We Talk to Josh Taerk
Back in June we had the chance to talk to Josh Taerk, a singer/songwriter from Toronto, Canada. Josh’s influences include storytellers and songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. At 24, Josh’s list of accomplishments as a songwriter is impressive and his strength as a performer continues to gain fans everywhere he plays.
EP: Give us the potted Josh Taerk story! How did you get into music, who and what are your influences?
JT: My parents always loved music and from as early on as I can remember they constantly had music playing in the house. Their music of choice was 70’s & 80’s rock‘n’roll so, from a very early age, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Neil Young, and this music really stuck with me as I developed into a musician and songwriter myself. As I got older I started listening to different artists of all kinds of genres from James Taylor to Fall Out Boy, Foo Fighters to Counting Crows and just about everything in-between. The one thing I found about the artists I was always really inspired by was that they all told stories that you could tell meant something to them, honest stories about the way they saw or had lived that moment in their lives and that’s something I definitely want to emulate in the stories I tell.
I started playing guitar when I was about 14 years old and started singing when I was about 17/18. I originally wanted to be the next Slash, but a twist of fate involving a girl pushed me into the realm of front man pretty quickly. I was working as a counselor at summer camp, pulled out my guitar one day and started playing the song I was learning in my lessons that week. A really good looking female counselor plants herself right in front of me, asks what I’m playing and then tells me that I would have to start over because she can’t follow the song unless I sing it. She puts me right on the spot and I can either back down or go for it. So I start the song again, singing this time, and when I’m done she says, “I didn’t know you were a singer” and I said “neither did I.” I’ve been singing since and have never looked back. I’ve also been writing songs since I was 18 years old and that part of my life never gets put on hold. I’m always thinking and because of that I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for songs.
EP: How would you describe your style to those who are unfamiliar with your music?
JT: I describe my music as rock’n’roll music because it was created out of so many different musical traditions, which gives me the ability to play off other genres of music like folk, roots, country, blues, that have influenced the genre throughout the years. Rock’n’roll to me means a lot of room for play and a place where I can take the music I love so much and add my own voice to the conversation.
EP: We’ve been seeing a lot of good music coming out of Canada lately. What’s the music scene like there, and how does it compare to say, the US or the UK? Are there any artists (apart from yourself) that you think we should be looking out for?
JT: Canada, like the US and the UK, loves it’s music and there are a lot of talented artists in Canada. The country, unlike the US and the UK, really works in pockets because you have so few people, fewer people than the population of California, living across such a vast landmass. There’s a lot of great support for music and a lot of people that want to hear live music like in the US and the UK. However, you have to drive 5 hours outside Toronto to hit the next big music market and then 5 days in the other direction to hit the next. In the US and the UK, because the countries are so populated, you could draw a 4-hour triangle around a city and hit a new market of eager music goers just about every hour you drive.
I met this band, Stone Iris, when I was playing Indie Week Canada in October 2014 and then got to hang out with them more when I played Indie Week Europe 2015 in May. They are a great group of guys from Edmonton Alberta that have taken this kind of blues/country rock style and mixed it with harder rock guitars and vocals. I would definitely recommend checking out Stone Iris, I really like their sound.
EP: You got to work with John Oates on ‘Here’s to Change’ – how did that come about?
JT: I first met John when I was invited to perform at his songwriters festival in Colorado, April 2011. From the start, John treated everyone that came to play the festival so well, invited all the performers backstage and to the after parties every night. That’s where I first met John, at the closing party of the festival. We talked about the festival, about songwriting and my hometown. It turned out that he was coming to Toronto that summer, so he told me to get in touch with him and we would meet up. The day of the show, we hung out backstage and talked more about songwriting and touring, it was great to be able to have that time, speaking to him and getting his insights. Since then, we have kept in touch, met in Toronto and Nashville many times. I’m very grateful to be able to call John Oates a friend and mentor. He’s a fantastic musician and an outstanding person. John has been so supportive since 2011 to the point where, when I was looking to produce the new record, he introduced me to his friend Teddy Morgan.
After we had laid down the base tracks for this new album, I was hanging out with John in Nashville, talking about the sessions and he asked if he could listen to the songs, and potentially sing on one or two of them. I was so excited that he wanted to be on the album. I sent him a couple songs to choose from and he picked ‘Here’s To Change’ and ‘Wise Man’. The parts that he laid down were amazing and after hearing them on the track, we could instantly tell that they were meant to be there. Getting to watch John work in the studio was like taking a master class. He put so much thought into the parts he was singing and they fit the tracks so well. What was also great to see was that he truly loves making music, and it really came across in his harmonies.
EP:“Life is not a destination, it’s the journey that makes us who we are.” That’s pretty deep considering you’re only 24 – but you’ve done so much – do you ever sit back and think, “Is this a dream? How did this happen?” – or are you only to aware of how much hard work has gone into it all?
JT: I would have to say that it’s a healthy balance of both. Nothing worth achieving in life ever comes easy because, if it did, I don’t think we’d appreciate it as much, maybe even at all. I love what I do, and because I love what I do I’m willing to put in the time and effort necessary in order to do it. I see success like Rugby or American football, yes the objective is to move the ball from your end of the field to the opposing end of the field and score a touchdown and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to score a touchdown? However, in order to get that touchdown you’ve got to move the ball inch by inch, foot by foot until you get there. Success to me is a progressive journey. The ball won’t move itself forward just like our goals won’t achieve themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still have moments of absolute “is this really happening,” because I really feel like life begins to open up and the impossible becomes possible when you’re following your dreams. These moments, however, are made even more fulfilling because I know the effort that went into making these things happen. What you put out there, you get back two fold. The best part about this journey for me is that, yes I work hard at it but it never feels like work. This truly is what I love to do and has become such a huge part of who I am.
