Josh T Pearson was a founding member of Lift to Experience, the Texan country rock band who garnered a fairly substantial cult following after they broke up in 2001. Having never listened to their music, all I had to go on during this interview was a superb performance by Josh at the Leadmill back in […]

Josh T Pearson was a founding member of Lift to Experience, the Texan country rock band who garnered a fairly substantial cult following after they broke up in 2001. Having never listened to their music, all I had to go on during this interview was a superb performance by Josh at the Leadmill back in July, and a couple of preparatory listens of his debut solo offering, the heart-breaking Last of the Country Gentlemen. All things considered, he wasn’t quite what I expected.

You’re in Italy at the moment. How is the tour going so far?

Rather well. Nobody has died, no major diseases, no plane crashes. It’s not been as hard as the last one, when we were on the road and pretty much played every day for a couple of months. This time we’ve got a few days off between shows. They’re just little festivals scattered around Europe, the smaller ones – 5,000 or less people. The reflective ones.

Are you pleased with the reception Last of the Country Gentlemen has received since its release in March?

I hate it! I hate all these people liking my record! Gotta play more shows, which means I might get paid too – and who wants to get paid for playing music?!

It’s a fine line when somebody likes your record. It’s a real sad one, and it’s hard to be happy about people liking such a heavy thing. Of course, I’m glad that it’s doing some good. You’d be suspicious if it was a huge, huge thing, because normally if so many people like it, chances are you are on the wrong track.

How were the tracks recorded and how have they developed over time?

It was stuff I was dealing with at the time, so it was right there in front of me, the whole body of the album. I practised them for a few months and then went in and did it.

Why did you choose to record it live?

Well, I mean it’s just one man and his guitar. That’s the nature of the songs, so it needed to be done that way. Very personal and intimate, so I wanted it as close to that as possible. Once I was at the point of putting out the record, the work was putting [the tracks] in the order they needed to be in, so it worked as one solid piece. The strings were added, and then I do some harmonies on that last one.

I read that you haven’t listened back to the record since finishing it. Have your feelings about the songs changed at all or do you still find them quite painful?

They’re pretty painful. Still can’t play one of them live yet, but I’ve done better at conquering it recently. I don’t want to jinx it, but it seems to be ok now, so long as I don’t stay in that head space for too long. But it’s painful stuff and it’s not diminished at all.

Which is the song you can’t play?

‘Honeymoon is Great’. If I could do it, it would show I had healed a little bit, but it may take a couple of years, maybe never. I dunno. It was one I played as therapy. I played it in Ireland before I even thought about putting out the record, and it was that song that seemed to hit hardest. It made grown men cry, so it was that song in particular that made me reconsider that maybe I should make an album out of it.

I saw you play at the Leadmill at the end of July. It was a great gig.

Well thank you. Did you like my jokes?

I did! I was going to say actually – without meaning to cause offence – I was surprised at how light-hearted you were on stage. All I really knew about you before the gig was from the album.

No offence taken at all. It’s just a way to self-protect between the heavy songs. It’s kind of a cliché, but it helps me to come back to…well not reality, but a lighter place at least. But you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t like it because they wanna stay in that place the whole time, but I just can’t do it yet.

It was quite a lively crowd.

Yeah. I have a rapport with Sheffield because I’ve been there nearly ten times. I played a few times before for 50 bucks, when it wasn’t really a career. I know some of the guys there, so it’s a little more jokey with them, but I have to say that I try to interact as best I can. Depends how I’m feeling that day. I gotta come up with some more jokes, man.

…Hey, I’ve just Googled your magazine. Who does the graphics for that?

It’s different each month, but the one you’re looking at was done by George Law.

This is fantastic – it’s got a beardo on there, and all monsters coming out.

Speaking of beards, I read that you’d been to the European Beard Championships.

Oh yeah, twice. I lost both times. Berlin 2005 and Brighton 2007. It’s every two years and it moves from one major city to the next.

Which category were you in?

Berlin one I was in Full Beard Freestyle. Brighton one I think was just Full Beard.

Freestyle?

Yeah, that means anything goes. You can sculpt it in any manner, however you want. Mine was called the Texas Tornado. I shaped it into a funnel cloud and put little shit in there, like mobile homes, cars, a horse, a lightning bolt. But yeah, I lost. They were not ready for my avant-garde ways. They were very conservative.

Back to the music – do you alter tracks for live performance?

Yeah, they’re a little different each time. I change them to the atmosphere in the room and the crowd. If it was a band it would be different and I’d stick to the set, but as a solo guy I can follow those currents and listen. Louder, softer, go into a different song, just so it’s feeding off [the crowd’s] energy. Each room is different.

I suppose that is one benefit of being a one man band, but do you miss having other band members to bounce that energy off?

It’s a blessing and a curse, because it’s a heavy load. You don’t get to share it with anyone. When you’re in a band and you can really lock in with the right players, there’s a real kinetic, unspoken connection there. You win, you lose. Sometimes you fail miserably, but there is a certain freedom as well.

Tell me about the photoshoot for the album. Who is the woman on the cover?

She’s a model. I wanted to be clutching a beautiful girl, so I did.

It’s quite a humble image.

I was beaten, holding onto the form of the woman. We gave her a bit of make-up so she looked plasticy, so she almost looks like a doll. Yeah, just a platonic form of a woman, and me at her mercy – at the mercy of love, basically.

One of your crowd favourites seems to be ‘Rivers of Babylon’. How did your cover version come about?

I was just playing it one day in bed and came up with a version of it that I liked. In Texas we know it as a gospel song. Willie Nelson made it popular. I’d never heard the popular Boney M version.

Obviously their version just didn’t make it over the Atlantic. It’s funny, because over here it’s a famous song, so you’re interpretation sounds quite drastically different.

People think it’s a joke sometimes here in Europe. I didn’t really think about it. I had to do some video shoot for a church in Paris and I didn’t have anything prepared, so I started working on it. It’s from an old psalm – Psalm 137.

Do you play many shows in the US?

Not at all. I played SXSW this year, but before then I hadn’t played in maybe six years.

Why?

I haven’t done the work over there. I haven’t done a tour or played out at all. Lift to Experience toured in 2001. We didn’t have a label or any help. It went well but it fell apart before we could hit the road again. Things were going good in Europe so we kept coming over here, but then we split up and I fell apart, spent a few years not leaving the house in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Then I came to Europe and stayed here for about five years.

And it’s difficult stuff to listen to. Americans aren’t as keen on parting music. It’s a smart record as well, and Americans don’t put the same intellectual stock in music. It’s a smaller demographic.

What are your plans for the near future?

I’m still processing it all – just being here. I’m surprised by the number of people who are liking the record, because there’s five songs that are ten minutes long. I think it’s a great record but I didn’t think many other people would get it like they have. My immediate plans are to deal with what’s in front of me, keep playing if people keep coming.

And then album number two. Or is it too soon to be thinking about that just yet?

It’s hard to think about it on the road. I’ve got lots of songs. It’s just deciding what to do with them. In October I might go back to Texas and play with some of the boys there, maybe find some more players so I can make some electric versions. Just make them rock.

joshtpearson.co.uk

Interview by Sam Walby.