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By Andy Argyrakis
Troubadour Josh Holmes connects with hooks galore, catchy lyrics and DIY work ethic
April 9, 2010
For the past ten years and some change, Josh Holmes has captivated crowds throughout the Midwest and beyond given his soulful pipes, hook heavy songs and infectious lyrics. Throughout time leading an eponymously named band and now operating under his own name, the Indiana-bred troubadour's opened for the likes of the BoDeans, Rusted Root, the Crickets, the Doobie Brothers, Sister Hazel and Virginia Coalition, alongside a series of headlining shows. Here's more from the singer/songwriter as he gears up to open for Huey Lewis & the News (at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino Friday, April 16), plus a glimpse at how he merges a myriad of timeless influences into an undeniably inviting sound.
Livewire: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
Holmes: My dad liked oldies and my mom liked Motown. Every time I would come home from school, I would hear my mom playing old records from the Temptations, Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, as well as various other Motor City sounds. When I would help my dad work in the garage, we were accompanied by the soundtrack of the Four Seasons, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. In terms of what I consider to be the "roots" of modern music, I was lucky to have the best of both worlds.
Livewire: You cite Motown and early rock n' roll as your musical influences, but how do you blend the two within your songwriting?
Holmes: All of those '50s and '60s songs were simple and had a good "hook." Although I would like to think that some of my lyrics are a bit more cerebral than something like "The Hanky Panky," my music is still follows a simple structure. There is a verse, pre-chorus, chorus and a bridge to just about every one of my songs. Therefore, I am not trying to rewrite the rules of pop music, but rather I am just trying to say things in my own way based on my influences. On another note, no pun intended, I think it is important for all artists to know the roots of rock and roll. They say you can't break rules unless you learn them first.
Livewire: What is the difference between your work leading the Josh Holmes Band and going solo under your own name?
Holmes: The only difference is less headaches. Try writing your thoughts in a journal, and then have four guys read it and tell you what you should have done different. Music is very personal to me. I do believe that there are people out there that can augment the foundation that I have already put down and I welcome those ideas and will try just about anything. However, after I try it and it does not fit, then I don't take it personal. Having a solo project helps alleviate some of those situations.
Livewire: Do you find it easier to operate under your previous record label Oarfin Records or completely on your own?
Holmes: Now days, sites like CD Baby offer digital distribution that introduce an artist's music to a wider audience. Learning how to run your own label, so to speak, is common practice amongst most indie artists today. It isn't rocket science like it was once perceived to be. The days of selling full length CDs are over for newer bands, unless it is at a show or something. So in that sense, I enjoy having control over my own career. The only real benefit to having a record label was the distribution to record stores and some of the PR work they did to support the album. But honestly, anyone can learn how to write a press release, and no one is going to walk into a Best Buy in Phoenix and buy a Josh Holmes CD unless they have heard of me. Unless a label puts a good amount of money and time into your project, I do not think it is worth it. With all of the resources out there, you are better off on your own.
Livewire: How did you attract such high profile opening act slots and what's the best advice any of those acts gave you?
Holmes: Usually it was someone at the venue that contacted me. In most cases the talent buyer needed an opener and they had heard of me somehow. Most of my conversations with headlining acts was small talk over a couple of beers. The only advice I ever remember receiving was from the lead singer of the Bodeans, Sam Llanas. I had always been a fan of their music and I was excited to share the stage with them. After their sound check, it was finally my turn to test my guitar and microphone. Sam was still standing on the stage as I was setting up. I walked up and introduced my self as "Josh, the guy opening for you." He turned, looked at me and the only words he said was, "just don't play any of our songs." Then he walked off stage.
Livewire: Who are the most treasured autographs on your guitar and are there any fun stories in acquiring them?
Holmes: Those are the signatures of one of my favorite bands, Sister Hazel. I opened a show for them a few years ago and I asked them to sign my guitar before they took the stage. Their initial response was, "are you sure you want to do that to your guitar?" That made me laugh because they were referring to the fact that my guitar was an expensive one and that having signatures on it could somehow devalue it. Obviously I could care less about that value of the guitar. To me, the value was having their signatures to carry around with me. They were some of the coolest guys I have ever worked with.
Livewire: What are you looking forward to most about opening for Huey Lewis & The News and how do you hope your songs will translate to his audience?
Holmes: I think fans of Huey Lewis will respect songs that have the "hooks" I talked about earlier, along with a soulful voice. At least I am hoping that is how it translates. We will find out pretty soon here.
Livewire: What are your overall career goals as an artist?
Holmes: I used to have a standard answer for this question. Every artist at some point wants to "make it big," whatever that means. Nowadays, I am just thankful that I still have stages to perform at. I would love to tour more with artists. I miss going out on the road. I have been kind of taking a small break from music since June of 2008. I still play, but not nearly as often. I am still writing music and plan to go back into the studio again later this year. I guess as long as I am surrounded by music in someway, then I am content.
Josh Holmes opens for Huey Lewis & The News on Friday, April 16 at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana. For additional details visit www.thevenuechicago.com.