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April 15, 2024

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Melancholy Pop Bliss (Slowriver)

By: Alex Steininger

Photo by Kim Macpherson
"I recorded my first record in David Henry's living room," Rouse tells me. "It cost $75 a day to record. It was just a really relaxed atmosphere. Very easy going. I was recording the record under the assumption I was going to release it myself."

But, when Slow River's president got a hold of his demo via Henry, things started to happen and Rouse was happy to go along with the ride.

"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it that much. I grew up in a small town with simple people and write simple songs," Rouse comments on the idea that his small town upbringing has a lot to do with his songs. "I grew up in a very organic setting and my songs are very organic. Maybe that's the connection between my songs and where I grew up?"

He furthers the idea that his melancholy lyrics were also born out of his childhood habitat: "I was always bouncing around from school to school; I grew up in eight different states."

Nebraska, his debut album, shows signs of a songwriter primed to record a masterpiece. Home, his sophomore release, is as mature as it is insightful - the masterpiece that Nebraska hinted at. The melancholy pop savvy he toys with throughout the ten tracks feels like the material of a seasoned veteran and not a man that isn't even close to hitting his prime yet.

"On the new record I set out to project a certain set of feelings and emotions. After I finished it, people thought I was very depressed. It's a semi-conscious thing, but it was also a bit chippy.

"Nebraska had a longing... and now I'm more comfortable with where I am as an artist. There are a lot of the same players on the two albums, so it is just a gradual progression.

"Home is more realized. With Home I was a lot more comfortable with myself and my songwriting abilities. The more studio experience you get, the more comfortable you are with what you want to do and where you want to go with the songs."

Comfort and sadness go hand in hand in a Josh Rouse song. Though they are oft-lazy and settled comfortably in their ways, they point towards confusion and sorrow, sadness and unhappiness, while offering up an answer and a light at the end of the tunnel during the conclusion of each song.

"The feel of the words matches the feel of the music. I don't try to be melancholy or force it on a song, it just normally comes together like that," Rouse quickly points out.

Rouse then begins to comment on his songwriting process, and how he believes a song, at least for him, should come out quickly. Or else it just isn't going to come out the way he wants it too: "We did Home in two weeks, which is how I like to do albums. If I can't get a song done in a certain amount of time, the song is no good and was never meant to be. I write very instinctively and very fast and the songs that come together through that process are the best ones to me."

What can we expect from Rouse in the future?

"I'm starting a new album in August. I haven't played any of the new songs live yet, but I have a lot written for the August session.

"With the album I'm going to start in August, I know the instruments I want to use. It's going to be very cinematic. I want to do something different. I won't do an electronica record, but will work with a producer who will add to it and bring something different to the sound. Maybe Roger, who did the last Yo La Tengo record?

"I want to mix in samples and get a bit of a weirder sound going in the songs. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, though. I have a vision in my head, but need to get it out."

Discussing Rouse's forthcoming third album more in-depth, he sheds some light on the album and the vision he has in his head.

"I want to make a concept record. A tale of a 50's or a modern family living on a farm with kids. The man is a musician trying to support the family and loves to play the guitar. It's going to deal with religion and a lot of different hot issues. It's based on my grandma and grandpa; that's where the idea came from. There is a lot of subject matter there."

As the interview nears an end, Rouse leaves us with more insight into his mind and his take on his own songs.

"I'd like my music to mean as much to people as the music I like means to me. You get a feeling from it; a feeling you just can't explain. A sound that sits right with you. And that's all I can ask for."

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