Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

American Gothic – Josh Ritter brings his brand of Americana to Europe

Do you take a lot of influences from literature? Your lyrics would suggest to me that it’s an equally strong influence as music?

Well yeah, you know, songwriters are great, but they can only get you so far, and if you limit yourself to them.

I love Paul Auster. I am a huge fan I have been reading a lot of books about empire I read a bunch of Rudyard Kipling, which is really interesting stuff. I am reading a lot of biography at the moment, especially on John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, really interesting stuff

How does that go down on the Tour Bus? Do you get a hard time from the rest of the crew?

Oh yeah! Totally! But you know I get into it totally. You never know where these ideas are going to come from. I got some serious hell for reading a biography of Noel Webster who is the guy who wrote the first American dictionary but it’s (with utter conviction) amazing stuff and it really gets you thinking – maybe it’ll pair up with something good and you’ll get something good for a song. In other way it is really fun to sit back and learn something about something you know nothing about.Trying to write songs and only getting inspiration from other music, I think it would be pretty hard.

One of the problems perhaps, for a songwriter with such detailed lyrics, is one of translating – how will audiences that don’t speak English as a first language pick up on your songs, when there’s such a heavy emphasis on the lyrics. For example, there are a number of excellent Italian songwriters, who are huge in Italy but unknown outside, because their lyrics play such an important part. How do you cope with that?

I think it’s for me an incredibly rare thing for someone like me, to come here to play to people, and have people listen and I want people to know how exciting it is to me and if my excitement can come across I feel words don’t matter that much and I mean it is also a very universal thing somebody coming and setting up with a guitar or with whatever and just singing and hoping it will go and people respond to that and even without all the lights and crew and paraphenalia – there is something that catches. With lyrics there is a potential obstacle always and people respond to lyrics so much and I use a lot of words that I really love. I love words that are kind of unusual sometimes and they can be difficult, I guess – and maybe not something you can translate on the fly when you’re listening to somebody. I think they do matter but at the same time it is really amazing that people would respond anyway. I think that’s so cool.

(And indeed later that evening, Ritter like a man possessed certainly does manage to communicate his excitement across to the Italian audience)

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