Over the past decade, Josh Pyke has cemented himself as one of Australia’s most consistent and loved singer-songwriters.
A mainstay on the Australian folk scene, Pyke has just released his fifth album, But For All These Shrinking Hearts. The album debuted at number two on the ARIA charts, a record for Pyke. He shares his thoughts about why he thinks this album was so successful.
‘I think it’s thresholding, being pretty consistent for the last ten years and remaining quite active. The last one debuted at seven or something so thankfully it's never gone backwards for me. It’s really a testament to how my fan base has expanded year by year.’
For this album, Pyke moved on from Ivy League Records to Wonderlick, and I'm interested to hear how he thinks that move influenced the success of his album.
Pyke is thankful that the often difficult transition of switching labels was, for him, relatively seamless and a large credit to his album’s success.
‘No matter what point you are at in your career as an artist, a label is going to have certain expectations and I just wanted to go into a new relationship where everyone’s expectations were honest. My manager knew exactly my history as an commercial artist and he knew exactly what to expect.’
But even for an artist as experienced as Josh Pyke, there always lingers a desire to open new doors. Deciding to ditch the solo show for this album’s tour, Pyke will be performing with a live band.
‘It’s a been a while, a couple of years since I’ve done it. I guess the venues and to a large degree the songs from the new album lend themselves to having a live band.’
However, Pyke is quick to note how having the flexibility to perform either solo and as a band is a crucial asset in making a living as a musician.
‘I think it’s the most important thing for me, being a solo artist. I’m able to go out and do extensive regional tours solo, 'cause its very expensive to play regional Australia,’ Pyke explains.
‘[Having that flexibility] has been the key element for me being able to forge a career as a touring artist, to either go it alone or with a band. And for any solo artist coming up the ranks, I would definitely recommend getting a band set as well.’
After years of touring, Pyke suggests that the expansion of a live show is what keeps his music fresh and, in parts, unpredictable.
‘I think its good to experiment; when I do my solo shows I’m playing with a loop pedal so I’m able to do some more interesting textures and rhythmic things than playing straight up acoustic guitar, and it also allows you to change the structure of a lot of the songs. You’re doing those things on the fly.’
‘It’s important to allow the songs to develop a life of their own outside of yourself,’ Pyke reflects.
This past year, Pyke has performed shows with both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House and with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. Pyke elaborates about why he dedicated his time to these shows.
‘I can only speak for myself, but it's something that I’ve wanted to do well and truly before I ever had the profile to allow that to happen. I think it’s a dream for most musicians to hear their music in that vast, cinematic context. It's pretty special hearing a song you made in your bedroom played with fifty musicians behind you.’
Numerous contemporary acts have collaborated with orchestras recently, so I questioned Pyke as to why he thought orchestras have seen a recent increase in popularity.
‘I think it’s probably always been there, but I think it's more a reflection of orchestras trying to open up their appeal to more contemporary audiences.’
With his most recent album, Pyke consistently touches on themes of disenchantment, apathy and detachment, whether concerning other people, past lovers or friends, or society as a whole. For many songwriters, music serves as some form of mental therapy, and I asked if Pyke viewed songwriting in the same light.
‘I do, kind of increasingly so,’ Pyke says. ‘The way I process the world or what is happening in my life is through writing songs. I never really know it at the time and then I look back at a body of work and see some themes, and I definitely feel there are themes of disillusionment on this record.’
‘Like you look back at the time I wrote it and you have Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister and you have Brandis cutting Arts funding. I feel that within the broader Australian population there just isn’t a huge amount of respect for the creative producers in this country, and I’m not just talking about the musicians either.’
When Pyke mentions this, I instantly think of the abuse that Courtney Barnett received following her win of triple j’s Album of the Year award. I ask Pyke what he thinks about the reaction and if this correlates with his belief that there is a lack of respect for creative producers in Australia.
‘She should take that with a grain of salt, and she won the award for a reason,’ Pyke asserts. ‘I think she’s brilliant, and if you take away media, labels and radio airplay you just look at the effect on people at her shows and it's obvious why she won it.’
When talking about triple j, many Australian artists tiptoe around the national broadcaster as any slander could result in having no national support. I ask Pyke whether he thinks there is a boundary that artists have to respect when it comes to triple j.
‘You have to be honest and you have to be true, but if you’re working in any industry you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. I guess if you see something wrong, and you do it in a respectful way, I don’t see any issue with it.’
Pyke explains to me that even though triple j didn’t support his most recent output he still respects the station on the whole.
‘I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was disappointed that I didn’t get much airplay from this album from triple j, but I’m also quick to say that I largely owe the success that I have from being played on triple j previously.’
Whether it is from ARIA charts, orchestras or triple j, it seems that success is something that can be achieved by many different avenues for Josh Pyke.
Fri 29 Jan - Twilight At Taronga, Sydney NSW (All Ages)
Sat 30 Jan - Canberra Theatre Playhouse, Canberra ACT (All Ages)
Thu 4 Feb - Studio 56 @ Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD
Fri 5 Feb - The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
Sat 6 Feb - Star Court Theatre, Lismore NSW (All Ages)
Fri 12 Feb - Melbourne Zoo Twilights, Melbourne VIC (All Ages)
Sat 13 Feb - The Wool Exchange, Geelong VIC
Fri 19 Feb - Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide SA (All Ages)
Sat 20 Feb - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.