‘Clovis’ Sons’ couldn’t be a more fitting opening track for Josh Pyke’s third album ONLY SPARROWS. A song about achieving through struggle, the tension between fate and freewill and the question of whether slicing the threads that bind is necessary for progression, it presents an insight into both the processes and concepts explored by Pyke to create his most assured work to date.
Written on the road and in New York City and recorded back home with ARIA Award-winning producer Wayne Connolly, ONLY SPARROWS is an album that saw Pyke take a leap as an artist.
“From the writing process to the actual recording, I was pushing myself harder than I have in the past, trying to make the record a development, rather than a continuum,” says Pyke. “I kind of think of it as the first record where I felt confident enough to take some risks.”
The risks Pyke talks of are relinquishing some of the control he had over his first two ARIA Award-winning, Gold selling records, MEMORIES & DUST (2007) and CHIMNEY’S AFIRE (2008). With ONLY SPARROWS, he took a step back so he could take a step forward, so to speak, to create an album that pushed him in all the right ways creatively.
“In the past, I tried to play most of the instruments and really have my fingerprints all over every track,” he explains. “I don’t regret that at all as I learned a lot, but I think it made the past records sound like one guy doing stuff separately, trying to sound like many guys doing stuff at the same time.
“On this record, I had amazing players bringing something really special to songs that I’d worked hard on writing and arranging. To me, it makes for a more cohesive record, and allowed me to get more creative, as I was taking a bird’s eye view approach a lot of the time, rather than trying to nail a piano part, or trying to play drums when I have no skills there at all!”
Also adding something new to the process was Pyke’s first writing trip abroad. Following the release of Chimney’s Afire, a lot of changes took place in his life – he started playing in a band again after eight years as a solo artist and he became a father for the first time. Much of the material for ONLY SPARROWS was written before either of these major changes took place, so by the time it came to really thinking about his third record, he felt a little removed from his solo career, and an element of self-doubt began to creep in to his craft. It was then he decided to head to New York to clear his head do some “writing and walking and thinking”.
“I rented an apartment in Greenwich Village and armed with a guitar, microphone and a laptop, I wrote and demoed some more songs to the backdrop of a snow covered New York City. It snowed heavily almost every day and I trudged through beautiful, bleak cityscapes composing songs in my head and then recorded stuff at night. I got ‘No One Wants a Lover’, ‘Love Lies’, and ‘Break, Shatter, Make, Matter’ out of the trip, and really regained my confidence and perspective.
“I realised that the only songs I ever want to write and sing have to be songs that I can stand by for the next 20 years of my life, and that I can’t compromise on what I consider to be the integrity of a song, and the legacy that I want to leave as a musician and also as a father.”
That renewed enthusiasm for songwriting manifests itself on ONLY SPARROWS, an album full to bursting with the sound of an artist who has adopted a new approach to not only his music, but life in general. The notion that we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves colours the record, from the lyrics and music right through to the album title and artwork by James Hancock.
“‘Only Sparrows’ is a paraphrasing of a line from the track ‘Clovis’ Sons’ which is ‘we are only ever little sparrows on a mountainside.’ The imagery of that phrase really stays with me, and I often thought of it during writing and recording – the idea that we are all very tiny cogs in a giant machine, all trying to leave our mark in some significant and meaningful way.
“There’s a hopelessness to the phrase if you want to look at it that way, but I prefer to think of it from the point of view of the next line in that song which says, ‘when the wind comes up and blew away her footing, and forced her into flight’. Sometimes a kind of adversity forces us to get our courage back, and push on and out of the rut we might be in.”
‘ONLY SPARROWS’ IS OUT AUGUST 19, 2011