By Amy Sondova It finally happened at about 2 PM after six long hours listening for strains of his familiar melody on a Christian radio station—Josh Wilson heard one of his songs, “3 Minute Song”, for the first time on the radio. Picking up an odd job doing construction with a friend, Josh yelled over the noise of a nail gun trying to tell the crew that “3 Minute Song” was blasting from the car radio. Construction ceased and Josh remembers, “We all sat there and listened. The song ended and I just had this big grin on my face. My boss looked over and said, ‘Man, that’s great! Get back to work!” He laughs adding, “I didn’t quite think that’s how it would go down when I heard my song on the radio.”
The talented singer/songwriter admits, “Growing up playing music, I always wondered what I’d be doing after college. Even in college, I never thought I’d be writing and performing full time and making a living doing this.” However, the Belmont graduate has already released two independent projects—a full-length album, Dragonfly (2004), and an EP, Shake the Shadow (2006). And after winning Belmont’s Christian Music Showcase in 2004 and playing in the university’s “Best of the Best” showcase, it’s no wonder that Josh’s first single from his debut album, Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup (Sparrow/EMD), is making waves on Christian radio across the country.
Born in Arkansas, Josh then moved to Lubbock Texas when he was two, or as he says, “Well, my parents moved to Texas when I was two, and I went with them.” A jovial character, Josh often adds witty phrases to his answers, “By the time I was two, I was starting to get independent and I didn’t know about this whole living at home thing. I figured someone out there in the big wide world would teach me how to use the toilet.”
Life in Lubbock opened up an opportunity for Josh to train under renowned concert guitarist David Brandon. “He is a phenomenal guitar player. It was a treat to take lessons from him,” recalls Josh, who learned how to play various styles on guitar including classical, bluegrass, blues, rock and folk–genres which appear intermittently on Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup.
Playing every instrument on the songs “3 Minute Song” and “Savior Please” except for drums, Josh fiddles with acoustic, baritone and electric guitars as well as banjo, mandolin, piano, and keys (which provide the orchestral sounds present on the album). While guitar and piano are his primary instruments, Josh also enjoys the banjitar, which is a banjo with guitar styling, “It’s a neat instrument and it’s kind of a cheat on the banjo.”
Besides excelling in playing stringed instruments, he’s also skilled at using effects pedals. Showcasing his talent on his viral “Amazing Grace” video, Josh explains the technique, “There’s this one pedal called the loop pedal. You’re playing along whatever instrument you happen to be playing and then you hit record on the loop pedal. While it’s recording you just keep playing. When you get to the end of what you want to record, you hit ‘stop’ and play back what you just recorded.” The recording starts to repeat over and over in a loop as Josh lays down the next track, overdubbing again and again to build tracks, which layers one song with a variety of melodies.
Not only is Josh a musician’s musician, he is also a magnificent lyricist cleverly turning phrases without being cryptic, “When I got to college, I became very interested in the lyrics of songs—that’s where the meat is. Emotion can come from the melody and the chords, but to me those are the vehicle for the lyrics. I really like spending a lot of time with the words.” Pulling honest lyrics from life experiences, his relationship with God and his study of Scripture, Josh offers listeners depth and insight into the human condition.
“Savior, Please” one of the most poignant songs on the album, is a reworking of a song by the same title from an indie project. Born from a heart crying out to God, Josh elaborates, “I had been reading through some of the psalms and the theme of so many of the psalms is a cry out to God saying, ‘I’m not OK. I can’t do this on my own and I need Your Help. I’ve tried and it’s not working out. That’s the theme of Scripture.”
Another emotional song, “Beautiful Like This” came from Josh’s western Texas roots. He muses, “They call Texas the ‘Big Star Country’ because it’s as flat as can be, as flat as a counter top. There are not a lot of big, tall trees. When the sun goes down, you can just see forever. There are some incredible sunsets; the clouds start rising; it lights the sky on fire.” Reflecting on Psalm 8, Josh adds, “I look at all this natural creation, the beauty of it all, and then I look at how broken I am. And somehow He considers me more than all of this. Of course, our beauty and redemption come through Christ. The song is really a contrast of a beautiful west Texas evening sunset and fallen man’s redemption.”
Then there’s “Oak Avenue”, a gripping song that was co-written with producer Steve Wilson (Dizmas, Jonezetta). Reflecting a tragic car accident, the song shares regrets about things left unsaid. Josh says it was a difficult song to write, but feels its inclusion in the album was necessary. Taking a moment to think, he says, “It’s so important to make sure you’re at peace with whoever you can be at peace with as often as possible. You know Scripture talks about making amends before the sun goes down. It’s a very important thing; it’s a very practical thing because none of us knows how long we have. You never know when you’re not going to get to say the things you should have said. It’s really a song about apologizing and asking forgiveness…it’s kind of a sad way to say that.” He hopes the song will encourage others to have much-needed, often difficult conversations.
Using Ecclesiastes as a reference for “Something’s Got to Change,” the song builds on the idea of man’s foolish pursuit of meaningless things. Quoting the song, Josh explains, “The first line says, ‘I’m thirsty, God, I’m thirsty from drinking what destroys me. I’m pouring poison in my cup.’ It’s about chasing all these things that don’t satisfy, whether it is money or relationships or drugs. The more and more we do that the further we get from God.” “Turn Around” also speaks about God’s relationship with man Josh says, ‘It’s actually from the perspective of God. I’m not usually a big fan of that because I’m not God.” From his reading of God’s faithfulness to Israel (and Israel’s lack of faithfulness to God, Josh elaborates, “That’s what God’s chosen people did and that’s what we as Christians do as well. God says, ‘Look, these things will not satisfy you. Turn around and quit running from me. Turn around and I’ll be right here. I’ll be right in front of you.’”
Yet Trying to Fit the Ocean In a Cup doesn’t just grip the heart, it also tickles the funny bone with songs like the cheeky “Dear Money,” which about a love/hate relationship with cash and the aforementioned “3 Minute Song”. Talking about how hard it is to fit God in a three minute melody, Josh wonders if it’s going to be the song he’s going to play at every concert for the rest of his career, but shrugs it off saying, “I really enjoy playing it live and it is kind of goofy and silly at points. It’s a message I really believe in.”
He then adds, “I feel the more honest I can be in my writing, the more people will connect.” It’s this sincerity and conviction that drive the songs on Trying to Fit the Ocean in Cup almost as much as the music and lyrics themselves. But it’s the 24 year-old man, an individual of wit and wisdom wrapped in candid honestly, behind the album that makes the message believable.
For even more Josh Wilson on Backseat Writer, read “Raw Review: Trying to Fit the Ocean In a Cup” and ‘”Why I Prep for Interviews” (it’s the pink bear video).