Joshua Radin's music is intensely quiet -- a strange quality for a musician, who is, by definition, a noise-maker.
It's silence that informs his new album, Underwater, named after the first time he was able to put his head underwater after the healing of a hole in his eardrum he'd had since childhood. After a doctor informed Radin he could now swim - - something he had never done - - he ventured to the ocean. There, he found inspiration.
"I heard this silence under the water that I'd never even heard before - not even a heartbeat. My mind was so free and clear. And all of a sudden, this melody [for title track "Underwater"] popped in my head," Radin says. (CBS local, Minnesota, Oct. 18 2012)
Underwater is a peaceful lullaby of an album, with the usual assortment of heartbreaking tracks from Radin.
"Every song I write is true," he told Marie Claire in 2009. "They're like journal entries. The record itself is about falling in love, falling out of love; it's about my friends, it's about my family, it's about the world I live in."
Although his songs are about his own personal life, they've been applied to the fictional romances of about every major network television show broadcasted in the last six years. Zach Braff, a college friend of Radin's, picked up the very first song he ever wrote ("Winter") for Scrubs in 2006. After that, Radin's tracks were television and film soundtrackregulars.
He'll perform at the ISO's Happy Hour program with Time for Three and the orchestra this Thursday.
"Underwater" by Joshua Radin
NUVO: One of my earliest memories of hearing your music is watching the movie Catch and Release very late at night a while after it came out --
Joshua Radin: You know, people tell me that. One of these times I should really see that movie.
NUVO: You should see that. That song fits so well in that scene. It's a deeply sad movie. I remember after it finished, I looked up that song and couldn't stop listening to it and thinking about how sad that movie was. As someone with so many TV and movie credits, what do you think it is about some music that works particularly well for film or television?
Radin: Well, I think of it this way. Most of my music is very emotional. Usually when I write is when I'm a little too emotional to talk about my feelings with my friends. So that's when the guitar becomes my friend. Maybe because my voice is pretty whispery, so it's not like a typical vocal with someone whose vocal would take over the scene. I don't know. I do think it's very cool that most people find out about my music that way. It's almost easier, for me. I'm not trying to sell myself short in terms of the songs, but it's almost like every one of my songs has a built-in music video with higher production value than I could ever afford to make in a video.
NUVO: With very famous people in it.
Radin: It's like every song I've written almost has been in some movie or TV show. I don't know, with great actors? If I ever wanted to make a music video, I wouldn't be able to call up Jennifer Garner (the star of Catch and Release) and ask, "Could you be in my music video?"
NUVO: Your writing is so personal, and you've referred to tracks as "journal entries" before. Do you ever watch your music applied to a scene and think, "Oh god, that is a misinterpretation or misapplication of that track"?
Radin: I wouldn't use the term "misinterpretation," because I think it's so subjective. If I write a song about something I'm feeling and someone gets something else from it, that's great. It's like a painting - - like an abstract painting that you're able to look at and see things. Certain people will see certain shapes or colors because they're going through a certain thing. It might be the opposite for others. I love that about art in general.
To answer your question, though, I did, when I first started about eight years ago. I started writing songs right away and my first songs I ever wrote were on TV shows and movies and things. I was watching them - - and now I don't really watch them - - but the first few I was so excited. There was one, the name of the TV show I won't mention, where they cut up my song and put the bridge in front of the chorus. Once you [sell it] they have the right to do that. Usually, they don't. But, it made me realize that once you release music into the world, or any kind of art, you just kind of have to deal with what people do with it. If people really want to hear the song that way it's been written, they'll go look for it. Now, I don't even watch them anymore, for fear of that happening.
NUVO: I always think of the 2002-2006 span of years as the time where music soundtracks on TV became this cultural curation. Grey's Anatomy, The O.C. - -
Radin: Those music supervisors really became the new radio program directors, but for the world, not for one city. I was very, very fortunate to be a part of it. It garnered me so much exposure and it was so cool that I could show up in cities all over the world where I had never been to, and never had music released, and sell out 2,000 seats in a theater. People said, "Oh, well, we heard your music in Grey's Anatomy." It's crazy. It's really crazy.
NUVO: Can you tell me about the different female singers you've worked with? I love the vocal layering that you use - - especially the tracks where you can barely tell that another voice is there until you reach a particular spot in the harmony, and both voices ring so clearly. It's really gorgeous.
Radin: I've worked with so many different [female singers]. I love the way my voice sounds with a female voice. I don't think I've ever used a male harmony on any recording unless it was my own. And if it was my own, I did a really good job of making it sound like a female vocal. [Laughs] So many of my songs are so romantic that it seems weird for me to sing with another guy.
My favorite collaboration was definitely with Patty Griffin on a song called "You Got Growin' Up to Do." She's probably one of my favorite songwriters of all time. That song is one of my most personal songs. I mean, they're all personal, but that one is really heart-wrenching. I wrote that 15 minutes after I broke up with the love of my life, so it just poured out. Usually I labor over things for a period of time, but that one just came out in 15 minutes.
I had never met Patty Griffin before, I was just such a fan. It doesn't hurt to ask, though. So I sent her the song and said, "I would love it if you would sing on this." And she said, "Oh, I love this song; I'll sing for sure!" I was so shocked.
So many people -- certain females that I have used on certain recordings -- who are like, "I want to get paid, etc." And that's fine. People should be paid for what they do. But Patty was like, "I don't want any money; I just love to sing and I love the song and I want to sing on it."
I learned so much from that experience. Not only that if you have a dream of doing something creatively, you should just try it. The worst someone can say is no. But I also learned what's it's like to be a real artist; they just want to play. They just want to sing. She's such an inspiration.
"You Got Growin' Up To Do" by Joshua Radin