JOSH T PEARSON
+ SPOOK OF THE THIRTEENTH LOCK + RHOB CUNNINGHAM
“Josh Pearson has gone there so we don’t have to–we should be grateful he’s returned to tell the tale.” UNCUT *****
“This Texas singer-songwriter works in epic strokes. He veers from hush to howl in torrents of confession like a prairie-minister cross of Bob Dylan’s talking blues and Jeff Buckley’s raptures. But when Pearson gets to the apology in “Sorry With a Song,” his faith in love rings loud and pure through the hell.” – DAVID FRICKE, ROLLING STONE ***
“We share and revere in his redemption, rarely has something so physically fragile sounded so mighty in its emotional resonance. A truly magnificent record.” Drowned In Sound *****
“It’s a raw and white-knuckled collection, one which captures the phenomenal emotions of the man’s solo live sets.” – BBC
“This long-rumoured debut is a thing of stark intimacy, rendered by just Pearson’s rustic voice and roughly picked guitar, with an occasional smear of wintry violin or doleful piano.” MOJO ****
Josh T. Pearson’s debut solo album is a collection of seven songs drawn from the lessons of what he describes as “a rough year”; songs that are personal, powerful, painful, songs that move with their honesty, that offer hope from the trials he’s suffered and survived. The songs were recorded in a Berlin studio in two nights, freshly written and committed to tape after Josh saw how they affected audiences when he played them.
But the story of Josh T Pearson begins a decade or so ago, several thousand miles away in Texas. It was there that the Lone Star State native formed Lift to Experience, who would cut a mesmerising double album for British label Bella Union, and perform a slew of live shows that left all who saw them changed – nights when the audience sang like choirs to their ache-laden existential hymnals, nights when their speakers burst aflame in sympathy with the deep portent of the mercurial trio’s music. So beloved by John Peel were they that he had them record three sessions in five months and were included in the Best Peel Sessions of all time.
The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, their 2001 opus, came to Pearson fully-formed, the composer following the currents he felt guiding him to deliver what he describes today as “My own teenage symphony to God.” These crossroads were where spirituality and earthly angst collided, where Pearson led bassist Josh ‘The Bear’ Browning and drummer Andy ‘The Boy’ Young to crescendos of symphonic beauty and grand drama. Wholly earnest in their pursuit of Coltrane-esque levels of intensity and transcendence, they declared themselves “The best damn band in the whole damned land (and Texas Is The Reason)” as their sweeping, overdub-eschewing sound swelled to heroic volume. And then everything went silent. Lift to Experience vanished from the face of the Earth, leaving so much promise teasingly unfulfilled.
Josh T. Pearson describes the years that followed Lift to Experience’s dissolution as a period of “soul-searching… Music is really precious – it’s the most precious thing to me, it’s almost too precious to share. I needed to explore the world, discover some things. I just needed to grow up and be a man, you know? And I didn’t want to do that in public.”
The group ended, and Pearson retreated as far from any kind of limelight as he could to a miniscule town deep in the heart of Texas where he took odd jobs to pay meagre rent. “I was scrubbing toilets at a church as a janitor, moving hay, doing construction work, for six dollars an hour,” he remembers. “I was volunteering at a Christian retreat centre out there, just helping how I could, fixing things and whatnot. I was making just enough to get by, and having the rest of the time to concentrate.”
In the absence of that second album, internet word of mouth built a legend around The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, as the album continued to sell steadily to new fans with no hope of ever seeing Lift to Experience perform live. Out in the desert, however, Josh remained oblivious to his growing cult-dom. He never stopped writing music, he never stopped playing. But his new songs rarely left the bedroom where he’d pen them, and the audiences who heard him play were fellow musicians, amateurs, at guitar circles in town, where they’d strum rudimentarily through old Hank Williams tunes together, finding comfort within those chords and words.
As the decade wore on, Pearson left Texas, living in Berlin and, now, Paris. He would occasionally resurface to perform low-key but rapturously-received live shows, performing new songs and covers that would stoke anticipation that one of a series of unfinished projects might soon be released: a rumoured album of country songs, gospel covers, or the ‘Angels Vs Devils’ songs Pearson debuted during a solo tour of the UK in 2003, maybe.
But expanding his discography was not Pearson’s aim at this moment: “I played guitar live only when I had to, just for scratch, for 50 bucks here and there: ‘Blue collar’ playing, the circuit. I played Hull six times, way off ‘the grid’, to prove to myself that, as an artist, I could convince a room full of strangers that I was ‘the shit’. I say that humbly, with head bowed. I kept their attention with my complete honesty, absolute sincerity, and desperation. The material I was playing was just really painful, just kinda lost, angry stuff. There was an intensity there: this was stuff you don’t usually take out of the bedroom.”
Indeed, Pearson says he might not have recorded the songs that make up his debut solo album, had it not been for the response these songs enjoyed when he played them while touring with the Dirty Three in Ireland in December 2009. These starkly autobiographical new songs, as you can hear, speak with similar honesty, sincerity and desperation. Abandoning Lift to Experience’s widescreen wall of sound, they are sparsely arranged, Josh’s vocals and guitar lent an aching bitter-sweetness by violin accompaniment. Four of the seven songs run longer than ten minutes, because they examine the painful existential tangle of love and loss with a depth and emotional vividness not easily contained by the pop format. They are songs to be lived with and lived through, full of the pain and glory of life itself, searingly communicated by Pearson.
“I wrote these songs right everything within them was happening, singing from my own perspective,” he says, “and played them live on the Dirty Three tour because I thought it would good for me, as therapy, as something cathartic. I wouldn’t have thought of putting them out as a record, but two tough Irish blokes came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes, moved by the songs… They were just strangers off the street, they didn’t know who the fuck I was, but they were crying. They were really tough on the outside, you could tell they wouldn’t usually do that kind of shit, but they came up and said ‘Thank you’, and let me know how moved by the music they were. And that’s when I thought that maybe it might be important to set aside my own personal feelings and put these songs out there.
“It’s funny, after all this time, to come back and release such a sad, sad record,” Pearson ponders. He’s not listened back to since it was finished, the wounds still too raw, too fresh. Still, he’s rightfully proud of the album. “I wanted it to be a record that, if I don’t put out another one for ten years, then it’s a good enough record to end on. It’s absolutely honest, full of despair. You really have to sit down and listen to it, and it takes something out of you, but it’s worth it.”
AFTER THE GIG:
Whelan’s Indie Club w/ Late Bar from 10:30pm or check out the bands playing The Midnight Hour in the upstairs venue (FREE ENTRY, 12am).