Joshua Radin Comes Up for Air
Until this year, Joshua Radin had never been underwater. Told he had a hole in his eardrum as a child, the singer-songwriter’s ear eventually mended on its own, enabling him to take a plunge he had never thought possible. Relocating from New York to Los Angeles last year, the Ohio native’s fourth album, Underwater, alludes to the literal act of submersion as well as the metaphyiscal act of conquering one’s fears and moving forward.
“On my last record, I felt there were too many cooks in the kitchen. I had to get back to who I am,” says Radin, 38, of The Rock and the Tide, released in 2010. It was an experiment, a louder set of songs written expressly for outdoor festivals like Glastonbury and the Balboa Beach Music Festival. That’s where we caught up with him as he kicked off his nationwide tour, which ends tomorrow night at the Wiltern. Radin longed for the acoustic, string-laden roots of his earlier work — songs that felt like he was performing in a living room and underscored poignant moments in Scrubs, Garden State and, at her request, Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding.
Radin and producer Kevin Augunas invited a handful of his favorite musicians, most of whom he’d never met, to record his newest album at Sound City Studios, the birthplace of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Radin landed legends like Benmont Tench, co-founder and pianist of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers; Jimmie Haskell, composer and string arranger on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; and Jim Keltner, drummer for supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. The process was something of a throwback; the band recorded entirely to tape and without a single computer screen in the studio.
“I couldn’t believe these musicians said ‘yes’ to recording with me,” says Radin. “If you’re a solo artist, you usually bring in a band, and you want them to play what you have in your head. This was the first time I walked into the studio every day and said, ‘Here’s my song. What do you hear? I will never tell you what to do.’”
Not one to get emotional over music, least of all his own, Radin was overcome when he heard Tench play the aged Steinway at Sound City. “Every hair on my body stood. My eyes started to well up,” he recalls. “Kevin and I were both sitting there listening to Benmont, trying to hide our eyes, saying ‘Hey, how ‘bout those Lakers?’”
He was guided not only by the input of veterans like Tench but by the instincts of Blake Mills, a 25-year-old session guitarist and producer who has accompanied everyone from Jackson Browne and Julian Casablancas to Fiona Apple and Lucinda Williams. “That kid is the future of music,” says Radin of Mills, a founding member of L.A. folk band Dawes. Mills also casually released an impressive solo album, Break Mirrors, in 2009 at age 22.
Radin, on the other hand, didn’t pick up the guitar until age 30. His relative youth as a musician means he trusts lifelong players like Tench and Mills with his work. “Blake is touched. He totally changed my song ‘Anywhere Your Love Goes,’” Radin says. “It’s so rare to find someone who takes a song you love and his first instinct is to change it, yet you find it instantly so much better.”