Interview: Josh Ottum
Published on October 2nd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Seattle singer/songwriter Josh Ottum is back with Watch TV, his second album of multi-faceted odd-pop and a glittering example of just what can result from a tryst between GarageBand and a suitably fevered musical mind.
Rocksucker fired over some questions to find out a little bit more about this intriguing talent…
How was your tour of Germany? Where did you find the best crowds? And the best food/beer? Why are you so popular in Germany anyway?
The tour was a success. Berlin, Hamburg and Munich were the best shows. My favourite beer was a local beer in the small town of Schwäbisch Hall. It was a smooth pilsner with a nice bottle and good label artwork. The artwork on beers is always psychologically influential…the better the art, the better the beer. I am so popular in Germany because I’ve toured there the most and my label Tapete Records is there.
How was your Dublin Castle gig in Camden Town? I would have loved to catch that show as it’s just down the road from me but I was out of town.
The gig at Dublin Castle didn’t happen! I had trouble at customs and they sent me home to Berlin. It was not super fun.
Your songs are delightfully quirky. Would you welcome that tag? ‘Eccentric’, perhaps? Or do you think is this just the way all pop music should be?
I just naturally gravitate towards what I like, which I guess involves tempo changes, chords, abstract lyrics and unexpected orchestration decisions. If that translates into quirky and eccentric then that is what it is. I prefer the tags “life-changing” and “supernatural”.
Can you give us any examples, from your experience, of lovely people becoming fools in the night?
Umm, every weekend in high school was probably like this. Picture two hundred Southern California kids partying in a vacant housing complex listening to hippie music and dancing around like it was the end of the world.
Were the songs from the Mellow Out EP ever under consideration for Watch TV (not least the song “Watch TV”)? Thinking on, why did you decide to call your album that?
The songs on the EP were totally under consideration. I just didn’t want a sixteen-song album. I love the songs on the EP. For some reason the song Watch TV ended up on the EP…don’t ask me why. I called the album Watch TV because I noticed how much the TV (and the screen in general) has become a part of our lives…how much it quietly influences our every move…how much we psychologically project onto it…how much of a role it plays in our day-to-day…how much it works as a bonding mechanism between people. I also thought about how it fed me some idea of how my adult life should look at a certain age. It’s nice to think about it a bit more critically and figure what you really want for your life.
In your interview with Clash Music, you listed the themes of Watch TV as being: “Emotional turmoil, renewed hope, isolation, lost dreams, major stress, major victory, impressions of a better life, isolation through the use of technology, dream realisation through the use of technology.” It sounds like you’ve had some disillusioning experiences along the way. Were any of these music/career-related?
I was in a bit of a holding pattern after my first record came out in Europe. It took another few years to come out in the States and somehow this semi-paralyzed me. It wasn’t writer’s block or anything…it was just frustrating. Relationship stuff was stressful too.
What are you doing at UC Irvine grad school?
I’m doing a master’s degree in the integration of composition, improvisation and technology at UC Irvine right now. It’s halfway between LA and San Diego. I’ll be done in a year. I’m making my next record here and learning about a lot of new things. I like school and being surrounded by thinking people. It’s nice to be back in California too…
Are you a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fan? If so, are you excited about the impending release of the SMiLE sessions?
I do like the Beach Boys. I like the song “Orange Crate Art” off of that weird Van Dyke Parks/Brian Wilson record. I also like Sunflower and Holland and the Dennis Wilson record(s). I remember hearing the Good Vibrations box set a while ago and it had some SMiLE stuff on it. It definitely had an impact. I listen to a lot of new age and eighties music, so I’m not fully in the Beach Boys world anymore…but I do love them. Also, they do work as a soundtrack for Southern California like no other band. I fully embrace the vibe while driving by the beach with that Dennis Wilson record [Rocksucker says: presumably Pacific Ocean Blue] on. It makes the trees look bigger and the sun look pleased.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
There’s a band called Metallica. Kidding. No, let’s see, there’s a band from San Diego that was together a while ago called Powerdresser. They made good stuff. Also a new band from Hamburg called Spring Ducks.
Finally, if I asked you right now to name your top three albums of all time, just off the top of your head, which ones would you pick?
Between Two Worlds – Patrick O’Hearn, Bach’s Greatest Hits, 12 Songs – Randy Newman.
Josh Ottum, thank you.