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Labor of Love: Joshua Powell
In our series LABOR OF LOVE, we're talking about the LABOR OF LOVE that is music and is behind music and musical instrument making. Joshua Powell creates music that is a blend of narrative folk with a hallucinogenic vibe plus a little early ‘00s- bedroom indie. The band have gone all in on the psychedelic indie rock thing logging over 700 shows?!?!
Music is their life! We asked Joshua Powell and Ricky Olmos, from the band how music became their LABOR OF LOVE!
How did making music become your life? How did you get your start?
Joshua: I must have read one too many piece of beat literature in my midwestern undergrad. After getting the questionably useful degree, I bought a Nissan van and sold everything that didn't fit in it. That started me off on almost two years without an address, staying ahead of the booking 3 months at a time and playing 6 shows a week on average across the US. We definitely do things a lot smarter these days, but that metaphysical cannonball of coming-of-age out on the road definitely changed my course in a huge way and helped us build the foundation on which we're still building. It was also a way to cast out those ever-important networking lines like dandelion seeds!
Ricky: I can remember wanting to be a vocational musician from an incredibly young age. I recall drum sets made of various kitchenware, playing in cacophonous grade school concert bands, and basking in the awkward glory of high school talent shows. I guess I kept holding on to those youthful dreams while letting them mature a bit. I also had the chance to test-run many of my plan b jobs during my college years - I worked as a reporter at a newspaper, a freelance writer for a couple marketing departments, and a social worker with kids in the juvenile system. Loved all those jobs but they made painfully aware of a deeply-instilled desire to pursue music.
In these times it's an incredible challenge getting by making music, everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work? What are your hustles/gigs? How does it all come together?
Joshua: Right now we play out a lot of Thursday-Saturdays so we have the other days at home. I teach music business at Anderson University and at other one-off lecture opportunities. I do database maintenance and research for Indie on the Move as an independent contractor, improving their venue catalogue. I'm a hired gun at a church in Indy (which can make Saturday night shows brutal). And I teach Sabbath and Zeppelin to kids at a School of Rock, which is rad. I do believe art can affect real good in the world, but I suspect that at its core it is largely an intrinsically selfish pursuit, which has given me cognitive dissonance before as I try to live a humble, service-oriented life. But having the direct mentoring opportunity with kids is really pure and feels like making an observable and immediate difference. And all these gigs revolve around the music so I'm definitely the husk of a person, but it's good, good work.
Ricky: I’m fortunate that most of my side gigs involve music, but from a vantage point other than playing/performing. I’m a staff writer at a music publication called Local Spins, which is seriously a dream job. In 2018 alone they flew me down to SXSW, sent me to Electric Forest, and had me review Mo Pop Festival in Detroit (where I saw Bon Iver, The National and St. Vincent. I’m almost certain I saw Bon Iver’s drummer eating a pulled pork sandwich in the greenroom. I think we made eye contact. It was magical).
Besides that, I write an inordinate amount of freelance band bios; I facilitate PR for a number of bands (including this one); I do some freelance photography and videography; and fill in as a session musician when I have the availability. On top of that I balance a day job 3-5 days a week at a non-profit where I work with developmentally disabled adults.
Who were your major influences? What guides your playing style?
Joshua: Hugely influenced by the dream logic of David Lynch, the hysterical prose of Thomas Pynchon, the southern gothic affect of Flannery O'Conner, the spiritual journey of David Bazan, and the spiritual/aesthetic theory of Kanye West. Neil Young is big for me with guitar. Justin Vernon with singing. Right now our psychedelic style of indie rock contains really weird disparate elements from my past in hardcore music (like The Chariot) and in folk (like Iron & Wine.) And this summer I've been bingeing Hendrix. I just bought an octafuzz pedal for the first time.
Ricky: I’ve long been creatively influenced by the projects of Jon Foreman, Anthony Bourdain, and Justin Vernon. I know that’s a strange combination, but those guys have continually inspired me with their lives and their work, even when it has nothing to do with music. As for playing style, I was a drummer long before I ever touched a piano, so I approach keys with a rhythmic mindset. Also been diving headfirst into the synthosphere. Made Star Wars blaster sounds at a gig the other night. I have an affinity for Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, and Elton John. My summer obsession has been listening to The Beatles like they’re the only band that exists.
What's your rig? First guitar? Current? Pedals you can't live without?
Joshua: I don't remember which came first: the Washburn I accidentally won on eBay when I was a kid (it was one of 10 I won by accident, eBay banned me) or the classical acoustic my Dad got me for $8 at a yard sale. It had been left in the yard and had dirt and droppings and maybe a bird's nest in the soundhole. Dad bolted on the neck and we got that thing playing by grace alone.
My main guitar now is a Fender Jazzmaster that came standard with two humbuckers. I installed a Mastery bridge and changed out the neck pickup for a P-90. I play out of an entirely too-heavy Twin Reverb that I can't put casters on because I need something to jump off of. My clean tone is with the xotic EP boost and Wampler's Ego Compressor. And I'd be 10/10 lost without Walrus Audio's Julia chorus/vibe. Plus I got the custom one where Julia's all watery and skeletal. It's badass.
Ricky: My keyboard rig is a Nord Electro 3, a shiny new Prophet Rev 2 I just received through a sponsorship with Dave Smith Instruments, and a Roland KC-350 amp. For sure can’t live without a sustain pedal.
What does the band have coming up? Albums? Tours? Other info you would like to include?
Joshua: We’re putting out a new LP called "PSYCHO/TROPIC" before the end of the year. It'll be on vinyl and we'll tour it for God knows how long. The first single and video will be out later this month so follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with that, especially if you like paper-mache and nudity. Just kidding. Okay I'm not actually.