Josh Ottum Interview

Why Watch TV when you read this…

Never ones to shy away from those who are doing things their own way, we became interested in Josh Ottum almost immediately. Developing his own sound through an interest in experimentation and accessibility has forged the concept for his second album, ‘Watch TV’. The record, programmed largely on GarageBand, has blended consumer technology, compositional complexity and studio musicianship. It may be the end of the week but we’re not slowing down here. We spoke to Josh to discuss the concept and his work.

Why Watch TV?

I originally wrote a song called ‘Watch TV’ that ended up on my EP called Mellow Out (which I decided to name because I liked the idea of chronologically releasing albums called Mellow Out and Watch TV). The song, and to a great extent the album, deals with seeing the supernatural and fantastic in a day-to-day situation. Like playing a heartbreaking and majestic melody on a GarageBand preset. Or having a spiritually transcendent experience while listening to headphones and staring at a particular drugstore that chooses to use to say, “Thanks for shopping with us!” It is also about the idea of projecting our own personal situations onto that which we are consuming.

How is this album different to the last?

This album is more self-assured than Like The Season. That first record is real frenetic and pieced together. It feels excited, but like someone on a first date, talking a little too much and not breathing enough. This new record is made with the same enthusiasm but in a more measured and confident way. It also feels a bit more sonically cohesive, but maybe that’s in my mind. There is midi Kalimba, the sound of me pouring soda into a glass with ice cubes and fake steel drums…but for some reason it all blends nicely. Lots of these disparate elements are doubled or tripled with other sounds so a new sonic palette could be achieved. Out of tune piano, steel drum samples and slide guitar makes for a rivetingly smooth listening experience.

How do you address the subject matter of your lyrics?

When I look at it all, I mainly write about communication in relationships and heartbreak and God and depression and hope and insecurity all from as honest a place as I can. I grew up playing improvised music and always liked the idea of saying whatever I wanted on my instrument in the moment. When I write lyrics, I ultimately go for what feels like the truth. This doesn’t mean it has to make sense or that it ever needed to happen. It needs to feel like emotional and sonic truth, like it was meant to come out that way. At the same time I also dig mixing the lofty with the lowbrow…the polished with the rust. So if I can speak Californian to get across a Seattle idea, then I’ll do it. Lyrically, this record has some more straight up songs like ‘Green in the Sun’ and ‘Not Built For Two’…basically your semi-typical love/loss songs. But then I made this song ‘Too Sure To See’ that is an abstract meditation on greed, manifest destiny, human nature, a saviour, the need for attention and the power of a quiet nervous breakdown. I also try to make time for just your average rhyme.

What were you listening to while making the album?

I listened to a lot of music I don’t like…so much so that I come full circle and start to like it. This habit probably comes from years of learning a ton of guitar tabs by bands I’m not really into. I also listened to a lot of questionable new age. I like this new age artist called Patrick O’Hearn. He has a record called Between Two Worlds…just buy it. I’ve always been a pretty laid-back person so when the smooth sounds of 70’s California pop come on the radio I am rarely moved to rob a bank or throw a rock at someone.

What are the themes running through the album?

Emotional turmoil, renewed hope, isolation, lost dreams, major stress, major victory, impressions of a better life, isolation through the use of technology, dream realisation through the use of technology.

Are you touring?

Yes. I’ll be playing with a band in the US and solo in Europe. I’m excited for the solo shows. It’ll be fun to get creative with arrangements and interpretations of the songs. I’ll probably have a kalimba, casio, acoustic guitar, delay pedal and a tube amp. The shows are in August and September in Los Angeles, Seattle, Iceland, Germany, London (25 August – Dublin Castle (supporting Gillian Glover – Roger’s daughter!!! though do note she sounds nothing like Deep Purple)), Austria and Switzerland…in that order. Go here for the details:

What’s next for you?

I am writing for wind instruments and percussion ensemble. I will record in Germany in September. And I will finish my next record in June 2012. The songs that I’ve written so far have a lot of counterpoint, spiritually soaring melodies and hymn-based harmonic content. I will utiliSe MaxMSP to play a technologically defiant role in the midst of the core of traditional instrumentation by automating and randomising effects to manipulate my guitar and consumer keyboards from the 80’s via MIDI.

Watch TV is out July 11

Words by Sam Ballard

Watch the video for ‘Not Built For Two’ below.

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