Josh Pyke: Leeward
“It’s disappointing, I try to make myself not care about chart positions and stuff like that, but I think, you know – I was really keen to try and have all top five albums.”
Earlier this month Josh Pyke’s streak of Top 4 ARIA Chart positions was tainted by Australian retailer giant JB Hi-Fi. An admin error left his fourth LP The Beginning and the End of Everything in a warehouse for almost three days after its intended release. Later he told TMN the screw-up was “like your worst nightmare” – but one could never accuse Pyke of being precious. The Sydney artist wore a brave face during his promo rounds that day as a barrage of messages from confused fans choked his social media feeds and press baited him with pointed questions about his accolades.
For Pyke, it was a conscious fight to push his successes to the wayside while writing his latest opus – even from the humble surroundings of his garage-come-studio in Newtown.
“The minute you start focusing on that stuff in the writing process, I think you’re up against a losing battle […] If I start thinking ‘well I’ve got to write in a particular way so that it will be successful and debut in the top five,’ or whatever, I’d second guess myself and I think I’d screw it up.”
Unsurprisingly, Pyke is much more than the sum of his parts. Three records on the pointy end of the ARIA Chart, numerous award wins, Triple J Hottest 100 nods and sell-out shows were never on his list of goals when he took cues from Chris Cornell at inner-west school, Fort Street High and started writing in drop D.
“I just wanted to make records and maybe be able to quit my job at the record store [Fish Records in Balmain]. I want to stay true to my creative integrity,” says the 35-year-old. “Otherwise I feel like an artist should just get any old job that doesn’t require as much passion and life-force – for lack of a better word – that making music does.”
In the thirteen years that Pyke has been releasing records, his creative and moral stance have subscribed to the same calm, friendly disposition found in 2007 debut Memories & Dust. The release, like the five EPs before it were unassuming and candidly generous. Pyke is constantly dumbfounded by his own merits; when Middle Of The Hill– the first single from his Feeding The Wolves EP – was voted #19 on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2005, Pyke resolved not to interpret success. “[Middle Of The Hill] was a pretty unlikely single, and yet that’s the one that broke me.
“The reality with success is you never know what’s going to be successful anyway, so you may as well make art that you actually love and can stand by for thirty years and that you wrote with integrity.”
The fact Pyke holds artistic credibility so high on his inner list of ethics will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever crossed his path. A self-described “homebody who has to travel a lot”, Pyke’s vivid intent on growing Australian artists has prompted a slew of nation-wide charity events and projects. The most recent saw his Josh Pyke Partnership initiative team with APRA to mentor and financially kick start the career of unsigned musician GOVS. Ostensibly, part of his philanthropy stems from a seasoned career learning to graciously dodge industry pitfalls.
“You’ve just got to play your own game you know, you have to figure out your set of morals and whatever you consider to be your core of integrity – and you’ve just got to stick to your guns. Because over the course of your career and in interviews, things get brought up and decisions have to be made and if you’re making decisions with humility and integrity then you can’t go wrong.
“It might mean that you’ll be less successful than you could have been if you’d decided to write a song with a pop songwriter, and tried to get a top ten single or whatever, which is fine for some people, but it’s not my vibe.”
Pyke says The Beginning and the End of Everything was written “after an intense process of self analysis.” First-time fatherhood percolates each of the eleven tracks, anchoring the harmonies and intertextualising the stories with wide-eyed stir and fear. The record debuted at #7, quashing his top five run, but the idea of Pyke dwelling on anything for too long doesn’t fit his centered convictions, especially when he has a more important creation to rejoice.
“Realising that what I do for a living affects another human being – that I’ve just created – but not only that, realising that this is how I’m actually going to provide for my family. The fact that I was making a living and paying rent and going on holidays, now it’s an actual thing where I have to provide for a family. All those things fed into the creative process and how I was perceiving the creative process. Those things are much more personal intense experiences than I’ve ever had in my life before.”