Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (March 2000)
On March 14th, 2000, Josh Rouse will release his second full-length album, Home — a collection of gentle pop songs written by a rural American with a penchant for “80s British pop bands like the Smiths, the Cure, and Echo & the Bunnymen. Rouse, who currently resides in the country music capital of the world (Nashville) incorporates elements of country into his music yet, though he has toured with bands like Son Volt and Wilco, is anything but a y’alternative artist.
Rouse recently stopped in Columbus, Ohio while on tour with the Cowboy Junkies and took some time to chat with Swizzlestick. .
You’re not a MTV star and you seem to slip through the cracks when it comes to a particular style of music you perform. How do you think people have discovered your music?
Word of mouth. I think the reason I sell records is people will see me at a show and go out a month later and be like ¨Oh yeah, I remember that guy,” and buy the record. I have some good radio support, like some stations in New York and Philadelphia. They are non-commercial, member-supported stations. There are some AAA stations that I do well on. I don’t think I’ve been on any commercial alternative radio stations.
There are so many games; it’s such a corporate type deal, especially for modern rock at big stations. There’s like 2 people deciding the play list for that, across the country. The only new artist that I’ve heard that is worth a damn is Macy Gray. It wasn’t Korn or Limp Bizkit or something like that.
There seem to be so many more bands out today that are entertainment rather than musicians. It’s all about how you look on MTV and the cover of mainstream magazines.
That’s fine. It’s always been like that. In the ¨80s, pop music was better than it is now. You had Prince . . . those are great songs and he’s great and entertaining. He’s kind of both. And Bruce Springsteen, even stuff like that was good stuff.
Both those guys combine entertainment with the music. It seems like when you turn on the radio today there is not a whole lot of value.
I agree. So that I’m not on those stations, it doesn’t bother me. I could care less.
Do you secretly like any of that stuff?
No. I secretly . . . we were in a restaurant the other day . . . and there is this Shania Twain song, the big hit . . . ¨You’re still the one” . . . that’s a good song! That’s just a good song, there’s something good about it. I’m a closet fan of that song.
I read that you like a lot of the mid-80s British music ú The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, etc.
Yeah, when I was in high school, that’s what I listened to. I’m on this sampler for this magazine called Uncut. It’s the Cure and then it’s me. It’s also got Warren Zevon. The Cure song (¨Maybe Someday”) is a cool song. I’m anxious to hear the whole album.
You’re from Nebraska but you’ve lived just about everywhere else.
Yeah. I’ve lived in a bunch of different states, mostly west coast states. My step-father was in construction, so we moved around a lot. Then I moved in with my dad, and he was in the military, and I moved around with him as I got older. On my own, I’ve lived in South Dakota, Arizona, and Tennessee.
Did you move all those places out of boredom, like it was time to find something new?
I got bored with Tennessee so I moved to Arizona for a while. I moved to South Dakota before that. My mom was in South Dakota. I was in a transitional period. I didn’t want to be in college anymore. I wanted to play music. I thought, ¨I’ll go out to Arizona.’ I knew somebody that I went to high school with and they were living out there, so I was like ¨I want to move, I’ll move down there.” I played music out there and got to know some people and stuff. That west coast thing, I don’t know. I was in Tempe, where the Gin Blossoms are from. They were really popular. That whole scene was just really pretentious. I met a few good people. It’s hard to meet good players that I can play with and write songs with.
Nashville is incredible, the most amazing musicians. There is a good art scene, I don’t want to say ¨art-rock,’ but that type of non-commercial stuff. It has nothing to do with the country, big stuff. We know it’s there, but we don’t even function with those people. There’s some good music coming out of there. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about Nashville stuff other than Shania Twain.
Who are some of your peers on the Nashville scene?
Lambchop. This guy named Matthew Ryan — he’s on Interscope. He’s fantastic. There is a band called Joe, Marc’s Brother that doesn’t have a record deal, which they should. They are the most amazing band, just really catchy commercial pop stuff. There is a guy called Paul Birch, who is in Lambchop, and he put out a couple of records on Checkered Past out of Chicago. There are a lot of writers, singer-songwriter kind of stuff.
What else do you listen to?
