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Josh Ritter Talks Musical Instrument Museum, Inspiration, Karaoke


Josh Ritter is an Americana/folk singer-songwriter who has been named one of the “100 Greatest Living Songwriters” by Paste Magazine. With 11 albums, eight EPs, and even his own novel, Ritter is a busy man, frequently touring in both North America and Europe.

Ritter’s most-current album, The Beast in Its Tracks, was written entirely in response to his divorce and released in March 2013. He will visit the Valley on Jan. 20 to play a sold-out show at the Musical Instrument Museum with Gregory Alan Isakov.

Josh Ritter was nice enough to take time to answer some questions while on tour in New Jersey. Read what he had to say below, and catch him live on Monday, Jan. 20…

It’s apparent in your music that Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, some of the kings of folk and Americana, are a couple of your songwriting and singing influences. Is there anyone in this generation that inspires you musically?
There’s never any one kind of inspiration. Usually, whatever shines brightest to me is what I write about. There is so much in the world; so much to experience. But, definitely traveling and reading have been the biggest influences in my songwriting. Although, it is nice to hear the old stuff again, almost as if you’re hearing it for the first time every time.

A lot of college students today are dropping out of school to seek a life as a rock star. What made you transition from studying neuroscience to performing?
Honestly, I didn’t think I would make a good neuroscientist. I just didn’t have the passion for it like I did with music. It’s the feeling of being in love with another girl—I was forcing it. I was trying to convince myself that neuroscience was a respectable career. Ultimately, I decided to save myself the heartache sooner than later, so I left for music.

In your early days of recording, you had recorded your albums yourself. Is that a skill that you learned in school or by instruction; or was that a skill you picked up by just doing it?
I learned early on in music that you can’t do it all alone. While I was learning to record, I kept my eye out for people who knew it and just watched them. Eventually, I figured out that I can write songs and let someone else record me.

States aside, you have done quite a fair share of performing in Europe. What are some major differences you have noticed in performing in the two different places?
As a whole, it all feels the same. There’s just something about a good night, when you play the right song to the right crowd, at the right place, that makes it all good. Playing for an audience is so much more than that, though—it’s take and give. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the language, it’s more about the feeling.

Do you have any plans to write another novel?
Currently, I’m more focused on my songs, but I’m two drafts into a new novel. It feels super good. It’s funny, though, because the language is really bad.

Like, it’s filthy?
Yeah, it’s filthy language. But, it’s more fun to write.

Are you going to check out the Musical Instrument Museum while in Phoenix?
Absolutely! It’s been 11 or 12 years since I have played in Phoenix, so I’m definitely excited to be back. Especially with all the crazy weather I’ve encountered on tour.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?
That’s an awesome question. I guess it would have to be the first song that blew my mind, which is Janis Joplin’s “Me & Bobby McGee.” It’s totally not the right key for me, but it’s so much fun to sing.

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