Josh Garrels: The master songsmith takes a look back at his early recordings

Wednesday 19th February 2020

'Early Work Vol 1: 2002-2005' is a retrospective of the first recordings by JOSH GARRELS. Tony Cummings reports.

Josh Garrels (photo: Michelle Garrels)
Josh Garrels (photo: Michelle Garrels)

In the opinion of Cross Rhythms, Josh Garrels is one of the finest singer/songwriters on the music scene. His albums, such as 2011's 'Love & War & The Sea In Between', 2013's 'The Sea In Between: Audio Soundtrack Live From Mayne Island', 2015's 'Home' and 2019's 'Chrysaline', have all gained coveted 10-square Cross Rhythms reviews, while his masterly combination of folk music, electronica and hip-hop have made him an admired figure in both the Christian and non-Christian arenas. Now, the songsmith from South Bend, Indiana has taken a retrospective look on some of his earlier recordings with the release of 'Early Work Vol 1: 2002-2005'.

Josh spoke about his 15-song compilation. "The songs on this album were recorded between the years of 2002 and 2005 in Muncie, Indiana. At that time, I'd just met the Lord in a radical way and had dropped out of art school to live in a church intern house with 14 other guys. We lived a sort of loose monastic existence including prayer, Scripture study, and roasting coffee in the church where we interned as unpaid staff. At night we gathered together for meals and took turns sharing the one room in the house that was set aside to be a place of solitude and creativity. In that room I had a corner, and in that corner I set up a low-budget bedroom studio where I began to record the new sounds that were in my heart. I'd grown up skateboarding, abusing drugs and listening religiously to punk rock and East Coast hip-hop. When I came to faith, not only was my soul set free, but my relationship with music was transformed as well. Songs became the place where I could work out my faith, find language for my experience and somehow interact with the God who saved me. It was from this unassuming but precious time and place that I began my journey as a songwriter."

The first album released by Garrels was the rare 'Stone Tree', which came out in 2002. He wrote, somewhat ruefully, "The only way to get your hands on a copy was to buy a home-burned CD with photocopied cover at one of my local shows, or to write my hotmail account and ask for me to mail one to you. My second release, 'Underquiet' (2005) was part live show, part studio album, and was released in conjunction with my sister Gala, friend Sara, and soon-to-be wife Michelle's independent press, Bellywater. These albums found appreciative listeners, who by word of mouth helped spread the music around the world, which in turn created opportunities. Without the traction created by these early albums I wouldn't be where I am today. Yet, about a decade ago I made the decision to bury both albums and take them off the market. Why? Well, there were cover songs I'd recorded without permission, but even more concerning and troublesome were all the uncleared looped samples I'd used to create unmistakable hooks in many of the songs. For those unfamiliar with sampling; I would check out stacks of obscure albums from the local library, listen for an interesting musical or rhythmic moment, record that small section into a hardware sampler, trim it, loop it, and begin to record my own song on top of the sampled loop on my 8 track recorder. Sampling was the backbone of most the hip-hop I grew up on, and also the cause of many lawsuits and legal battles in the music industry. Better safe than sorry, I erased the presence and availability of my early work from the public."

Josh continued, "Years later I still get asked about these vanished albums. Over the past few years I've slowly gathered the old recordings, dusted them off, and painstakingly transferred them to a modern mixing setup. I kept all the original vocals and instrumentation that I'd recorded between 2002 and 2005, but I pulled out all uncleared samples from the songs. I did my best to recreate the vibe and feel of the original samples, but it's inevitable that these new versions will sound a bit different to those familiar with the old recordings. Another change to take note of is that these songs have been professionally mixed and mastered to tape. The original recordings were unmixed, mono, with no effects. . . truly lo-fi. All in all, it's been a fun labour of love for me to prepare these old songs to re-emerge into the light of day. I hope these songs will bring a smile to the face of those who've been traveling with me from the start, as well as those who are hearing my origin story for the first time." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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