Singer-songwriter and band leader, Joshua Powell, took a few minutes to chat with us about his band and the process of writing his latest record, Man Is Born For Trouble. If this is the first time hearing about Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery get ready to be amazed at the depth of sound and balance he achieves on the album. In any case, Lemonade Magazine is proud to introduce: Joshua Powell!
Lemonade Magazine: First off, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Our readership knows very little about you and your band other than through reviews of your last couple albums, Traveler & Man Is Born For Trouble, tell us a little about yourself, your band (Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery) and the origination of your band’s name.
Joshua Powell: I started writing songs on my own when my indie rock project, Blindfold the Leaves, ran aground. At the time, I was on a college label that asked me to assemble a band for a release show. I loved the way that the other musicians could highlight and low-light the natural dynamics of the folk tunes I was writing, so I recruited the friends who would be the original incarnation of the Great Train Robbery.
The line-up of the band is dynamic too. There have been nine or ten people in the band since its inception, based on their availability, and at one point we were playing as a six-piece. We are currently touring as a three-piece.
We looked up a list of all the Western movies ever made, and the first one, in 1903, was the Great Train Robbery. We loved it.
We came up with the name because we wanted it to be sound unmistakably like a folk band. We looked up a list of all the Western movies ever made, and the first one, in 1903, was the Great Train Robbery. We loved it. It beat out our other top picks, which sound weird now: the Copper Canyon, and the Walking Hills.
LM: Excellent choice! It has history and flows. Over the last couple years, Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery has grown in members and depth of sound. How does it affect your songwriting as you gain more band members?
JP: When I started on my own, I collected all the songs I’d ever written that hadn’t fit in either the hardcore or indie bands with whom I had played. I hadn’t started to find my autonomous artistic voice yet. After I recorded We All Say Hello EP and Traveler, I had time to sit on them. I started figuring out which ones I actually liked – where I wanted to expand. I had narrowed my fields of influence too, getting deeper ingrained into the arena of modern folk music, and started wanting to pare out the outliers like “When I Am a Father” and “Last Chance to Slow Dance.”
They weren’t bad songs, per se, but they didn’t sound like who I wanted to be. I started writing Man Is Born For Trouble with songs like “The Good Thief” and “Everything Will Be Okay” as starting points. I listened to a lot of Fleet Foxes, Dawes, Noah Gundersen, Bon Iver, & Neil Young. If I wrote a song that didn’t sound like a folk song, I shelved it.
I don’t like to show anyone my writing until I think it’s done.
I wrote about 30 songs for Man Is Born For Trouble, and only picked my favorites to polish. The writing wasn’t collaborative really at all. I wrote the bulk of that record at my parents’ place in Florida over the summer. I’m very introverted about all that. I don’t like to show anyone my writing until I think it’s done. They’re all incredibly talented, but they’re pretty awesome about just helping me realize the vision I have for the songs.
LM: Your introverted writing style is very reminiscent of James Vincent McMorrow. We have heard you call your style of music “rust-colored folk rock.” Could you give us a little more insight on what makes it?
JP: I fell in love with folk because it was dirty. It was honest like punk rock, but it was pretty instead of frantic and confused. On the last two projects, I’ve been crazy intentional about leaving in the mistakes, because it makes it sound human. I wanted the hum of our producer’s heater to stay on the track because it reminded me that we made our record in a crappy, low-rent loft.
The guitar at the end of “Blue Ridge” buzzes out, because I left my Taylor at home and recorded that on a $100 Fender. Then we like the hyphen inherent in “folk-rock,” because it gives us the flexibility to put you to sleep, but then to also soundtrack your bar fights all under a Southern-sounding auspice.
LM: Awesome! I love that musicians are reverting to the grassroot style of music. Also, who are your greatest musical influences?
JP: At this point, (Neil) Young, (Robin) Pecknold, (Justin) Vernon, (Noah) Gundersen, Goldsmith. I get just as much though, if not more, from Ray Bradbury, Henry Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, and Stephen King.
LM: One of my favorite questions to ask: If you could tour with any band, current or past, who would it be and why?
JP: Here’s my dream tour. It’s brotherly: The Avett Brothers, Dawes, Noah Gundersen, us.
Dawes and Gundersen both have front men who sing, and younger brothers who drum and sing harmonies. My brother, Jacob, is on the road with me doing just that, and I think with all those brothers, the amount of fighting and loving that would go on would make for a heck of an adventure.
LM: I would have to agree that is a killer lineup! Thank you again for taking the time to sit down with us! Good luck with Man Is Born For Trouble, which is out now and available online on the Apple iTunes store at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/man-is-born-for-trouble/id641130628.
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