunch of ideas and finally found something that worked in a seamless way. I can’t imagine the song being any other way now, and in fact that addition is probably my favourite bit of the song.
6. Your Heart Won’t Always Weigh A Tonne
I wrote this song in the midst of one of our lockdowns in 2020. I was really feeling for young people, my own kids included, thinking about how this time in history has impacted them. I was thinking of myself, my peers, my mum. It all just felt like a lot to process.
I’d tuned my guitar to an open tuning, and was just walking around my studio strumming and singing gibberish and the lyrics for the chorus came out. I literally gasped with tears when I sang the line, “And it won’t always be so hard.” It was like I was trying to convince myself of something I’d been trying to convince everyone else of.
I love the trumpet at the end. I got Jack Purden to play two competing trumpet lines that I had to sing to him as I can’t write notation. There’s a great push and pull in those horn lines that kind of syncopate the end of the track. I laboriously animated the clip for this song myself in the lonely lockdown nights, and I’m really proud of the clunky homespun results.
7. The Fruit and the Tree
Sometimes I feel like a battery that’s been way overcharged. I feel too full of something that needs to be purged somehow. The line, “Money and me are worth more when we’re spent,” is about that feeling. Money and energy aren’t really fulfilling a purpose unless they’re being used. There’s a few things going on lyrically in this song and I don’t feel comfortable talking about most of it, but having said that, they are my favourite lyrics on the whole album, so I’d be keen to see what other people think the song is about.
I really like the 12-string slide guitar solo in the middle. I’m sure I did, but for the life of me I can’t remember recording it.
8. If You Don’t Know Me, Who Am I
I find it really tough to explain some of the songs on this record, and this is one of those. I’ve spoken about my mum having Alzheimer’s disease before. It’s really advanced now, and it’s an ongoing process of grief and acceptance. One of the hardest things to grapple with is just the fact that she doesn’t know me anymore. I still don’t quite know how to process that, but writing this song helped a bit.
I wanted to keep it stripped back and organic, and Dave Symes from Boy & Bear played some beautiful double bass to complement that vibe. My old friend Josh Schuberth played some beautiful, tasteful drums, and despite it being a hard one to listen to for me, it’s one of my favourite tracks from the album.
9. Wake Up Kid
This is a song about letting go of regrets and things you can’t control and engaging in the real world. I find the desire to run away from problems and not face them quite immature, and so the “kid” that I’m referring to is the version of me that wants to bury my head in my pillow and not face these things.
I wanted the song to build in urgency toward the end to reflect the idea that I was willing myself out of bed, out of my own head and into the world. At the end of the song you can hear a plane, which was flying overhead when I was tracking the guitar. I left that in because it evoked a feeling of waking up in suburbia, under the flight path, being pulled from your dreams and into the noisy, gritty day.
10. What it Means to Alone (Catherine)
My mother’s name is Catherine. I always close my albums with a long reflective song. I feel like it’s a way of rounding off or bookending the concepts, themes and sounds that I’ve explored in that set of songs. The end of this song is one of the best things I’ve done in terms of composition and structure. It swells, and repeats but then starts to degrade and deconstruct into chaos. Nothing to cling to by the end of the song, or the end of the album.
The point was to highlight that sometimes there are no reasons, no logical explanations as to why things happen to you, or to anyone else. In the absence of logic or reason, I turn to making art and music to process things, and that has served me well so far. The End.
Get your tickets for Josh Pyke’s To Find Happiness tour here.