Welcome to the first installment of “Before They’re Famous.” My name is Andy Reed, and the idea is a simple one: what happens when you combine the drive for higher education with a never-ending Rolodex of band press kits and social media pages? With a cup of coffee and a great deal of patience, I look and listen for the next young somethings out there to give them a moment in color. Shine on you crazy diamonds, and let it be known that this is the moment in time before you were famous.
Somewhere in Flushing Queens, NYC, the four-piece Josh Gachette & His Pioneers are painting the psychedelic country genre their own shade of bold. Gachette, 25, started writing Pioneers as a sunshine pop album in 2011, sculpting his western shoegaze soundscape in the studio and in between classes at CUNY into the intrepid sonic expedition that it is today. Pioneers (2019) is a unique record that draws parallels between urban renewal and colonialism, gentrification in the shadow of imperialism and reconciliation of identity within a nation in conflict. After listening to a few songs, I reached out to Josh and his band of journeymen for their take on the lessons and experiences gleaned along the path of musical discovery. Typical listeners of country music may want to take their boots off and sit a spell.
You are pursuing a Master’s in Labor and Urban Studies. What kinds of challenges have you faced pursuing higher education? Any conflict between school and the pursuit of your music career?
Josh Gachette: School is expensive — especially the name brand variety. I haven’t had any conflict with balancing school and music, no. I never had the goal of becoming a professional musician, and I enjoyed a lot of things about academia. I procrastinated by writing music though, and my grades suffered as a result. John E. Appleseed took my GPA down a bit. That’s the sacrifice I made to write the songs on the album, though. I love writing essays and an album seemed the musical equivalent of an essay.
What can you tell us about your recent release, Pioneers?
J: The melody came first on this album, so I had to make the words fit. It was hard to lose words that I really care about. The masochist in me liked those boundaries though, because I can ramble when I write. “Pioneers” feels like the single project to me, and it’s a mosaic of individual songs — as opposed to these single songs I worked out making a constituent whole. I started writing it in 2011. I’d been a drummer for six years at that point, so I knew how to mess up on guitar while keeping time. I did that for another six years, on guitar, bass, banjo and flute and those happy accidents composed the album.
The last song on the album, “Hinterlands,” is one of the first I wrote. Years ago I’d made a demo of it on hand percussion, stylophone, harmonica, flute, and bass — I was convinced it was as good as anything I could ever produce. So in the presence of our mutual friend I asked my old friend Jeremy Carroll to help me clean up the track on Garageband, so that I could post it on Soundcloud. I’d been his session drummer for a couple years, and I thought he was a really talented producer. He refused to clean “Hinterlands” up, saying some version of “if we’re gonna do this we’re gonna do this right.” It took four years, but we’ve gotten it right.
Besides producing it, Jeremy played most of the string parts on Pioneers, and keys, and mastered it. He’s been a venerable one-stop shop of epic proportion. He’s the godfather, for sure.
You used Kickstarter to fund your album. What was that process like? Is Kickstarter and crowd-sourcing an effective method of fundraising for musicians?
J: Brainstorming the Kickstarter campaign was really fun. Stressful and disappointing at times, but ultimately super fun. I loved infomercials as a kid, and I think there’s a really cool evangelical underbelly to how they pitch products. I thought of the Kickstarter as an evangelical pitch, or like Howard Beale with a bit of Mister Rodgers who saying he’s mad as hell but also welcoming you into the neighborhood.
But the campaign was totally different from how I’ve gotta brand myself as an artist. I think there are two types of artists on Kickstarters: amateurs with a pilot project, and professional musicians with a new big project to fund. Professional musicians have fans, but i didn’t have that cultural capital to turn to to fundraise. So I can’t speak to how established, professional musicians feel. I started the Kickstarter before I was a professional musician. But i can say that as an amateur, Kickstarter forced an identity crisis out of a me. I’d recommend any new artist who’s going to use Kickstarter to really do some soul searching. It can incentivize you to shuck and jive. But at the same time a lot of Kickstarters fail because the goals are too high or a musician doesn’t brand themselves well enough. In that sense, Kickstarter can be a really good selective filter or creative incubator.
Who are your influences? Who has impacted your sound the most recently?
J: Debussy and Ravel are super cool, as is Shigeo Sekito. I watched a lot of Vietnam documentaries as a kid, because it seemed like the best way to understand the Afghanistan War. In turn, I got way into the 60’s counterculture. John Phillips is maybe my favorite songwriter, loathsome as he is. His take on L.A. country has a lot of heart.
In a few words, what makes a song good? What makes it great?
J: A good song hits the “golden” ratios harmonically and rhythmically. I don’t know what those are mathematically, but I know them when I hear them. A *great* song on the other hand, takes that perfection then bends it into something that resonates across time and cultures — like a hypnotic tuning fork. A great song is smarter than it seems!
What does 2019 look like? Anything on the radar?
J: I’m excited about my brochures! So far we’ve finished one, with another on the way — brochures modeled after national park field guides, that elucidate the ways that urban life reflects frontiersmanship. I’ve got a new EP on the way too, called Yampee. This one feels properly country in a way that Pioneers didn’t. I understand country music better after having my heart broken, which Yampee is based on. (It was a saccharine pang.) If I can I’d like to play all the instruments on that one, kinda like an unhinged Skip Spence i.e. OAR vibe. We’ll see what comes of that, but I love thinking of that messy fraught energy juxtaposed with the scholastic poise of the pamphlets. My discography is making its own Jekyll and Mr. Hyde split, it seems.
Expecting big things out of Josh and his band in the months to come. You can listen to Pioneers below: