Written by Melissa O’Donovan | Photographs by Tony Proudfoot
I first saw Joshua Seymour play live in January 2015 as a solo artist; just him and his guitar. Seymour has been a co-writer and singer for Cherrywood, a Melbourne punk-grass band, playing mandolin and guitar. But now, as his own frontman, he is thoughtful, quiet, almost lonesome. Like strong Scotch, from the earth down the gullet, Seymour’s smokey vocal tones mix peat and fire to recount lyrical tales of love lost, experience gained and misfortune accepted through a sigh of stoicism. In his songs and personal philosophy there lives a romantic and practical reflection on living.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Joshua Seymour to talk about what drives him as a songwriter and music maker, where his mind and heart resides, and what he hopes to share most with people through his music. I found a gentleman with a primary interest in quietude and a respect for listening. A person who thinks and feels deeply and expresses himself through a poetic language that taps into our other sense, the mystical part of ourselves, that profound intuition where language is an indicator not a dulled dictator.
Seymour’s debut album, Rope Tied Hope, was launched on Saturday 28 June 2015, at The Toff In Town, Melbourne (full photo set below). The album’s title track describes a whale, bound yet hopeful, with a mix of optimism and fatalism that runs throughout the album, minus any sentimental pity. There are twelve songs all written by Seymour and produced by Jason Vandygriff, with assistance from lead guitarist Coach Nelson. Rope Tied Hope was recorded in a six day sleep over in a barn in Argyle, Texas in May of 2014. Waking hours spent in engineer David Willingham’s The Echo Lab, with breakfast taken in the town of Denton nearby. When Seymour relates stories of this time, there is a twinkle and smile that tells of camaraderie, peace in the country conducive to writing and authentic collaboration to make Seymour’s songs breathe. He loves Texas; it’s the only place he really misses, a feeling influenced by the good people he stayed with. Seymour says the album is the ultimate live experience, and every live performance is different due to the band’s responses to one another and the audience. Seymour mentions that they listened to a lot of ‘yacht rock’ during the three week recording and mixing period, wanting to harness that laid back attitude of the 1980s.
‘Wish It Well’ is a song set on the Cliffs of Moher in the West of Ireland. Written there when Seymour was visiting with family. Seymour’s wife is Irish. He decided to get off the boat going to the Aaron Islands for some alone time, walking across the green grass to lunch in the pub. I’ve been to these cliffs, popular with tourists. Like other sheer cliffs, people go missing here, go down. It can be a place of contemplation, of mighty and cold atlantic winds, a doorway into what is next. When I listen to Seymour and Rope Tied Hope I am reminded of the way the Irish utilise the English language as a malleable system of symbolic sounds and rhythms. The deep greens, browns and grey blues of the landscape, with it’s visceral Celtic ancestry, keep rising in my mind. Seymour’s character leans toward an older way of considering life. It is not by coincidence that his music gathers space and rhythms that refer to a preindustrial era of people’s more direct interrelationship with the land and one another.
Making this album has given Seymour a chance to delve into the topics that occupy him. Our conversations touch on these themes: towns, family, names, weather, landscape, death and temporality, turbulent relationships of love, betrayal, divorce, moving on, integrity, friendship, the sound of instruments and silence, choice vs fatalism and the wheel of fortune, poetry, quiet and writing in the night. Producer Vandygriff had a rule that each element of the track must be essential, a feature, or else be cut. Seymour seeks to pare back to the honesty of the song, only keeping what is necessary, thereby allowing space for presence, vulnerability and grace. For this, I have especially enjoyed playing Seymour’s album, either purposefully listening or as the mood for my space. Sometimes I cannot understand the lyrics which is almost Seymour’s intent. He says he often chooses words based on their sounds which pushes the voice into an instrumental role. What struck me most when I first saw Seymour singing was his husky voice, yes, but the peculiar way he moves his mouth. Like he’s chewing tobacco.
To make his music come alive, Seymour has chosen a skilled band of Melbourne musicians renown for their listening and intuitive abilities. They integrate melody with atmospheric emotion without drowning the lone front voice. As on the album, there is only Seymour singing live. Drummer Simon Edwards and lead guitarist Coach Nelson are due to tour Rope Tied Hope across the US with Seymour late October 2015 as organised by Seymour’s Washington/Texas based record label, Lucky Buck Records.
My impression of Seymour is that of a farm boy under a big sky, gum boots in the mud, his face in the breeze off the river, walking among tall corn stalks back to his house made of poetry books.