The sadness of the gentleman
By Jonathan Fisher
14 March 2011, 20:42
The first time we speak, Josh T. Pearson is frosty. One word answers to long-winded questions mentally winding me and leaving me wondering what I had to do to get anything out of him.
I confess that I’ve not heard his upcoming record, The Last Of The Country Gentlemen and he calls an end to our conversation, setting me some homework to carry out before we try again to gain a rapport. I am charged with listening to the album, watching the 1995 Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man and decide who was the best burrito vendor in London.
The record is hard-going – sparse and minimal, just an electric guitar and his tortured wail for the most part. The lyrical themes revolve around his apparent personal struggles with himself, the women in his life, his faith and alcohol, but he refuses to be drawn on exact details, insisting “it’s all on the record. Everything I want to say publicly, that is.” While the emotional base is raw and jagged, the audio tone is quiet and soft, inviting a close listen, so I wonder whether instead of looking to relate to other people, that he simply desires to be observed. This gets shot down just as succinctly. “I don’t think it should be observed at all. I don’t get that feeling from it. Not that I wanna be observed, no more than I have to be..”
This is the first body of work that Pearson’s completed and released in almost a decade, since Lift To Experience’s double-album opus ‘The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads’ in June 2001, but again, he’s somewhat evasive when pressed on his motivations to put something out when the inspiration for the songs seems so acutely fresh in the memory. “These songs are way too personal and I didn’t really plan on releasing them, I just happened to be playing some live shows in Ireland and.. they were just going to be for my own cathartic sense, but they really seemed to touch some people, so I weighed it against my own protection and thought that it may be worth it, for them.”
There’s a great sadness at the surface of what Josh does – he wears his battered and weary heart on his sleeve at all times. Though when the subject changes from his music to absolutely anything else, he’s an erudite comedian, wise-cracking about Hull and reciting a ditty he sings when he’s headed for trouble at customs: “Tryin’ to get into London on a passport with no visa/and what these juke joints pay ya, they can barely afford to feed ya.”
“I read a good.. I read a great story one time in the papers when I was there. Some gal had jumped off a bridge to commit suicide, and she wrote across her stomach: ‘cause of death: Julio’, which I thought was beautiful. I mean..” with which he takes a deep breath, as if to inhale the sheer poetic misery. “Just, ah.. what a great image that is. Writing your lover’s name across your belly in permanent ink..”
A simple gesture seems to have him spellbound, and it’s perhaps because it speaks to the part of his personality where his music comes from – his heart is big and open, but wounded and tired.
“You want the best for people.. it’d be a sign that they’ve had a pretty happy, healthy life if my record didn’t move them in any way, so I put it out there for the others that didn’t have that luck.”
Group therapy’s in session, and Josh T. Pearson here to make it all better.
Josh T Pearson plasys the Purcell Room , Southbank 1 April, 2011