When I first interviewed Josh Wilson several years ago about his debut album, Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup (2008), we formed a special bond between writer and musician, which continues today. I have made no secret about my appreciation for Josh, as a musician, friend, and fellow human being. Naturally, that brings a whole new element to an interview, like talking to an old friend about an exciting project. Essentially that’s what it was like to interview Josh about his latest album, See You.
Available February 8, See You (Sparrow) is an amazing project, in which Josh has poured himself heart and soul (read album review). Working with my one of my favorite producers, Matt Bronleewe, Josh shows maturation in his craft as a singer/songwriter. But his sincerity and witty personality remain intact. In fact, at the end of the interview I told Josh that his self-titled album (a mash-up of his two previous albums) is available as a $5 download on Amazon.com. In true Josh Wilson fashion, he quipped, “Five dollars? I better go buy that!”
It is these qualities that make Josh Wilson one of my favorite musicians in the music business. And just one of my favorite people in general. After that glorious introduction, I now present our interview.
You have a new album coming out Feb. 8 called See You…
I’m incredibly excited for people to hear these songs. I recorded them last August, so I’ve been sitting on them like a Christmas present that I’ve been waiting to give away. I’m excited to give it away.
Let’s talk about the title track for a minute. “See You”—that’s a pretty deep song. I thought it was going to be a nice, little happy song. It’s a hard song to listen to.
I struggled when I wrote it to figure out how to resolve the song because it deals with wanting to see God in the hard times, but not being able to. The first verse talks about a sick child—a reference to my friends who have a son with a heart condition. The second verse talks about a divorce. I had a good buddy go through a divorce this year. I think those are two kinds of situations when people ask, “Where is God? If God is really there and He loves us, then why is this happening?” I have certainly experienced things in life where I can’t see God. The song says that in the middle of all this, I don’t see You.
I didn’t know how to resolve the song because I didn’t what to leave it there. The song is followed by an instrumental version of “It Is Well (With My Soul),” which is a response to that song. But I didn’t want someone to listen to the album and hear the song, but not hear the resolution—the hope that we do have in Christ. “See You” doesn’t end with a big bowtie around it but it certainly points to the fact that although we don’t see Christ in those moments, we are going to one day.
I sort of like the unresolved tension.
Yeah, as an artist, as a creative element, I do, too. I like to watch movies with unresolved endings and I like music that sits in the moment.
You know, I was thinking about this album as I was writing the review (which everyone should read), and I’ve been listening to this album from start to finish, from start to finish over and over again. And you start with “Sing It” and end the album with the “Sing It” reprise. This album really should be listened to as a whole project. It’s not a bunch of songs with a few that sound good on radio. The whole project sort of fits together and the songs flow together. Was that intentional?
Not when I was writing the songs. When I picked the songs to go on the album, I did try to find a common thread. “Sing It” talks about not having enough words, melodies, and chords to capture God, our Creator. I wanted to put this group of songs in with that song because that sums me up as an artist.
I wrote “3 Minute Song.” It was kind of the same thing. The more I write, the more I’m realizing that I’ll never be able to write enough. I don’t think that’s necessarily the theme that runs through the album, that’s why I chose to call it See You and that’s why “See You” falls dead center in the track listing.
This is the first album that I’m really proud of the order of songs and the flow of music. Every song is not the same. It doesn’t all talk about seeing God. But I think that theme comes in and out.
How much did your producer, Matt Bronleewe, contribute to that?
A great deal. This is the first time I have recorded a single album with a single producer. I feel like this album was very cohesive because it was just Matt and me from the very beginning. Because of that, he was able to help me string things together. It makes the album a complete thought.
The other thing I love about your music is that you’re really involved with all aspects of creation, like you played 18 different instruments on this album.
Yeah, that was something Matt challenged me to do and it’s something that I’ve done on previous albums. Besides bass and drums, there’s everything from autoharp to ukulele to accordion, and a hammered dulcimer.
And a glockenspiel, come on!
Haha, yes, a glockenspiel because it’s fun to say! I was excited to go into the studio and say, “Could you turn up the glockenspiel?”
That’s hilarious! I get this idea that when you go into the studio or write a song, you’re like this creation genius, like you have all these instruments around you and you start pumping out songs like Bob Dylan.
Well, I wish it was as easy as walking into a place and it all just sort of happens around you. But the writing process is a slow one for me. It takes a while. When we get into the studio, there is a bit of a mad scientist element. Matt has all these instruments in there and we’d listen to a track, and I’d say, “Let me try this!” There’s a good element of spontaneity in the recording process. That’s not to say that every idea is a good one, so Matt helped a lot in that process.
I think you had said at some point there’s more of you in this album.
Hmm…I feel as a writer I’m growing and hopefully each song I write is a little more honest. That’s why I feel like I can write a song like “See You” that deals with doubt because that’s something I struggle with. Any Christian who’s honest struggles with the same thing. Each song is about something I’ve been through or a close friend has been through. I try to stay close to real life stories and build songs from that.
I noticed in the song, “They Just Believe,” which you wrote about your 2009 trip to India, you say, “I believe, help my unbelief.” This is a direct quote from the Gospels. What does this mean to you?
You know, the funny thing about doubt is that statement. I do believe, but at the same time I struggle with unbelief. At the same time, I have to fall back on the promise that Jesus made that He’s with us, that He’s never going to leave us or forsake us. In the moments that I don’t see God or don’t feel like I can, I have to remember what He’s brought me through. When you put it all together, it makes the most sense to say, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
That’s my prayer a lot of times.
Absolutely. Sometimes it’s the most appropriate thing to pray.
As we wrap up, is there anything about this album you think the folks need to know?
I really am proud of this album. I’m really excited for people to hear it. I hope they hear honesty and I hope I haven’t skirted any hard issues in these songs. Scripture doesn’t do that; Jesus doesn’t do that; and life certainly doesn’t do that. We can’t pretend that everything’s always smiley. While I do deal with a lot of hard things, what I want people to take away is hope. As Christians, we are equipped to deal with the most difficult things in life because Jesus went through them. I hope people will take away hope in the middle of pain.
For more Josh Wilson goodness, head over to his website at JoshWilsonMusic.com and hook up with Josh on all your favorite social networks, including Twitter (@joshwilson) and Facebook (facebook.com/joshwilson). Also, you can see Josh live on the summer festival circuit and this fall he’s touring with music veterans Steven Curtis Chapman and Andrew Peterson.