Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk released his second album, Here's To Change last month, which saw the artist de-camp to Nashville for the recording process.
"I wanted the feel of the record, the tempo, the rhythm, the starts and stops in each song to feel more alive, I wanted a human sound," Josh said.
Josh went On Track with Total MK. Settle back for a fabulous read...
The song that first awakened your musical senses
It was ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ by AC/DC.
I was invited to a party by a friend of mine and at the time he was really into Rock’n’Roll music.
Now, I always liked Rock’n’Roll but I got into the N’sync, Backstreet Boy thing in the 90’s to early 2000’s and was pretty heavy into that at the time of this party.
So, my friend invites me to this party and tells me that there is going to be a live cover band playing.
I can remember being in the middle of a conversation with someone and all of a sudden the band starts playing the opening riff of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.
I was hooked. The band launched into this song and as far as I was concerned there was nothing else going on but that band and that song.
The energy they were giving off, the fun they were having, the music they were making; it stuck with me.
After that, I started growing my hair out, learning guitar and never looked back.
Physical or digital - how do you take your music?
I prefer physical because I like having the album art in front of me.
I feel that each of the songs contribute to the overall feel of the album and the overall story of the record.
However, the album art is another really important aspect of that story and of telling that story.
The first thing you see when you pick up a CD or record is the album art, you open up the package and there’s more art, lyrics, stories; all of these elements add to the feel that you expect from the album you are about to listen to.
The art, like the music draws you even deeper into the stories being told.
The first time you thought 'Music - this is the job for me'
Ever since I can remember we’ve had music playing in my house.
My parents raised me on a healthy diet of 70’s and 80’s Rock’n’Roll music, artists like Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, the Eagles, and I remember all of us dancing, singing and having the best time together while we were listening to music.
I think I registered very early on how powerful music can be, how much it can make people feel and how much it speaks to people.
When I was touring with The Soldiers across The UK in 2012, I got to speak to a young singer after the show in Skegness.
She told me that she had stopped singing for a while but after hearing my songs, she wanted to start singing again.
I told her to do what she was passionate about because life is too short not to do what you love.
Then the following year I was once again touring with The Soldiers and travelled to Skegness. I had the opportunity to meet the singer’s sister after that show. She told me that after talking with me a year ago, her sister went back to school to finish her studies in music and was about to graduate that summer.
I got back to the hotel that night feeling so grateful and so humbled by the whole thing. After seeing first-hand the kind of positive change that I could affect by doing what I love to do, there was no doubt in my mind that this was what I was supposed to do with my life.
Your best on stage memory...
So far, my best onstage moment was when I played with Max Weinberg and his All Star Band at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 2011.
I had met Max at a charity event in Toronto and after he listened to my music had asked me to open for him and his big band project in Max’s home town of South Orange New Jersey.
Since that day, Max has been an incredible mentor and friend and I’m very grateful. It was June 2011 and I get a message from Max and his manager inviting my family and I to see Max perform at Summerfest.
“This is great,” I think to myself. We’ll go to Milwaukee, see Max and hang out in Chicago for the weekend after the show.
My family and I get to the concert and about an hour before the show we’re backstage and Max hands me a guitar.
He tells me I’m playing the encore song with him and the band, Ramrod by Bruce Springsteen, as a tribute to Clarence Clemons.
So, I find myself in the dressing room learning the chords to the song with Max, Bill Champlin (Chicago), Will Champlin (Season 5 on NBC’s The Voice) and Mindi Abair (Two Time Grammy Nominated, American Saxophonist / Vocalist) thinking this is the coolest moment of my life so far. Then, I get onstage and perform with all these amazing musicians.
That was the coolest onstage moment of my life so far.
And the worst gig you've ever done
I love those shows that don’t go 100% because you can learn so much from them, and often they make you stretch your playing, your energy, your show to places you wouldn’t necessarily have thought you could go.
I had one of those experiences in Manchester this past tour. We got a last minute call to fill in a slot at the festival which was providing backline for the shows throughout the week, showed up to the gig and there was absolutely no backline; no drums, no amps, nothing but the PA.
