ARIA award winning musician Josh Pyke is one of Australia’s most passionate and driven singer-songwriters. Evidence of this can be found not only in the content of his five studio albums (including his incredible 2015 effort But For All These Shrinking Hearts), but also in his philosophy of giving all of his fans the opportunity to hear his music.
I’m talking of course of his tour that just kicked off this week – and on which he will play a mammoth 32 shows, criss-crossing across the country. Not only is this tour special for the amount of shows he’ll play, but Pyke is also making it a point of himself to target rural areas – and he won’t stop in a capital city once over the duration of the tour.
And If you’re surprised that he’s undertaking such an operation, you evidently don’t know Josh Pyke very well. The songwriter, who has collaborated with just about every Aussie musician you could think of, is an Indigenous Literacy Foundation ambassador and has contributed thousands of dollars to the fund. He’s held fundraising concerts, and in 2013 he started up the Josh Pyke Partnership, offering the opportunity for unsigned musicians to be mentored and get their break in the industry. The 2015 winner? Sydney singer-songwriter Gordi.
We caught up with Josh to pick his brain on the importance of getting out to his fans outside of capital cities, why he continues to regularly collaborate and record with other artists, and how he’s dealt with changes to his music/life/touring balance in the age of Facebook.
MF: You’ve just kicked off your national tour. What will be different on this tour compared to your shows earlier in the year?
JP: Well this is a solo tour, the first tour was full band and it was more focussed on the new record. This one’s solo – and I’m covering all the regional areas. It’s just me and a guitar and a loop pedal, and a couple of bits of percussion – very much covering stuff from all of the albums as well. Going through the whole catalogue.
MF: Even for a show with a lot of dates, 32 is pretty incredible run. How have you prepared differently for a tour with so many shows?
JP: Not really, I’ve been doing this for so long now. 32 shows, they’re not in a row. In one way I’ve prepared by staggering the shows – we do 16 shows and then I actually go to New Zealand for two weeks on holiday, and then I come back and do the other 16. So it’s actually going to be pretty cruisy.
MF: Why did you decide to just do rural and regional shows?
JP: It’s pretty simple – In Australia you really need to do that, you need to invest in playing regional areas to build your fan base and your audience. We have a relatively small population but it’s spread over an enormous land mass. It’s a bit arrogant and silly to think that people are just going to come and see you in capital cities. You actually have to take your music out to the people – I’ve focussed on that since day one.
MF: Speaking of playing concerts that are a bit out of the ordinary, what was it like playing the Twilight series at the Taronga Zoo?
JP: Those twilight ones were great – I did the Taronga one and also the Melbourne zoo one as well. They were amazing, very different from these [upcoming] shows, a full band and three thousand people at those shows. It was a bit, outdoor event-style show. The Sydney one in particular was in such a stunning location overlooking Sydney harbour.
There was a massive, massive storm – all day long there were storm warnings for bad stuff. Then the skies just opened up 15 minutes before doors opened and it was this beautiful night, and then it just bucketed down just after the show finished. It was pretty special, and it’s great playing those sorts of shows – but it’s also part of the reason why I then love getting out and doing solo shows, particularly regional shows, because it’s just such a different experience. As a performer it’s good to kind of mix it up.
MF: You’ve done a few concerts and recorded a few things in these sorts of outside-the-box settings, recording with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as well as all these different types of gigs. What’s driving your exploration of the way you convey music to people?
JP: I think, as an artist – somewhere like Australia where we have a pretty small population, you have to try and keep breaking new ground. I’m not the kind of artist who’s going to try and reinvent themselves, like Luke Steele has done with The Sleepy Jackson and Empire Of The Sun and all that kind of stuff. That’s just not my bag, so in order to keep breaking new ground – and also working with these songs that you’ve invested so much emotion into, and giving them a fresh breath of life.
It’s always good trying to figure out ways to expand their life beyond you – so working with the SSO was a perfect example of that; exposing my songs to a new audience, a classical audience. But also giving my fans a taste of the classical world and how these songs could be delivered in that context. It was amazing; it was definitely one of the highlights of my career.
MF: Have you found that collaborating with artists and groups like the SSO have affected you and changed you as an artist?
JP: I think it rubs off in subtle ways, every time you collaborate with somebody. I’ve collaborated with a lot of people over the years – 360, Urthboy, touring with Bob Evans back in the day and doing those Beatles White Album shows. You learn something from everybody, co-writing with Dustin Tebbut… Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, you learn something from everybody not matter how experienced or inexperienced those people are.
