By Arne Sjostedt
Fixing yourself is never easy. And for Josh Pyke it took the realisation that he needed to stop playing live before he gave himself the chance to heal from years of working his nerves to the bone. Having just released Rome, his first studio album in five years, in a refreshingly honest and open interview, Rock City Jester talks to Pyke about the pressures of touring, and the value in overcoming obstacles to creative liberation.
“People say you have your whole life to write your first album, and I kind of felt like I was back to that process,” Pyke says of Rome. “I was writing for the sake of writing, and the joy of creativity, which is obviously a total gift.”
By the time he was ready to give the album over to be mixed by Tucker Martine, who has been called one of the best 10 producers of the decade, Pyke had been building the songs in his home studio over the past two or three years. And though the recording process came with a strong sense of creative freedom for Pyke, it wasn’t until he found himself in another country, observing the mixing process, that he felt like he was back in business.
“Leading into the mixing process I felt that there was way more creativity from my end, because I had no agenda and no time restraints. I was just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck,” he explains.
“The watershed moment came with this creative cathartic moment of being in Portland and hearing these songs in this new context, through the ears of this new producer, this new mixer, in another country. I was there by myself, I was staying in an apartment in Portland for a couple of weeks. And for me that felt like a creative closure and a creative catharsis for this whole process. Even though I should have known by then, it was really at that point I was like, ‘Alright, I’m back, this is the record that I want to engage in with fully and get out there again and show it to the world’”.
Which means that he is also gearing up to get back on the road. The very thing that helped put Pyke out of action.
“I love touring but nobody can say that it’s the most healthy lifestyle,” he laughs. “You get very little sleep, you are always on the move, even if you are very very disciplined you still have access to things that aren’t going to help your mental state. It’s not a conducive environment to being fit and healthy mentally or otherwise. So it was just something that I needed to step out of for a while.”
With his break coming on the back of some of the biggest shows of his career, and a relentless ten year cycle of releasing an album, then touring for a couple of years, going back and repeating the process, the overriding message you take away from Pyke when talking about Rome is that it represents a sense of maturation, and a letting go of his former self. The self who at times, in his exhaustion from touring, bled dry from pouring his heart on stage, was full of the kind of anxiety constant self reflection about your place in the music industry, or the world, and the need to push on generates.
“I just was having this pretty prolonged period of these pretty signifiant anxiety issues ramping up. And I just knew that that stuff was not going to get better, and I was not going to address it if I was constantly touring,” he says.
“It’s just the reality when you’re releasing the sort of music that I’m releasing, which is not pop music,” he explains. “I’m telling the stories of my own life and the world around me the way that I see it. And it’s just the way that I engage with the world. It just is. And I accept that now, and I feel strong enough to do that again. And I’ve also accepted that things change. Things are fluid. I might do this record and then feel a bit depleted and need to take another couple of years off, and if that’s what I have to do, I’m happy with that now. But for the previous ten years I felt an enormous pressure to just keep going, keep going, keep going. And I never felt established. And I know now that anxiety was a big part of creating that false sense of reality.”
It is a long process, coming back when the tank is empty and your ideas of who you are, have been and will become have been grasping for attention. Linking the album title Rome to the realisation that everything fades and everything crumbles, and you can’t escape that experience, this analysis and awakening is a process Pyke is happy he has taken on and come out the other side with a renewed confidence.
“The main thing that I felt was the big shift for me was exploring my relationship with creativity, in a post anxiety world. I was definitely worried that losing that sense of anxiety would curb my creativity but I found that once I not got rid of it, and was managing my mind, I found that the creativity was much more pure and much more playful,” says Pyke.
“As soon as I got that part of my life somewhat under control I felt like I was engaging creativity in a way that I did when I was a kid again. I was just creating in the same way that I see my kids, just spending hours diving deep into doing some piece of art or writing a story, or playing some imaginary game. It felt like that again. I’d spend hours in the studio working on a song, and then I haven’t even done anything with that song because the process of creating that song was enough. Where as prior to that, I was aways thinking, ‘Ok where is this going to fit into the Josh Pyke catalogue?’, or ‘What am I going to do with this song?, or “How can I make this song better?' or whatever. And then for me, this whole album’s been born from a creative purity that I haven’t had for a long time.”
Pyke has a run of dates booked throughout October. Check www.joshpyke.com for updates.
Rome is out now.