On top of all this we didn’t sound check because 1) we had no equipment and 2) because we spent every second until doors trying to rustle up as much equipment as we could find.
The only piece we got was a snare stand. We had to come up with something and fast. So we decided to do an acoustic show.
Teddy played his electric through the PA, Rich played the snare and I played my acoustic. The show turned out to be amazing, I got to experience my songs in a completely different way.
It gave the stories in the song a new life and allowed us as a group to try new things in our performance.
So, what started out as one of the worst situations we could have found ourselves in became one of the most memorable shows we’ve played yet.
The only difference between a good and bad moment is perspective.
What made you take up the guitar
As mentioned earlier, the first time I heard a live band play AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’; that was the moment I knew I had to learn how to play guitar.
My goal was to become the next Slash, but a twist of fate involving a girl at summer camp pushed me in the direction of front man pretty quickly.
I was working as a counselor and during a break had pulled out my guitar and was playing a song I had been learning in lessons that week.
A really good looking female counselor parks herself right in front of me, asks what I’m playing, and then tells me that I’ll have to start the song over again because she won’t be able to follow the song if I don’t sing.
Now, singing was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, I wanted to be the next Slash, but she called me out and was really cute.
So, I started the song over singing this time and when I was done she said, “I didn’t know you were a singer” and I said, “Neither did I.” I’ve been singing ever since.
Which one song by another artist do you wish you had written
I’m a huge Springsteen fan and one of my favorite songs of his is ‘Backstreets’ off of “Born To Run.”
I love that song because of how emotional and honest the story is, how the relationship in the song is expressed through brilliant metaphors like “Just another tramp of hearts / Crying tears of faithlessness / Remember all the movies, Terry / We’d go see / Trying to learn how to walk like the heroes / We thought we had to be.”
I would have loved to write “Backstreets” because of how implicit the metaphors are but also because of how deep the roots of the story go.
And one - by yourself - which holds special significance
‘Here’s To Change’ is a really special track for me because of how the song came about and came together on the album.
When I originally wrote the lyrics for ‘Here’s To Change’ I didn’t have a melody to go along with the lyrics. I was in Worthing on tour with The Soldiers in August of 2012 and Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew came out to the show that night.
I had been speaking back and forth with Nick for a about a year through my producer at the time Terry Brown (Rush, Klaatu, Cutting Crew, amongst others).
Nick and I hung out backstage after the show; he is an amazing singer/songwriter and a terrific guy.
Finally before he left he told me that if I ever had any lyrics kicking around to send them to him and see what we could come up with.
I got back home from the tour and realized that I had these lyrics but no melody for the song.
So, I sent the lyrics over to Nick and about a week later he sent me the melody for what is now ‘Here’s To Change’ and it felt so good with the lyrics.
When we were recording the song in the studio we were initially approaching it in a very acoustic, bluesy kind of way and I felt like there was this rock anthem waiting to come out of the track.
So Teddy Morgan (Guitar Player and Producer of ‘Here’s To Change’), Park Chisolm (Bass Player), Richard Medek (Drummer) and I sat down and I told them about my idea.
The one thing I love about working with Teddy and the guys is that they are always up for trying something different, always willing to listen to new ideas and build off of them.
We started again keeping that Rock anthem feel in mind this time, and came up with something that sounded even better than what I was hearing in my head.
That’s the version we have on the record.
I’m very grateful to call John Oates (Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer and founding member of Hall & Oates), a friend and mentor. He introduced me to Teddy Morgan and was instrumental in my being able to make this album.
I was hanging out with John one day in Nashville talking about how the album was coming along and John tells me to send him a couple tracks off the record because he may be able to sing on one or two of them.
I was so excited that he was even considering singing on my album, sent him a couple songs and he chose to sing on the title track ‘Here’s To Change’ and ‘Wise Man.’ Getting to watch him in the studio was like taking a master class.
