Interview with Joshoo: His transition to solo artistry, wide-ranging inspiration, and future plans
With a love for songwriting and production, LA-based indie artist Josh Shpak—known by his stage name Joshoo—found an opportunity to dive fully into his solo career over the pandemic after a full year of his former band’s shows were canceled. Influenced by a wide range of artists and genres, from James Blake and indie, to Prince, Daft Punk and dance music, to Kendrick Lamar and rap, and even instrumental music like jazz and latin music, Joshoo found early success after being added to a Spotify Editorial playlist and has continued to rise in the indie scene since.
This past March, Joshoo served up two singles—“Warning Signs” and “Obsession”—filled with catchy hooks, synth breaks, punchy drums, funky basslines, and an overall polished sound and high production quality. With collaborative singles and an EP to come, Joshoo is sure to make huge waves in indie music for the rest of 2022 and beyond.
We spoke to Joshoo about his foundations in jazz and time at Berklee, his experience touring the country with Ripe, his transition to being a solo artist, and his influences.
Read the interview below.
We’re here with Joshoo! Can you introduce yourself for our audience?
Sure thing! I am Joshoo, I’m an artist based in Los Angeles, California, and I'm looking forward to talking with Jordan here.
Can you describe to us your early beginnings in music growing up and what led you to eventually head off to Boston and study at Berklee?
I grew up, actually, as a jazz trumpet player because to me getting into music was really about finding a community for the first time. I started playing music just in my elementary school band like a lot of people do, and it just so happened that a very close family friend was someone that could mentor me in music and give me lessons. So, I started getting really into playing in my elementary school band, my middle school band, and I just really liked playing an instrument and it was really fun. Then, I went to a local music camp where I played jazz and was jamming with people for the first time. I’m from the suburbs, so it’s not like there was a ton of opportunity to see music casually out in the street, so this community thing was the first time I was around a bunch of people who were into the same thing as me. I just fell in love with the music too, I fell in love with jazz and just improvising and just making stuff up—making up stuff from the top of my head. So for a few years, from age 12 to 16 really, I was just obsessed with music and, really, the trumpet and all this older music—all this music from the 1940s through the 1970s. All my friends were listening to pop on the radio and I was listening to all this jazz and latin music and salsa, and just all this instrumental music that was really exciting and inspiring for me, and all my parents’ records from the 70s and 80s—Earth, Wind & Fire, The Beatles, just all this shit. I also got deeper into these communities of young musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up, and we pushed each other to get better because we were all so excited about playing music. I would travel into San Francisco, I would travel into Berkeley, I would travel into Oakland just to meet up with other kids that were excited about music. Later on in high school, like junior year-senior year, I started to get introduced to music from my friends not just from 50 years ago, but current music. I think somebody showed me—there’s like three artists really—James Blake’s self-titled album, it was D’Angelo’s Voodoo, and it was Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, which are all pretty different albums, but I was just like “Oh my god there’s really sick music coming out right now.” I was still so submerged in this jazz world that I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it was enough to be like “Okay maybe I should open my eyes to what’s actually going on right now, not just think all the good shit has already happened and I just wanna make stuff like that.” When it was time to go to college, I was lucky enough to have some scholarships to go to different music schools, and I had gone to a summer camp at Berklee and I’d met hundreds of kids from all over the world that were just so stoked on music and so good—
Especially coming from a place that not everyone around you was super into that, and you had to seek them. Probably going to a place like that was amazing.
Exactly. It was the most fun I’d ever had. I was so excited and I was like “I want more of that, I just want more of that,” and I knew at Berklee I could also learn about a ton of different types of music and just be exposed to the entire world. And yeah, coming from the suburbs that was so huge for me. So, when I was 18 I moved to Boston and started school.
At Berklee and afterwards living in Boston I know that you joined a lot of groups, one of them being Ripe—a great funk-pop band—and you played trumpet and keys for them and you guys toured nationally. How was that experience of touring the country and playing the festival circuit, and doing all of those live shows with Ripe?
