Josh Ritter is a singer-songwriter, but not the usual kind. He doesn’t write wimpy odes to love or the traditional cute whine-fest. Ritter is a songwriter in the classical sense – writing songs that could double as movie scripts, or at the very least, conceptual tales. On Feb. 10, Ritter will bring that masterful lyricism, along with a five-piece backing band known as the Royal City Band, to the Trocadero for the first in a series of shows dubbed the Valentine’s Day Brawl.
The Temple News: In terms of themed shows, the upcoming Valentine’s Day Brawl seems like an interesting one. Without giving away too much, what can you say about what you have planned for the Trocadero audience?
Josh Ritter: Yeah, definitely don’t want to give too much away. Obviously we’ll be playing songs from the new record, although I always hate when artists or bands just play songs from their newest albums, so we’ll be digging deep. I have 70 to 80 songs, so I want people feeling like they’re getting lucky.
TTN: I hate to use the phrase “love songs,” but is the show going to focus more on love songs from your catalogue? Will “Temptation Of Adam,” “Kathleen,” and, fingers crossed, “Stuck On You” make appearances?
JR: For sure, man. It’s a Valentine’s show, but we still want to make it so that people going stag will have a good time as well.
TTN: Personally, I think “So Runs The World Away” is your fullest sonic and musical album and is definitely a continuation on the growth of every album before it. What were you listening to while writing the album?
JR: Well, it’s hard to listen to much of anything because I’m so wrapped up in everything that goes into an album, but one of the bigger influences was a guy named Alfred Deller. He was this English tenor [who] was really popular in the ‘50s, and he would sing these Renaissance-era wooing songs; Nina Simone, as well.
TTN: When I was listening to the album again yesterday, I actively tried to pick influences out. For example, “Lantern” has hints of Bruce Springsteen and my personal album favorite, “Lark,” sounds like an updated “Graceland” track. Do you find other artists permeate through your songwriting often?
JR: I like to think of it in the way that songwriters always have to outlast their influences. For example, Paul Simon had to outlast the Everly Brothers. When you hear somebody, you’ll never really be able to shake them from your DNA, so you just have to rise and grow as an artist and make your own mark.
TTN: You’ve certainly been doing a great job of outlasting your influencing thus far. Have the musicians that compromise the Royal City Band been playing with you a long time or are they recent additions?
JR: Oh, they’ve been playing with me forever. We only recently decided on a name, and my guitarist Austin [Nevins] came up with the name, which is from a lyric from one of my songs “Thin Blue Flame.”
TTN: Do you think with the complex sort of music you make that the success and popularity you’ve achieved thus far can grow into a sort of mainstream success? Would you want that?
JR: I think anybody saying they wouldn’t enjoy a type of mainstream success is lying. If it means selling more records, reaching more people and getting those people to shows, why not? I think the problem is that a lot of people aren’t very smart about it. But some great artists have been breaking through recently. The Arcade Fire, for example, hit No. 1 and [it’s] amazing. As long as you stay true to yourself mainstream success can’t really be considered a bad thing.
TTN: I was going to ask the cliché, “Do you have any advice for younger singer-songwriters,” but scanning the Internet, I found out you have already done that through a blog. What inspired you to start that?
JR: Well, a lot of people were asking me about it, so I figured if I could help people that are just starting out – it would be a good thing. To become successful at music is really not as hard as people make it out to be, but it takes an incredible amount of hard work and time.
TTN: When you started out, it was just you and an acoustic guitar. Since then, your songs have been much larger musically. Do you still consider yourself to be a singer-songwriter despite the usual connotations associated with the term and the fact it has grown past it being just you making the music?
JR: I think so. When I was starting out, I was concerned with being able to make rock ‘n’ roll music with just a guitar and my voice, but looking back, I know that it’s easy and doable. It’s really all about keeping your interests pure.
Kevin Stairiker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.