Since 2005 Josh Pyke has been a constant on the Australian music horizon through his work releasing albums, co-writing with other artists, and doing everything in his power to mentor young musicians in their early years. This year has seen Josh cross one of his all time goals off his list- arrange and perform a selection of his songs with an orchestra (the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House no less), so the knowledge that, in the 18 months since his last album release, he has also made time to tour the country three times, award this year’s Josh Pyke Partnership recipient and record fifth album But For All These Shrinking Hearts, is pretty mind blowing.
Many would say this is the album they have been waiting for from Pyke, and by his own admission it is the start of a new chapter in his music, this even evident in Jefferton James’ album artwork and Pyke’s lyricism.
I just wanted everything about this record to be the beginning of the next phase. I said on the last album it felt like the end of one phase and the beginning of another and I still feel I want to push that. I think sonically this album is a bit different, it still sounds like me but I think it’s developed, and I just wanted the artwork to be something new… so it was just a conscious decision to take a step in a new direction and tell a different story.
Kicking off with what Pyke describes as “probably one of [his] favourite songs,” ‘Book Of Revelations’ has a gloomy, depressive feel about it that the musician says is reflective of himself; “even when I’m in a situation where I’m resigned to the situation, I can’t help but getting in there and having the last word. When it says ‘don’t let me down easy or in pieces, I can take it all at once,’ it was like ‘fuck, if you’re going to do this, just do it so we can move on and I can get on with things.’ I’m a bit like that.” Pyke drummed on the song too, which is a first for the singer and somewhat unplanned; “we redid the drums completely and it just didn’t have the same kind of lazy, slightly slackerish feel that my take did because I’m not a very good drummer.”
Something that hasn’t changed in this new chapter is Pyke’s work with artist Jefferton James. Our first taste of Pyke’s fifth record was the social media release of their video for ‘There’s A Line’, featuring the musician himself exploring a ghost town.
It’s like any relationship when you’re both trying to express your creative voice, so there’s always this kind of push and pull… with the clip for There’s A Line we were editing up until literally the last half hour before it went live. I was there, we were shooting it together and I knew the shots he had access to and I just felt like the story wasn’t being told in the way I wanted it to. So I kept pushing him for extra shots and he’s amazing, he took it all on board. Then there was some stuff where he was like “yeah, this is just not working,” and I’d say “okay, I trust you.”
‘There’s A Line’ is certainly a highpoint of the record. Very much about telling a story, the track is probably Pyke’s furthest reach from his folksy singer-songwriter beginnings. The video appeared as if from nowhere for fans, despite Pyke admitting it was one of the longest recorded processes he’d ever experienced, and fitting it all around his work with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (and more recently the West Australian Symphony Orchestra).
The thing with the SSO was we just had to do it when they were available. We were already planning to do the album before the SSO thing for confirmed, so we just had to slot that in and just do it basically, because at the end of the day that’s an opportunity I was excited about. I was prepared to do whatever to make that work.
Working with the SSO has also opened Pyke up to a whole new set of possibilities, both in terms of recording and touring his music. While previous tracks have featured string arrangements, the frequency definitely increases with his fifth release, and the possibilities of touring with a string quartet and the like become more and more realistic. Aided in these arrangements by Roscoe James Irwin, Pyke found himself more open to letting others take some creative control, to which he credits his work with the Orchestra as a major influencer. On the opposite side of the coin, the Sydneysider has become very conscious of other influencers changing the way he goes about songwriting.
I try pretty hard to not let technology influence how I write song, because it’s always that old campfire test of I like to be able to play around a campfire and still have the same impact. But I think in terms of rhythmic things probably, even in ‘Late Night Driving’, which is a really stripped back song, we included a little loop. It was just me plucking the electric guitar strings, and it became like a drum loop… but I think more than influencing me, I probably try to make it not influence me.
Josh Pyke in Geelong.
Hearing But For All These Shrinking Hearts live will be an interesting experience. The way in which Pyke chooses to incorporate his looping pedal and stompbox combination consistently helps build his tracks at solo live shows, and his adaptation of the newer tracks will be on show next year- “that’s going to be a bit different to what I’ve done in the past, so that’s something to look forward to.”
But For All These Shrinking Hearts is out July 31st.