Artist Interview: Joshua Hyslop – Intellectual Indie Folk Singer

Artist Interview: Joshua Hyslop – Intellectual Indie Folk Singer

When I ask artists the question of what motivates them to write music, there are a variety of responses, but more often than not it’s some version of “I just need to.” Then there’s Joshua Hyslop’s response. When he said, “my first album was written after a near-death experience in India.” Talk about a hook. I asked him for more detail, but what’s most important is that this second album, In Deepest Blue is about Hyslop’s process of coming out of the “numbness” that the near-death experience created in him. If it seems loaded with existential questions and great philosophical ideas, there’s a pretty great reason why.

The more I talked to Joshua, the more he reminded me of Noah Gundersen’s set of existential and spiritual questions. He talked a bit about his Christian upbringing that directed him toward a number of doubts about what he termed the “inconsistencies” within his faith. What’s really remarkable about Joshua, though, is that he proceeded to tell me about his heart for the poor and homeless that sounds more like Jesus than the vast majority of Christians I know. So (if you all will allow me this moment away from the music), if this is what a doubter’s love looks like, I think you’re doing it right.

What strikes me as profound about the intersection of this love for the disadvantaged and his music is that they inspire his writing. Some of the stories he tells are of his friends. The homeless are his friends and so he shares life with them. It’s what gives his songwriting that rich, textured, layered reality. They are real songs because they are borne out of the lives of real authentic people. In his struggle to figure out divinity he has settled into agnosticism, that is to say he’s content with not really knowing. In fact, he counts it arrogant to assume that we can know God. And so his attempts at telling the stories of other people help to move out of the existential malaise that can come from dwelling on not knowing. The album In Deepest Blue does tell a story of hope.

Joshua is telling his stories of hope in the midst of struggle on a nationwide tour. In fact, this is his first national U.S. tour. A native of Canada, Joshua is looking forward to seeing the sites in the states. (So send him a message on Facebook. Maybe you can feed him something better than road fast food.) But despite his unique circumstances as a near-death survivor and international touring musician, the stories on his album are ones that we can all relate to. He appreciates that listeners don’t always take out of a song exactly what he puts into it. The circumstances that surround a composition do not always come through in direct lyrics, but the fact that the spirit of the song can still inspire and move people shows the power of music as an art.

Speaking of his art, I had to ask Hyslop about his style. It sort of defies genre, at times feeling like a sort of folk rock, other times a much more chill almost “relaxed country” feel to it. I found myself describing him as folk or singer songwriter most of the time. When I asked he nailed it, saying that he “intentionally tries to avoid genre.” He writes what moves him. How artsy! But seriously he cares far more about telling stories that matter, that have meaning, and the can move people. He definitely succeeds in that.

Related to sound, it’s important to talk a little about Joshua’s voice. He’s got a whispering subtlety that’s somewhere in the conversation with William Fitzsimmons and Joshua James. When I asked him about it, he unapologetically explained that it “just happens.” What I found to be more surprising was that he has never had a vocal or a guitar lesson. He learned his musicianship through trial and error. Oh and that voice is almost of necessity. He explains that when he’s on the road he is able to sing literally every day. It helps him convey the intimacy of his songs and preserves his vocal chords to do it for another room of strangers in another city the next night.

Keeping with the “works hard” but “just happens” theme, Hyslop described his songwriting process for me. He explained that when he finishes a song he knows that it’s done and says, “I have no idea how I did that.” It’s a gift, it seems. To get at this process a bit more specifically, I asked him about a few specific tracks. First, “Last Train Home” is a song that hearkens to his church upbringing with a gospel base. So even though he may not know exactly how he wrote the song, it comes as no surprise that the old hymn flavor with a healthy dose of dark imagery came together for a phenomenal and morbidly inspiring song. When he told me the story of “Living and Dying,” Hyslop described a heart for what he called the “insanity of climate change.” It’s insane that we’re just watching the world fall away. With that, the song has its own voice and, along with producer Tyler Johnson, Hyslop works to listen to the songs.

If you haven’t yet listened to In Deepest Blue, you need to. It’s a great album full of moving musical pieces. Having learned a bit about Joshua’s heart for the underprivileged and the world, it’s easy to hear those sentiments creep through the songs.

I mentioned earlier that he’s on tour right now, so check out the tour dates below and please support Joshua’s music. I can assure you that he’s the real deal. If you happen to end up at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday November 15, stop by and say hi. Joshua will appreciate your support.

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