It was amazing. We started that band when we were in the first semester of college, when we were 18, and we were just playing house parties and shit. We were playing house parties, and then somebody was like “Yo do you wanna come to my buddy’s college and play a frat party?” and we were like “Yeah, fuck it!” We were playing in basements and the cops would come and we’d have to run out with all our gear. Also, we could tell like “Wow. We’re surrounded by thousands of musicians here at Berklee but no one else is really starting bands?” There were very few bands, so it felt kind of like we had our own little thing going. We started playing out more, and playing local venues, and opening for people that were traveling through, and it was really fun. Around the time that we were all going to get ready to graduate, we had a video go a little bit viral on Reddit, and we had a booking agent reach out to us and he was like “You know you guys are kind of earlier on in the process than I usually like to sign people, but I see something there and I want to sign you guys and just get you touring really hard.” I had the opportunity to go to this really prestigious jazz fellowship that was two years, all expenses paid, learning from the biggest legends alive, and I was like “But you know what, I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band and this is kinda my shot to be in a rock band, with my friends and we just hit it so hard.” So, I turned down the fellowship and I did this. We started from the cut, like seven or eight dudes all crammed into a 15-passenger van with all our gear, buttcheek to buttcheek to buttcheek, sleeping five guys to a two-person motel room. We were really doing the grind thing. It was just amazing to see the more we kept at it and the more times we went around the country, you know, one time around the country, twice around the country, three times- it started being from 50 people in the crowd to 75 people, to 150 people, then my last shows in Boston and New York with the band—which were right before I left the group—we sold 5,000 tickets in each city. Just to see your baby grow like that over time is just so inspiring and fulfilling—it’s amazing. I’m really happy that I left the group to do my own thing and explore some other interests and stuff, but I was a writer on the whole new album that they have coming out with Glassnote [Records], and the first single is on the alt-rock charts and I played all over it. It’s really cool.
You kind of touched on it a little bit, but why did you end up leaving the group and how was that transition experience from being in this group environment to being a solo artist?
I’ve always been as much of a writer as I am a performer, and I’ve always found the actual creative process of making music from scratch to be so exciting and inspiring. I started out as a composer—of instrumental music—because I was making stuff for all these different sized instrumental ensembles at Berklee. I did the film scoring major so I was writing music for short films and ads and movies and shit, but all my favorite music was basically indie or pop or something with lyrics and words. I started to get a little bit more involved with the writing process for Ripe, and then I came out here to LA in 2018, and I did some writing sessions with some friends from college who had gone on to do the producer/songwriter thing. Just the process of making demos and being in the studio and writing I was like “This is a job? This is so fun.” I was mind blown by how this was just a day’s work, this was my friends’ average day’s work, and this is my best day that I’ve had in so long. I just got so excited by it, so for a couple years I just started practicing and writing. I would be on tour, in the tour bus with Ripe, but with my laptop on my lap and my interface under my feet and I’d be writing songs while we’re on the road. I’d be learning how to produce from scratch, really. I got kind of burned out—with Ripe we were playing 100 shows a year, so I was on the road so much, just so, so much time on the road for like four years in a row from 2016 to the beginning of 2020. It was a combination of just being like “Oh my god I’m just getting so burnt out from all this performing and traveling” on top of this new thing that I’m so excited about that I would come back to LA and work with other friends who were doing it every day, and I was like “Damn, unless I really commit to this there’s no way I’m gonna get to where I wanna be. I’m not gonna be able to be the best artist or producer or songwriter that I wanna be, part time.” Then the pandemic hit, and I had a year’s worth of shows with Ripe canceled, and it was kind of like “Okay this is it, now or never.” Ripe was in talks to get signed, everything was happening for the band, and I was like “Okay it’s not gonna get any less intense once we get signed to a label, we’re just gonna play out more.” When I talked to them about it, it was really emotional, they were really supportive of me going off and doing my thing. I came out to LA smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, November 2020, just like “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing but I know that this is the place to be to do the thing that I wanna do, and I’m gonna figure it out.” I didn’t know if I wanted to be putting out solo music, I didn’t know if I wanted to be producing for other artists. Because it was the pandemic and, really, no one knew me as a producer at that point—everybody just knew me as a touring guy—I was like “Yeah, no one wants to get into a session with me for a good reason. They have no music to [reference].” I was just like “Screw it, I’ve been making music, I might as well put it out just to showcase my vibe at the very least.” Then, my third release, one of my tracks got picked up by Spotify Editorial and then all of a sudden more people were hearing my music—not just my friends who were like “Oh cool, man! Nice!” It was really through Spotify that all of a sudden it’s like “Oh shit man! You have a vibe as an artist!” It was really other artists started reaching out to me because of that, “Hey man I like your track, we should work together,” and that’s really how I’ve met so many of the people that I work with today. That was only one year ago, basically from today.
I was going to say! That was super recent!
Yeah, it’s all very recent.
Who are those artists that are driving the Joshoo vibe? What are the main influences for this project?
