Josh Ritter – An Interview

Josh Ritter is on tour again, this time stopping in small towns and quirky venues all over this great nation (and a few in Canada, if I’m not mistaken). If you are lucky enough to be attending one of these shows, I envy you, but I also encourage you to take a pen and paper, because the man’s wit is exemplary. When he and the boys played at Langerado, the set list was incredible, and included “Mind’s Eye”, “Wolves”, “Good Man”, “Naked as a Window”, “Monster Ballads”, “Harrison, PA”, “Temptation of Adam”, “Rumors”, “Girl in the War”, and “Kathleen”. There were four or five more in there, but I couldn’t keep up, I was too busy singing along. Two highlights were when the entire band switched instruments for the end of “Real Long Distance” in a rather hectic Three-Stooges-Slapstick kind of way, and the 30-second slow dance that Josh incited in the crowd, even as the festival people were threatening to turn off his mic because he was over on time. Check out the tour schedule online at his website , and find the time if he’s going to be near you, I promise it will be more than worth it.

Twangville: Hi, Josh, I just wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time.

Josh: Oh, absolutely, thank you.

T: So, I was wondering, what was your initial inspiration for your Small-Town Tour?

J: It’s funny because a lot of these places aren’t really all that small, but most of the stops are places I’ve never played and I wanted to get to them. I grew up in a small town, and it seems like I’m always in cities now. It’s funny, because we’re playing Brooklyn, which is 2.5 million people, so you find the smaller venues and bars and try to make the big small.

T: Speaking of venues, what are some of your favorite to play in?

J: Oh, I love, in the States, The Fillmore, it’s so beautiful. I also got a chance to play Carnegie once, but I try not to get used to that. Stubb’s, in Austin, is great, too. There’s just a wealth of places that are great, but, you know, there’s also terrible places that are great because the show was so much fun.

T: Tell me one of your funniest touring-mishap stories.

J: Oh, there’s so many, I remember one time we were touring in this big green van, it was our bass player’s, and it was when we were recording ‘The Animal Years’, and we were just outside of Wahl, South Dakota, and we broke down and the van would only drive backwards, which we would have done, but it’s kind of hard with a trailer. So this state trooper stopped and got us a tow and we ended up in this hotel, it was called the Four Seasons, and it was made of cinderblocks and it was one of those places that’s, in the off-season, like $25 a week. I had to have my guitar delivered and it wasn’t there on time and it was all just crazy. Every time something goes wrong, though, and you kind of stop noticing.

T: It becomes standard?

J: Absolutely, but it’s still funny.

T: Where’s your favorite place to write?

J: I don’t really have a favorite place, it’s just kind of wherever it works at the time. I think the same writing conditions every time could sort of lead to the same writing, so I like the variety. I’ve just never been a creature of habit about that, like I like cooking in the kitchen and I have some favorite places to run, but with writing it’s really wherever works.

T: Okay, I’m going to ask you one of my favorite questions; If you could see any artist at any point in their career, who would it be and when?

J: I’d say it would probably, no it would definitely have to be either Shakespeare, around the time of ‘Henry IV’, or Mark Twain in the 1890’s, if he was doing a comedy-lecture sort of tour, either would be good for me.

T: Since your brought it up, what are you reading right now?

J: A friend gave me Hemingway’s ‘Moveable Feast’, and it’s amazing, I just love it. I haven’t read much of him before, I wasn’t an English major. I also recently read ‘Theodore Rex’, which is about Teddy Roosevelt.

T: So, to completely change direction, what kind of music did you grow up with around your house?

J: We didn’t really have all that much around the house, but there was always a pretty good mix. We had top 40 radio, country, rock, and NPR, which was talk. I grew up playing violin, so there was some classical, and a lot of harpsichord. There was also a Christmas rebels record and a sounds of nature album too, you know, everything. The Hokum boys were a pivotal group, too, they had an album cover with two guys in tuxedos with a cougar on a leash, that was amazing. Thankfully, I heard more, though.

T: So, just as a last question, being from Florida, of course I was at Langerado, do you have any good stories from that weekend?

J: It was crazy because we had just done 4 ½ weeks across Canada, so we had parkas with like just a t-shirt underneath. I remember, in Tallahassee, we ate at some crazy Bavarian restaurant that was next door to an S&M club. When we got to Langerado we were so exhausted before the show that I was curious if we were going to make it through, but then you walk out on stage and the sunlight hits your face and gets you going, it was a great day. Also, you know they printed my name wrong in the program, but at least they spelled John right.

T: Too, true. Well, again, Josh, I just want to thank you so much for your time and best of luck with the new tour. I hope to see you in the future.

J: Oh, absolutely, thank you very very much.

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