FOR a guy promoting his latest album, Josh Pyke isn’t that fussed talking about it.
In fact, he’s happy to discuss anything but. Is this a trait borne from arrogance, or the humility of a man who lets his music do the talking? The smart money is on the latter.
With ARIA award wins, widespread industry acclaim and legions of fans on his side, Pyke could be forgiven for feeling confident about the release of his upcoming album, But For All These Shrinking Hearts. Instead, the Sydneysider is keeping his feet on the ground and aiming – as always – to connect with his fanbase in the most personal way possible.
“For me, the biggest barometer for success is good touring,” he says. “Last year was the strongest touring I had done in my career. It was incredibly gratifying at that point in my career; ten years in and with four albums at that point. To be playing to 3500 people at a sold-out solo show in Melbourne felt incredible. My hope is to play great shows to people who really want to be there. I want my songs to become part of peoples’ lives in some way. The best feedback I get is when people say one of my songs was played at their wedding or when people get tattoos of my lyrics or something like that. I want to write songs that mean something to people.”
The 37 year-old releases his fifth full-length on July 31, but what’s getting him most impassioned right now is the current state of the creative industries.
“I think about this stuff a lot,” he says. “How can people do their best work and earn a living – even a modest one – that will allow them to do it full-time and become an absolute gun at what they do? The creative industries are passion industries, so [they] don’t pay very well, and you’ll often hear the argument that [people in creative industries] are doing what they love, so why should they get paid at all? It’s just a ridiculous argument, because people value creativity. They value it enough to steal it; they just don’t value how it gets made. I kind of understand that as a consumer, but the only way to counter it is to figure out a way to remunerate artists without having much of an impact on general consumers. As much as subscription services aren’t paying artists huge amounts yet, I’m hopeful they will at some point. I like that fact they offer the consumer a great product and the consumer can feel virtuous in knowing they are paying for what they are consuming, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. But I think as soon as you create the barrier of a payment it makes the consumer not want to do it, and begins the cycle of rhetoric and fucking bullshit like ‘You don’t deserve to get paid,’ ‘You’re doing what you love,’ ‘The labels are the problem,’ and all this stuff. I don’t think it’s really fair that people who aren’t experts in the music industry or being a musician to have such strong opinions on it; it really annoys me, you know? I don’t have really strong opinions on how to be an accountant or a teacher. I think they are really important jobs and I don’t begrudge those people getting paid for what they do because they’re experts at something I can’t do. But you don’t see that in the creative arts, because everybody has an opinion because it’s a subjective thing.”
So what about the small business of that new album? Surely Pyke has something to say about it.
“I feel good,” he says. “I love the record and I feel very proud it and the development it is from my previous stuff. It’s always scary at the same time; basically inviting people to judge it. But I’m super-proud of it and that’s as much assurance as I can have about it.”
But For All These Shrinking Hearts is a heavily thematic story of Pyke’s life over the last couple of years, with many lyrically-rich stories for fans to pick apart.
“I hadn’t given it a lot of thought up until I started being asked about it in interviews,” he says. “I kind of realised that the theme is the idea of there being a line in your life that you have to draw. You either cross over it and it’s a brave thing to do, or it’s a brave thing to not cross over it. How those choices manifest themselves in your life; that seems to be a theme which pops up in a few of the songs. There have been a lot of things that I don’t want to talk about which have inspired a lot of the songs. There was a particular point where there was something affecting my life and I had to decide to deal or not deal with it, and on reflection it’s come up a lot.”
It may have a cover adorned with a picture of Charles Redheffer, the American inventor who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine in 1812, but it’s an album heavy with symbolism relevant to today.
“I was looking for a tattoo idea and I liked the idea of an image of something that doesn’t stop,” Pyke says. “When I get tattoos I want them to remind me of something that’s important to me; I thought it was a good thing to [depict] the idea of not stopping and keeping moving forward. Then when I started researching it and I found out there was no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, it was definitely less appealing but it made me think more about that. When I found the story about Redheffer pulling a swifty over everyone I thought of this image of an old man cranking the wheel while eating a sandwich, and I thought it was a good metaphor for what I see is the state of the world; forging ahead without thinking of the future. Politicians aren’t thinking of sustainable ways of living, and I don’t just mean environmentally, but culturally as well. They’ll just win elections and do things that get them across the line now. It also made me think about creativity and my relationship about creativity, and how creativity begets other creativity; it never stops. I don’t know where my songs end up.”
Having worked with a wide range of Australian musicians, it was only natural that Pyke sought to collaborate on But For All These Shrinking Hearts. Dustin Tebbutt was the first to get the call.
“Dustin is a friend of mine anyway,” Pyke says. “Right towards the end of when I’m making a record, I get to a point when I feel like I’ve done the bulk of the work. I had about 15 songs which I was very happy with, but I think it’s good at that point to step outside your comfort zone and see if you can do any magical last-minute thing when you’re not under pressure. I didn’t know Marcus [Azon], but I was in a café close to my house and I heard this song and thought I would love to write with someone with those sensibilities. I asked the lady at the café and she said it was Jinja Safari. I called up my manager and asked if he could hook me up with a co-write and he said ‘Oh, we just started managing those guys.’ He came over and we wrote a couple of songs, one of which didn’t make it onto the album. It was really comfortable and inspired; I felt that we had a really creative synergy.”
Laughing in the face of the rule warning of working with children and animals, Pyke hired his son to add vocals to the end of ‘Hollering Hearts’.
“He’s four and a half now,” he says. “I had the final mix of the song and thought I just needed something more chant-y at the end. He sang it into my phone and I e-mailed it down to John [Castle, producer]; he put it into the mix and you can definitely hear it in there. It’s a nice moment.”
But For All These Shrinking Hearts is out July 31.