5Qs with Joshua Radin
Fifteen-year veteran singer-songwriter Joshua Radin, who counts more than 1,500 placements of his music on TV shows, movies, commercials and other soundtracks dating back to his first song, comes to the Lobero Theatre on February 22 for a special acoustic show with friends Ben Kweller and William Fitzsimmons. We checked in over the phone earlier this week.
Q. You spent your twenties working on screenplays and the visual arts. How did you get into writing music?
A. I wrote six features over six years, and was just getting by enough when I sold a couple of them that ended up getting shelved. It was so frustrating that I bought a guitar when I was about to turn 30, just wanting to use it more as a meditative device. I’d step away from my laptop if I couldn’t figure out a character or plot and just learn a new chord. I had no thought in my mind of becoming a musician at all, let alone a professional. I just wanted to use it as a device to chill myself out, stop thinking, and open my mind to what might come up.
Within six months I had learned a few cover songs, some of my favorite stuff. But then I started thinking, I’m a writer. Someone had told me the age-old adage that you just need three chords and the truth to write a song. I thought I’d write about what I was going through in my life. I wrote this song called “Winter,” just for myself.
That’s when your buddy, the writer-actor-director Zach Braff stepped in, right?
Yeah, I was sitting in my apartment and Zach was over because we used to give each other notes on our screenplays. He saw my guitar in the corner of my living room, and said, “I didn’t know you played.” Then he made me play him the song – I’d never played anything in front of anybody at that point, not even my girlfriend who I was living with. Finally he said, OK, I’ll turn around so you don’t even have to see me. When I finished, he turned back around with tears in his eyes and told me I had to record it. He said he’d give it to Bill Lawrence, the executive producer and creator of Scrubs, who was always looking for new music for the show.
I was thinking, no way. Real musicians and songwriters get on. But I recorded it in my friend’s bedroom with Pro Tools on an iMac, just playing it live and overdubbing the harmony. Three weeks later Bill called and said, he’d been looking for the perfect song for this warm spot at this very sad moment in the show, which was usually so silly. I thought it was a joke. But a week later the episode aired, and it shut down the NBC website because so many people were trying to figure out where they could find the song.
Not a bad way to get discovered.
No. I mean, I just thought, wow, this is something I should pursue. I’d been doing those other creative things looking for an audience, painting, and drawing and screenplays and then, whoa, here’s this first song I ever wrote, and the audience is seeking me. But I think even if it hadn’t happened, if Scrubs hadn’t used it, I realized after writing it that I was expressing what I was going through at that moment more honestly in 3.5 minutes than in any painting or the six screenplays. It just felt more organic, more at home creatively. So it just built that way, organically, for the last 15 years. I never wanted that American Idol kind of flash in the pan.
Your new album Here, Right Now is a bit of departure in that you wrote it in Spain rather than at home. What was the story?
I had a bit of writer’s block for about six months which had never happened before. So I thought I’d change locations and try to get inspired. I found this little beach place, very remote and no one was there. I was sitting out on the sand looking out at the sea with my guitar thinking if I can’t write here, I’m screwed. This stray dog came by – no leash, no human – about 30 or 40 yards from me and we just locked eyes. It was the strangest thing. We just stared at each other and didn’t even blink, like Clint Eastwood or something, for a couple minutes. I looked into her soul. He or she just felt so free and living in the moment and present. I realized I spent the majority of my life dealing with anxiety laying in bed at night always worrying about the idea of what comes next… for me, the world, my friends, my family, never just enjoying life. So when I wrote the title song, I figured every time I sing it, it will reinforce in my mind that I should be living in that moment and it’s really helped out a lot. All the songs just flowed directly from that.
You’re playing at the Lobero with fellow singer-songwriters Ben Kweller and William Fitzsimmons. Have you done this before?
No. I wanted to try something new for a short little tour. We’re just going to have three chairs, three acoustic guitars and trade off songs and stories. We’ll talk to each other, laugh and joke around and we’ll see what happens. I love their songs, so I think it will be fun.