Have you heard of Sam Prekop from the Sea & Cake? I listen to that a lot. His solo record is fantastic. The new Lambchop. I listen to this guy from Seattle called Damien Jurado — he’s on SubPop. I like Neutral Milk Hotel a lot too. I like the way it sounds. I always listen to a lot of older stuff too, like Chet Baker and older jazz stuff. I like the old crooner stuff. I like Johnny Mathis and stuff like that.
Who would you like to hear cover one of your songs?
It would be cool if Tom Waits covered one of my songs.
I heard he recorded some stuff with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.
Yeah. I heard Sparklehorse on the radio today! Isn’t that strange? I’ve never heard them on the radio. It was on this really cool station in Cincinnati called 97X. It’s great I couldn’t believe it. We got in and they were playing Air, which I thought was cool. Then I head Jeff Buckley, then Wheat, Sparklehorse. I heard some stuff today that I’ve never heard and I thought that was really, really cool.
It’s great that there are cool stations like that. Have you seen the seedy side of the radio industry, where you have to kiss somebody’s ass to get your song played?
Oh yeah, for sure, all the time. That’s why I’m not on the radio. It’s all politics. I don’t feel like kissing those guy’s asses anyway. There are cool stations that play my stuff and, like today, I had a radio visit to the local public radio station (90.5). I played 3 songs. They play music and dig it. People have to hear it somehow or the label wouldn’t put out music.
How did you hook up with Rykodisc?
I was making ¨Dressed Up Like Nebraska’ on my own, on an 8-track. A friend of mine, who’s my manager now, sent out some tapes to some people and some record labels liked it ú Rykodisc was one of them. I wanted to go with a smaller thing rather than a major label. I know people who have had really bad experiences making records and not even getting them put out. I was halfway through the record and I was like ¨I want to put this one out.” There were major labels that were interested but they were like ¨These are great demos. We want you to go in with a producer.” That would have been a year from when I was making that. It probably would have just now been coming out. So, I’m 3 years ahead of it.
As it takes so long from the time you write the song to the time you record it to the time you play it live on tour, do you ever get tired of any of your songs?
Yeah, I get tired of playing them. I don’t play ¨Late Night Conversation” and stuff. With a band, sometimes I do, because I know people want to hear it. Some people only know me for that song. It gets run into the ground. Between writing and recording and waiting for the record to come out and rehearsing and playing them live, you play them thousands of times. There is hardly any emotion there and you don’t realize what it was that made it a good song in the first place.
Tell me a little about your collaboration with Kurt Wagner on the Chester EP.
I wrote all the music and melodies and he threw me some words. It was the first time I’ve really done something like that. I kind of mumbled some of the words and he took it from that. He wrote the songs around a couple of words that I had. It was cool. It was pretty painless. The hardest thing was memorizing the words since they weren’t mine. When I write, I just kind of sit down and come up with it, so I know what it is. With the EP, I had to memorize. Now they are like my own songs, I play them live.
Lambchop’s new record is pretty much a soul record. Huge strings. Dennis, my trumpet player, plays in Lambchop as well. It’s got horn arrangements, it’s like ¨60s or ¨70s R&B. Their other stuff is really slow, like druggy/country type stuff.
Did you know the guys in Lambchop before you moved to Nashville?
No. I just met them in Nashville. Kurt lives down the street from me. We just hung out for a long time and we’re friends and we decided to do some songs together. I know everybody in Lambchop now, I’ve known them for a while. It’s a long process, there is 13 of them. It’s like ¨What’s your name again?”
Nashville is really weird. There is so much music there. If you look at the listings, it’s just amazing. A lot of the performers are writers and there are lots of writer’s nights and open mike nights. Draws are really small for local bands. It helps that I have records out. Before I did, I only played out a couple of times and there were like 7 people there. When I play it’s full of other bands and musicians. That’s who comes out. As far as regular people that support it, it’s not a very big crowd, at least for the music that I do.
The title of your new CD is ¨Home.” Did you name it that because you consider Nashville to be your home now?
Yeah, kind of. I named the record because it’s something you can listen to at home. All the stuff I’ve done has had a home feel to it. I produce them, but they have that living room quality to them, which I like. I like records that sound like that. I made it not to go out and party to on Friday night, but something to cook your meals to and stuff like that.
Somebody I know who has heard the CD said it sounds like you’ve moved from the front porch to the big world.
(Laughs) Yeah, the first record definitely had a more rural sound to it. I guess I just didn’t know what I was doing.