Since debuting in 1998 with Dressed Up Like Nebraska, singer/songwriter Josh Rouse has tread one of the least straightforward musical paths you can imagine. His early records were full of impressively solid and accessible tunes representative of his Midwestern roots. As the years wore on, Rouse used his craft to explore the other parts of himself, the parts comprised of myriad places, people, and things gathered throughout a life in motion
By 2005’s Nashville set, Rouse’s musical edges had softened themselves around lush string arrangements and a wider array of instrumentation. The following year, Subtitulo saw Spanish influences creeping into an even more expanded artistic purview. That trend was bolstered further when Rouse relocated to Spain and married a native (documented with She’s Spanish, I’m American). He’s lived there ever since, allowing the experience to infiltrate him body and soul, as evidenced on 2010’s partially Spanish-language El Turista.
As he gears up to release a pseudo-band project with The Long Vacations, Rouse has pulled together a bunch of tunes for NoiseTrade. The collection touches down at myriad points across his whole career and offers a wonderful glimpse at the ever-evolving work of an artist who exists outside of both time and place, rejecting the limitations they strive to impose.
NoiseTrade: You are a true musical chameleon… like the love child of Ry Cooder and k.d. lang… at home in multiple genres. You don’t just push the envelope, you tear it open. Do you think that’s one of the keys to career longevity in an ever-shifting world – keep it interesting for yourself and, therefore, for everyone else?
Josh Rouse: I went to eight different schools growing up… always the new guy. So, naturally I could reinvent myself with each new school and set of friends! I’m a fan of so many kinds of music and, being a songwriter, I feel it’s a rite of passage to swing in and out of styles. And it’s inspiring. I don’t know if it’s the reason I’ve managed to sustain a career. I think “feeling” and hooky songs has been the reason for that.
NT: How has the genre-hopping affected your long-time fans? Do most stick with you through the stylistic shifts?
JR: The fans whose musical taste has grown along with mine have stuck with it. I’m sure there are a lot of fans who just like my first or fifth record. The good thing about changing it up is seeing new faces at the shows!!!! I had a lot of older male fans when I started, now it’s couples!
NT: And what about new fans who maybe discover you on, say, El Turista… do you find that they dig into the back catalog? The artist who made El Turista is very different from the one who made Dressed Up Like Nebraska.
JR: I hope they check it all out; I do if I discover someone new I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure what my fans are doing or thinking very often. This new generation of artists is very in touch with their fan base, talking to them on Facebook, etc. That kind of freaks me out! I still can’t believe I have fans; I don’t want to hear their opinion.
NT: Summertime, the new NoiseTrade sampler, feels like a great introduction to the breadth and depth of your work as well as a companion piece to Best of the Rykodisc Years. What was your intention in putting it together, and how did you cull the songs?
JR: My intention was to put a few new songs and, of course, a lot of older material that perhaps would be a good introduction to people who weren’t familiar with me. My manager helped me pull it together as I’m a busy kid.
NT: Next up, you have a new collaborative project – The Long Vacations. What’s that all about?
JR: It’s myself with Xema Fuertes (banjo, guitar, drums) and Caio Bellveser (bass, piano) who play in my current live band. They are all my songs, but these guys really put their personality into it with their parts, so I decided to name it a band project. It has a very open, beach vibe to it. I think you would be crazy not to like it!
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