He put so much thought into his harmonies and they fit the tracks so well.
What was also great to see was that he truly loves making music, and it really comes across when you listen to the songs.
If you could step into the shoes of another musician, living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
That’s a tough question. I’d love to be able to see life through the perspective of Neil Young in the 60’s & 70’s.
Neil Young was a part of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, he still has his own amazing solo career, and continues to write unbelievable songs.
I’d love to see what it was like being Neil Young as he was touring with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash writing songs like ‘Old Man’ ‘Heart Of Gold’ and ‘After The Gold Rush.’ It would just be the coolest thing to be able to see life through his eyes at that time in his life.
Are there any current musical influences that you might look to
I listen to a lot of different music and most of the bands/artists I’m listening to at that moment change depending on how I’m feeling. The staple music that I’ve been going back to a lot lately is 70’s and 80’s Rock’n’Roll music.
That’s what inspired the sound and feel of my new album. I wanted to make a record that encapsulated the energy and feel of the band records that came out at that time, while also adding my own voice to the tradition and starting a new conversation.
And any genre of music that you simply can't stand?
I think that music is music, and all music is a valid form of expression and communication.
I try and keep an open mind when it comes to different genres of music because you never know where you might find inspiration to try something in your own music.
Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone and explore other genres, if nothing else, just to expand your understanding of what music means to other people and what you can then add to or work with in your own music.
Tell us a little about working with John Oates - how did it come about, how was it for you?
It all started in April of 2011. I was selected to play a songwriters festival in Colorado produced by John Oates.
From the very start of the festival, John treated everyone so well, invited all the performers backstage and to the after parties every night.
That’s where I first met John, at the festival closing party. John and I talked about the festival, about songwriting and my hometown, Toronto Canada.
It turned out that Hall and Oates were coming to Toronto that summer, he told me to get in touch with him and we would meet up.
At first I thought John was just being polite, but after getting to know him, I realized that he is the most honest and down to earth guy you will ever meet.
The day of his Toronto show I got in touch with John, we hung out backstage and talked more about songwriting and touring, it was great to be able to have that time to speak with him and get his insights.
Since then, we’ve kept in touch, and have met up in Toronto and Nashville many times. I’m very grateful to be able to call John a friend and mentor.
He’s a legendary musician/singer/songwriter and an outstanding person. John has been so supportive since 2011, and when I was looking to produce the new record I asked him if he knew anyone that could fit the feel and sound that I wanted to achieve.
That’s when John introduced me to his friend Teddy Morgan who produced and played electric guitar on ‘Here’s To Change’.
After Teddy, Park, Rich and I 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 especially considering how key he was to making this record possible.
So, I sent him a couple songs to choose from and he picked ‘Here’s To Change’ and ‘Wise Man’.
Teddy, John and I hit the studio a little while later and the parts that John laid down were amazing. After hearing them on the tracks, we could instantly tell that they were meant to be there.
Finally, tell us what we can expect from Here's To Change
When I set out to make the new album, ‘Here’s To Change’, I wanted to make a record inspired by the 70’s and 80’s Rock’n’Roll feel that I love so much and the artists that have inspired me as a singer/songwriter and performer; Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Neil Young.
I wanted the tempo, the rhythm, the starts and stops in each song to feel more alive.
I wanted to make a band record where the other musicians and I would play the songs live off the floor, feeding off each other, listening to each other and building off of what the others were playing; and that’s what we did.
Teddy Morgan works out of two studios in Nashville, Barrio East and The Creative Workshop.
The Creative Workshop features a 24-track analog tape desk that we used to record the tracks on this record. With the addition of Park Chisolm (Bass), Richard Medek (Drums), Jon Coleman (Organ/Piano) amongst others we not only made a band album; we made something unique.
We made an album where all the songs have their own individual lives fitting together really well, contributing to the overall narrative of ‘Here’s To Change’.
This album is really special to me. It was as much fun making it, as it is hearing the finished songs.
Follow @joshtaerk and visit www.joshtaerk.com