Creativity is not something that you can learn in a uni degree and then always approach it the same way. Everyone approaches creativity differently, and creative output in a different way. That’s the biggest thing I get out of collaborating. You learn tiny things; it could be a way of phrasing, or writing on a different instrument that’s not familiar to you. You learn something every time.
MF: You performed a killer David Bowie cover on RocKwiz the other day with Tim Rogers and Sarah Blasko. How did that come about?
JP: That was awesome; I’ve known a lot of those guys for a long time who were on that show. I’d never hung out with Blasko that much before, even though we live in Sydney and had known each other for years and years. So we were drinking til 3am in the morning, it was really great to get to know her better. RocKwiz is such a good show such a good supporter of music in this country, so it’s great to go on the show.
Again it’s about collaboration – I’ve learnt a lot from Tim Rogers about performing. He’s one of the best in the country; you always learn something from Tim about how to keep an audience engaged. I’m a massive Bowie fan; he was one of my staples growing up. The Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys. The Lust For Life album that Bowie produced is one of the greatest albums ever.
MF: Your video for Songlines came out earlier this year, and shows a bunch of footage of you on the road. Where did the idea for the video come from?
JP: For me those tour videos have always been my favourite videos because it does give you an insight into their personality a bit more than those ones which just tell the narrative of a story. The song Songlines is very much about journey-ing and travelling through life, and leaving a legacy as you go. I just thought taking the context of touring and travelling, and passing your experiences on to individual people was worthwhile.
It’s a good visual metaphor for what’s happening it the song as well, and the timing was right as I was doing these big shows at the beginning of the year – so it all fell into place.
MF: You seem to be a guy who records and releases albums fairly regularly, yet you still seem to be on the road a lot. How do you go about prioritising and balancing the two?
JP: It’s hard and it’s getting harder. These days you tend to have to do a lot more promo and social media stuff. When I started I didn’t do any of that stuff. I don’t think Facebook was even around when I started. So you spend a lot of time doing that sort of stuff, and you’re also trying to balance writing your songs for future album and touring, and rehearsing for tours. Also just being creative; coming up with other ideas and collaborative ideas and plans.
So it is hard to find a balance, but it’s just practice. It’s like any job really, you learn on the job – there’s not course you can do to teach you how to do it. It’s been 12 years now so I’ve got my systems down. Having a studio at home helps a lot because I’ve got somewhere to escape to – just to close the door and engage purely with that creative space. The other thing is that I actually write a lot on the road, so it ends up being a pretty productive period for me when I’m playing and performing shows, in little bits of downtime I’m writing. I often come home from tours with a swathe of new songs, which is pretty handy.
Josh Pyke’s epic tour continues this week, grab all the dates and ticket links below!
Josh Pyke Tour Dates
Presented by Music Feeds
Friday, 10th June
Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns QLD
Tickets: Ticket Link
Saturday, 11th June
Dalrymple Hotel, Townsville QLD
Sunday, 12th June
Magnums, Airlie Beach QLD
Thursday, 16th June
Hotel Brunswick, Brunswick Heads NSW
Friday, 17th June
Live at The Helm, Mooloolaba QLD
Saturday, 18th June
Redland Bay Hotel, Redland Bay QLD
Sunday, 19th June
Blue Mountain Hotel, Toowoomba QLD
Thursday, 23rd June
Saloon Bar, Traralgon VIC
Friday, 24th June
Chelsea Heights Hotel, Chelsea Heights VIC
Saturday, 25th June
Village Green Hotel, Mulgrave VIC
Sunday, 26th June
Westernport Hotel, San Remo VIC
Thursday, 21st July
Prince of Wales, Bunbury WA
Friday, 22nd July
White Star Hotel, Albany WA
Saturday, 23rd July
Dunsborough Tavern, Dunsborough WA
Sunday, 24th July
Northshore Tavern, Hilarys WA
Thursday, 28th July
Tapas Lounge Bar, Devonport TAS
Friday, 29th July
Country Club Showroom, Launceston TAS
Tickets: Tix Tas
Saturday, 30th July
Waratah Hotel, Hobart TAS
Thursday, 4th August
Home Tavern, Wagga NSW
Tickets: Home Tavern
Friday, 5th August
Kinross Woolshed Hotel, Kinross NSW
Tickets: Kinross Woolshed
Saturday, 6th August
Karova Lounge, Ballarat VIC
Sunday, 7th August
Whalers Hotel, Warrnambool VIC
Wednesday, 10th August
Lizottes, Newcastle NSW
Friday, 12th August
Baroque Bar, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba NSW
Saturday, 13th August
Milton Theatre, Milton NSW
Tickets: Milton Theatre