It’s been kind of a challenge for me, because I have so many inputs. I was telling you about my upbringing being so into jazz and improvised music and stuff like that, when I got older and I started producing, and really even before I started producing when I was writing a lot, the music that really created a world that only it could live in, that was the music that touched me the most. That’s when I started getting into indie music of all types, I said James Blake already, but Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, Beach House, the whole gamut of 2010s indie- Unknown Mortal Orchestra, like whatever. I also just come from this live music and dance, party music background, so I was also really influenced by dance music—Prince, Daft Punk, Anderson .Paak, rap and hip-hop like Kendrick [Lamar], and Tame [Impala]. There’s just such this drive for me to merge this indie world and these all-encompassing worlds with the energy of dance music of all types—electronic music, Black R&B music. That’s been kind of the sonic palette, like “How do I do this?”
Was this your first time featuring your own vocals on your projects?
Yeah, I really only started singing when I was like 25.
Wow! How was that transitioning from doing session trumpet and session writing and session producing to recording your own vocals?
It was really vulnerable. Singing and learning how to write lyrics were both like “Oh my god. I’ve played music for so long and never have I felt like I have to be this vulnerable in a space.” The voice is just like- there’s nothing more you than your voice. I just play a bunch of instruments, and I really went about seeing it in the way of “You know what? It’s just another instrument. I’m gonna learn how to use it.” It’s really fun because the voice is just the most expressive instrument. You can do so much with it, and you have so much control over the sound. With just a tweak I can go from Moses Sumney falsetto to Anderson .Paak raspy rapping, like “Woah, I can’t do that with the fuckin’ piano! That’s crazy!” It’s really been so exciting to get more confident in my voice and start to actually start to enjoy the sound of my voice, not just use it as a “Well I’ve got these songs and beats and shit and like I guess I gotta sing on them because that’s how they’re gonna sound like a song.”
I see it on your social media comments and your Youtube comments—people are noticing, people are loving your voice. In addition to the vocals, you still are doing call backs to your trumpet, so you have your trumpet staying with you through the Joshoo project. How is that blending your prior musical endeavors and your basis for your musical career with your new project?
It just feels like my first love, it feels like my foundation. I have a lot of new music that’s basically done, and the trumpet isn’t featured that heavily on it even though it’s definitely important. I mentioned Anderson .Paak before—he’s such a great drummer and as a fan of his it’s not like I am like “Ah damn, he didn’t play drums on that track!” but whenever he did I’m like “Oh sick! That’s so dope!” To me the trumpet is a thing that I do that most artists don’t do, and it’s something that is really close to me, and whenever it makes it on my music it feels really good. Also, I’m not going to pigeonhole myself into being like “If it doesn’t have a trumpet it’s not a Joshoo track.”
In March you put out two singles, so should we be expecting an EP or an album coming on the way? Is that something that you’re ready to put out or talk about?
I have maybe the last production session on an EP today, and that’s super exciting because it’s been in the works since last summer. One of the tracks, actually, is so old, it’s like the first Joshoo track I ever made—it’s like from 2019 or something. I’m just excited to drop a project because I think with all of these singles coming out—in today’s environment it definitely feels like singles are a smart move, but it’s also as the artist and creator I get cloudy of what the direction is just putting out a tiny snippet—this project feels like a ‘thing’ like “That’s a sound, that’s a vibe, that feels like I could listen to this for however many minutes it is and I’m in the same space.” Coming from that place of all of my favorite artists creating this world, to me that’s a sense of “I can be proud of this thing” because I’ve created a new space for somebody to come live in.
Once you do put that out, are you planning to take it live? You’re no stranger to live performance, so are you ready to take that live? When you do, what should somebody expect from a Joshoo show?
Yeah, definitely planning on taking it live. One of my favorite performers is Thundercat, because he’s such a sick artist and I love his records, but he also—like me—comes from a live music background, and he has no problem making a show a completely different experience than listening to his records. He goes a little harder than I have a desire to, but his records are these chill, alternative, R&B, funk things, and then his shows are like jazz, metal, thrash riffs which are like “Oh my god! What the hell is happening!” Since live performance is such an integral part of my background, I think when you go to a Joshoo show you should expect not to get the record, because that’s just not what I want. I want it to be an energetic-inspired experience. Come in with an open mind ready to dance, ready to sing, ready to take the night as it goes.
Do you plan on doing stuff solo, or possibly having a band behind you?
Definitely with a band, yeah. I did my first show with my band this past Sunday, and that was really fun, and we’re excited to make it better.
What’s next for Joshoo? Besides a possible EP/album coming out and live shows to be ready for, what should people look out for in terms of your project?
People should look out for this new music, people should look out for live shows, and then I’m also planning on putting out some collaborative singles with some artists that are friends of mine that I’m a big fan of. Those are the main things right now.