EP: Are your songs written from personal experience? Would you like to talk us through any of these?
JT: My songs are all written about things that I’ve gone through, things the people very close to me have gone through, as well as things that I’m thinking about at the time of writing. I’ve always gravitated towards artists that tell stories from the heart and that’s something I definitely want to emulate in my own songs.
I believe that you cannot have art without the artist and that a piece of the artist is always present in the art created. However, once the creation is put out into the world for people to interpret, the art takes on new interpretations and they are all valid. I love when other people interpret my songs and apply them to their experiences because that means that the music is resonating with them, it’s speaking to them.
EP: If you had the chance to do it all again differently, would you? And if so, what would you do differently?
JT: Definitely not. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason and if I hadn’t gone through the things I have, if I hadn’t had the experiences I’ve had then I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. My music, my life might be completely different then it is right now and I quite like my life.
EP: What’s been the best venue you’ve played at, and why?
JT: Getting to play shows in Canada, the US, and tour through the UK over the past three years has been amazing. I’ve seen places and met people that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise. I’m very grateful for that. The best venue I ever got to play was South Orange Performing Arts Centre (SOPAC), in South Orange New Jersey because I got to open for Max Weinberg (Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Famer, Drummer for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band). Let me start by saying that I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and so is my Dad. My Dad was a drummer in a Springsteen cover band all through high school and into University. He also played periodically when I was really young. He turned me onto Springsteen from a very early age and we’ve shared that love of his music ever since. I met Max in my hometown Toronto at a charity event he was playing and I got up the courage to go over and talk to him. We talked about music, he asked me what I was taking in university and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a listen to a demo I had made in a friends basement. He took the demo and I didn’t expect it to go past that, I was just really happy he took it. About a week later I get an email from him and his manager saying they really like what they heard and that they wanted to talk to me about opening up for Max in his hometown, South Orange New Jersey. Next thing I know I’m in a dressing room in South Orange with my Dad, both of us having a complete out of body experience, and there’s a knock on the door. Max walks in and tells us he’s going to introduce me to the audience tonight, himself. It was one of the coolest moments of my entire life, and the fact that I got to share it with my dad; we’ll have that memory forever.
EP: Do you have a favourite song on your album? Why?
JT: That’s a tough one, it’s like trying to pick your favorite kid. Every song that I write has its own story and thanks to Teddy, Rich, Park and everyone who played on the album, they all took on their own lives and personalities through the recording process and it was a blast making this new record. What I love about this new album, ‘Here’s To Change’, is that all the stories, as unique as they are, all have this underlying theme of change running through them. Whether it’s change that has just happened, change that is thrust upon you, change that you would have preferred not to have happened or change that you are actively choosing to participate in; the whole album runs through this narrative arch of embracing change and how empowering change can be. If nothing is written in stone in life, you can always change for the better. There is always change and therefore always hope.
EP: What’s the songwriting process for you? Talk us through it.
JT: The cool thing about my writing process is that it’s always something new. I never write a song the same way. Sometimes I’ll have these words come together in my mind and the music comes after, sometimes I’ll be playing chords on my guitar and suddenly a pattern I’ve just played will spark that creative flow, and other times it’ll be as simple as something I hear in passing. All it takes is one line, one phrase or point of view to spark a song for me. I go into every writing process with an open mind because that’s the only way that, for me, the creative process works. I can’t force it. The songs take me on a journey every time I sit down and write one.
EP: What’s your earliest childhood memory?
JT: The earliest Childhood memories that I have all involve music. Whether it was my parents, my siblings and I driving through northern Ontario in the car, late afternoons before dinner at my old house or weekends at my new house there would always be music playing. We’d be dancing to Elvis Costello, Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, amongst others and I think this is where my love for music started. I think I understood early on what impact music could have on people and how it could make people feel.
EP: ‘The Mirror’ and ‘Take a Chance with Me’ are very much “Sprinsteen-esque”. How much of an impact has he played in your life?
JT: Springsteen has had a huge influence on me both as a performer and as a writer. On stage he puts one hundred and fifty percent of everything he has into each song, he’s emotionally involved in everything he is singing. Whether he’s joking around in songs like ‘Sherry Darling’ or reliving the moments in his life that lead to songs like ‘Jungleland’; he’s honouring his stories and in so doing, making those stories even more accessible to his audience.
As a writer his honesty and commitment to writing his stories, the stories that mean something to him, is very inspiring for me and something I strive to emulate in my own writing.
EP: Where will we see Josh Taerk in 5 years?
JT: I love what I do and I believe that life is too short to not follow your dreams and pursue your passions. I will definitely be doing what I love to do, writing songs, playing music and performing onstage.
EP: What’s your advice for anyone wanting to get into the music industry?
JT: There is no single way to go about anything in life. There are just as many opinions of the “right way” as there are people in this world and I really believe that they are all trying to help you when they give you their advice. The best advice I can give anyone who wants to be in the industry is to make sure you are passionate about what you do, perform anytime you can, take every opportunity to meet other artists and network, and then make sure you define what your goals are and what success means to you. Once you understand your own definition of success you’ll be able to design a career, a path, a life accordingly.
EP: Lastly, what one question does nobody ever ask you, but you wish they would?
JT: While I’ve been touring, writing songs and making albums I’ve also been completing my university degree in English Literature over the past couple years. I love literature and I love reading different works by different authors because everyone has their own way of telling stories that, for me, can inspire new perspectives and approaches to my own writing. The one question I’ve hardly ever been asked is, “Who is your favourite literary writer and why?”