Disciples of Sound

Joshua Radin, The Ghost And The Wall: No Boundaries During A Lockdown

Issue 143

Singer-songwriter Joshua Radin has recently released “Goodbye,” a single from his new record The Ghost And The Wall, which came out on July 23. This gold-selling singer-songwriter’s ninth studio album explores the walls we build to protect ourselves against sadness and pain, especially this past year. That’s not, however, where the real story of this album resides. While the inability to tour and perform together as a full band impacted how musicians remained in steady contact with their fans, no one to my knowledge embarked on as ambitious an effort as Radin did with the creation of this record. It was produced by Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Conor Oberst, Dawes) who also played many of the instruments on the record.

Together they assembled a cohesive collection of music by sharing recorded files and communicating via e-mail and text, never meeting in person or even virtually through a video platform. Special needs like strings and female vocal parts were farmed out and recorded remotely in people’s homes. They were then sent back to Wilson who found a way with Radin to snap the parts into place. The final product is a piece of music you would swear was recorded live and it just might change the way Radin and others make music moving forward.

 

This is just one more groundbreaking effort from an artist who has generated more than one billion streams, sold over one million records, and has landed north of 150 film, television, and commercial syncs. This success has placed him on world tours that have covered four continents, opening for artists like Ed Sheeran and Sheryl Crow. Along the way he has acquired some super fans like Ellen DeGeneres, who invited him to perform at her wedding. His sound is unique and has often been compared to artists like Elliot Smith and Paul Simon. Those comparisons hold true with The Ghost And The Wall.

Perhaps more important than the success he has earned through his music is the work he has done as a committed philanthropist.  He was personally handpicked by First Ladies Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for a campaign in support of the troops and continues to support charities like Little Kids Rock and North Shore Animal League America (NSALA), among others.

We were able to connect with Radin and talk about the how The Ghost And The Wall was made, who is most drawn to his brand of music, and what lies ahead on the charity front for an artist who has committed himself to making music that inspires people to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.

 

The Ghost And The Wall album cover.

 

Ray Chelstowski: You have a very unique vocal style that is breathy but that can really amp up. This is pretty consistent across all of your recorded material. Does it dictate the kind of music you create or how you create it?

Joshua Radin: I think it’s the latter. I always write sitting around with the guitar, and no one can be around because I have to get vocally confident and be able to get loud. That’s how I come up with melodies. It’s just a very organic process.

RC: You worked with producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Dawes, Conor Oberst) on this project. What led you to him and what did he bring to the songs?

JR: Well, I got home from my last tour in support of my last record, Here, Right Now, which was all about trying to be more in the moment, to be more present. Literally a day after I arrive in Los Angeles the whole world shuts down. But I was like, “OK, I can deal with this.” So I started writing. I had a theme that I wanted this album to be about. After a few months of writing, the world was still under lockdown. I turned the songs I had written in to the record company because I thought that I had created a body of work, an album. Obviously, I thought that we would have to wait for the world to open up again to record them, because I don’t have a home studio or anything.

 

To my surprise they said no, let’s see what we can do. Let’s find a producer [who will work with you] where you can just share files back and forth. I was like, “no way!” [I thought,] that’s not going to result in a great record. You have to be in a studio playing live, eating lunches and dinners together and talking [with others] about the process. They told me to keep an open mind and they brought up Jonathan Wilson’s name, saying that he had a great studio, could play every instrument and that I could just record my vocals in my home.

So, I talked to Jonathan on the phone for thirty minutes. He seemed awesome, so I decided to try recording it this way. [I thought], if it’s terrible we can just bail. After the first song I said, “Man this sounds really good! Let’s do another,” and we just kept recording more songs.

Photo by Catie Laffoon.

Photo by Catie Laffoon.

 

RC: Where did you record the album and who did you recruit to back you musically?

JR: Jonathan recorded from his studio in Topanga, California, and I recorded from my house in Los Angeles. We still have never met. We just traded files back and forth. I only played guitar and sang. This was still real early in the lockdown. I set up a little home studio in my closet with a laptop and a couple of [acoustic sound-absorbing] panels and a mic. That’s where I did all of my vocals – in a closet – and I sent them to Jonathan.

We [then] sent just a few songs to three different women to add female harmonies, [which] they recorded in their homes. Finally, there were some string parts for one song [that needed to be recorded] that we sent out to some of Jonathan’s collaborators. Other than that, Jonathan played almost everything. It was a very unique way to make a record and we were forced into it because of the lockdown.

RC: In a way the process you describe seems very liberating.

JR: I was always a night owl, but the pandemic turned me into a morning person. And Jonathan was a night owl as well. That was one of the biggest differences between this record and all of the others I have made. The major factors [influencing] every other record were time and money. This record had neither [constraint].

 

In the past I have made records with session musicians that I revere musically, and would be a bit intimidated to say something like, “hey I think that should be a bit slower.” Instead, with this record, I would get up at 6:30 in the morning to go for a hike and listen to all of the files that Jonathan had done the previous night. After listening to them for a day or two I’d send him a note saying something like, “let’s have the drums come in here, etc.” and we’d just go back and forth. It really was just a collaboration all of the way through, that was all [through] text and e-mail. No Zoom or even a FaceTime.

RC: Across your career you have delivered a billion musical streams to date, have sold over a million records, and you have a super fan in Ellen DeGeneres, who actively promotes your work on her show. Who are your fans, and how would you describe them?

JR: I would have to say that when I am looking out at the audience from the stage it’s a lot of couples, people on dates holding each other who have been together for a long time and may have even met listening to one of my songs. They may have fallen in love to one of my songs and maybe even walked down the aisle to it. They are couples, who make it to my show whenever I come to town.

RC: You are as well-known for your charity work as you are for your music. What’s next for you on the charitable front?

JR: I like to be part of an organization for a while, then move on to another. I’m actually looking for inspiration in finding a new organization to work with right now. Typically I’m drawn to those that fight for the underdog. There’s just so much to do.

Header image courtesy of Catie Laffoon.

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