MOKB Interview : Josh T. Pearson

Try as you might, you’ll never convince Josh T. Pearson that he’s a legend. Bring up the ever-expanding myth of Lift To Experience. Point out his rabid following across Europe. Even invoke his staggeringly beautiful solo debut, Last Of The Country Gentlemen, and the most you’ll get is a little nervous laughter and a gentle reminder that it is, and always has been, about “the art.” You can talk yourself blue in the face; he’s not having it.

Of course, Josh T. Pearson is about as far removed as you can be from the prototypical rockstar. Over a decade has passed since he delivered The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads unto the world, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that Elvis sightings have been more pervasive during that period than those of the Denton native. He has spent much of the time in motion, wandering Europe, keeping money in his pocket with occasional gigs and “working at life” as he might say. Even his most steadfast fans had long since closed the curtains on the prospect of a new Josh T. Pearson record. And yet, on March 29th, Mute Records will roll out Last Of The Country Gentlemen.

Last Of The Country Gentlemen is a stunner. Don’t be misled by the ironic title. This is no technicolor, good guy versus bad guy country record, but rather an extended, and often painful rumination, on the frailty of men and women whose wear has left them indistinguishable from their harsh surroundings. The song are long, rambling and at times harrowing, but it’s a record that simply must be digested in its entirety. Even using Mark Kozelek’s most personal Red House Painters material as a reference, Pearson is off the map. Last Of The Country Gentlemen is the single most intense album I’ve heard since Scott Walker’s The Drift, and my only hope is that one day, the humble vessel can listen to it, and truly appreciate its brilliance.

Josh was good enough to chat with MOKB recently about The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Last Of The Country Gentlemen and some of what came between.

MP3 : Josh T. Pearson – Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell

MOKB: According to legend, Lift To Experience performed at the 2000 SXSW festival and signed a label deal on the same day. How long was the band together prior to that?

Josh T, Pearson: With that lineup, going on three years.

MOKB: A lot of people assume Lift To Experience was an overnight sensation?

JTP: No, we worked long and hard before that.

MOKB: In some circles, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads enjoys full-blown cult status-

JTP: Is it a cult record on the American side?

MOKB: In very small circles, but I’m betting the release of Last Of The Country Gentlemen will bolster the reputation of Lift To Experience in the U.S.

JTP: It’s certainly a cult record on the European side of the water. People still talk about it, but in America, we didn’t tour behind it. We didn’t even have an American label at the time.

MOKB: What do you remember about those sessions?

JTP: Well, we worked real long and hard on it. We recorded a version of 1998, but trashed it because wasn’t quite there. So we worked on it another year, and in ’99 we recorded the version that stands now, but we still didn’t have a label. 2000 we got a label and it came out in 2001.

MOKB: At any point during the sessions or the mixing did you look at each other and say, “We have something big here?”

JTP: No. I mean, I knew it was great, but no one else thought it’d be that good. It was my baby. My little project. The boys [drummer Andy “The Boy” Young, and bassist Josh “The Bear” Browning] were real good to help and they were the perfect tools for the job, but no one thought it’d be big. It was just a piece of art.

MOKB: Do you have any idea how many copies of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads have been sold?

JTP: No idea.

MOKB: How did the label react to putting out a double record from an unknown band?

JTP: They fought it pretty hard. Actually, their initial reaction was, “No fucking way.” A couple days later, after he [Cocteau Twins’ founder and lead guitarist and Simon Raymonde] passed the idea around other folks at the office, he realized that was the way it needed to be for it to really work. They were in some financial trouble, so they were understandably apprehensive about putting out a double-disc concept record from a Denton, Texas band no one had ever heard of.

And at that time they weren’t even a real label, they’d maybe released a couple Cocteau Twins B-sides. They were basically getting thrown out of their studio and what not. I didn’t have the money to mix it here. I didn’t even have the money to record it here. I still owed money to the people who recorded it here in Denton. They were the only label that offered to put it out, but they didn’t have the money to fly us over to mix it. So they were mixing while they were in the process of being evicted. It was around that time they discovered it was longer than it needed to be for a single CD, so I had the pleasure of explaining to him that it was a double album. Luckily, he liked it enough that he couldn’t say no.

Of course, it was advantageous for them in the end, because it went on to do so well. It ended up saving the label and putting them on the map.

MOKB: Do you think the reputation of Lift To Experience and The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads contributed to the you taking ten years to release your first solo record?

JTP:  Yeah. That was part of it. Also, complications about making art and making a living. It’s a trap you fall into when you try to balance making art with making a living.

MOKB: When we think about a record ten years in the making, we think about Axl Rose and the Guns n’Roses album [Chinese Democracy] he finally put out-

JTP: Did he finally put that out?

MOKB: A couple years ago.

JTP: How is it?

MOKB: It’s OK, but I think after waiting that long, people couldn’t help but be disappointed.

JTP: Hmm.

MOKB: Did you ever feel, “Hey, if I don’t get this record out soon, I may never do it?”

JTP: The first couple of years. But it’s always about art with me. It has to be above a certain threshold of quality. There was internal pressure for a while, but there were things I needed to figure out for myself. Recently, there’s been more “shit or get off the shitter.” I wasn’t working on this record for ten years, I was working on life. This record took maybe three months.

MOKB: But you recorded it in two days, so it doesn’t seem that you agonized over the recording process.

JTP: [pause] Well, it about killed me. We recorded one day, then it took about two weeks to recover spiritually before recording again. I wish I’d been a little more practiced, but I wanted to put out a record and I was running out of time. We were in Berlin checking out the studio and I felt pretty good about it, so we gave it a shot.

MOKB: So did you produce the record?

JTP: I mapped it all out and wrote all the music. Words are always tricky, so I worked with a friend to flesh out the ideas.

MOKB: Are we hearing mostly first takes?

JTP: The first three are on Last Of The Country Gentleman are. You know, the songs are so goddamned long. Once you get up over ten minutes, I wasn’t about to do it again. But if you get to minute five and it’s not working, just do it again. I agonized over the takes, rather than the recording process or the mic setups. Being such a personal record, I’m not going to lie, it was tough. Sometimes it would take ten minutes just to recover from a take, sometimes a few hours. I hope I don’t have to go through that again. I actually went gray overnight.

MOKB: Now that it’s done, and it met your standards, how do you feel about the record?

JTP: I don’t know, man. It seems like a terrible thing to do…to be happy about such a sad record. This record is definitely for other people. I can’t listen to it. I think it’s a good work, but I hope I don’t have to look at it for a very long time. It’s just too personal. If I was outside of myself and heard it, I’d think the guy was a real dick for doing it because it’s just too bare and honest.

MOKB: You have some European dates lined up already. How is it going to be performing these songs?

JTP: There will be a couple I can’t play, but I’m working on new material specifically for those shows.

MOKB: Any current music you like?

JTP: I don’t listen to too much music. I mostly play and write. I guess I just like my own songs better.

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  • rain

    February 25, 2011 [ 6:56 pm ]

    This guy shot out of nowhere….Some would say, hes a shooting star, others, a parody of a ragtime, long gone. There must be a real loneliness, being hyped by Mute records and all the press over in europe, having only put out two records. The myth of being a preachers son sounds a bit lame, when so many other folksters, vouch that there fathers were preachers too. Theres also this hyper awareness, of one baring there soul, visually through a wild, long beard and maybe nothing more! Lets hope theres more to all this hype and that Josh T Pearson is a true reflection of a humble, genius and not just another, idiot with a cool beard and not much substance.

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