Los Angeles singer/songwriter Joshua Speers has unveiled his latest EP, Summerland. The four-track release features bright, charming compositions, highlighting Speers’ soulful vocals and sweeping organic instrumentation. As a self-confessed hopeless romantic, his music oozes with sincerity, tugging at each and every heartstring. Through warm tones and shimmering, cinematic soundscapes, the EP is some of Speers’ best work to date. Giving listeners a peek into some of his most vulnerable moments, while simultaneously reminding us that life is a crazy journey, but we’re all in this together.
Summerland is a continuation of themes that was touched on in his earlier EP Human Now. Speers' ability to craft authentic, honest music with raw and relatable subject matters is what makes him undoubtedly an artist on the rise.
Variance had the pleasure of speaking with Speers, discussing the stories behind Summerland, his love for poetry and his perfect quarantine companion.
Hi Joshua, Congratulations on the release of your new EP. Summerland definitely sounds like a place we'd all want to escape to — can you tell us more about the meaning behind the name?
Thanks! I stayed in a little motel called the Summerland Inn when I was working on these songs. It sounded so beautiful - like that perfect escape - but in reality was pretty bleak. It reminded me of the cheap summer carnivals I went to as a kid on the east coast. They were bright and sparkly neon but when you pulled back the curtain or ducked behind a ride it all got dark. My childhood had a lot of moments like that; sadness covered with just enough smiles. I think sometimes it’s important to emotionally hold it together at all costs like that and put on a brave face, but inevitably things come undone. These songs are about that tension.
The EP touches on themes such as heartbreak, self-discovery and general life hurdles. Do you prefer to write about relatable topics that listeners can connect with? I know a lot of artists use songwriting as a form of therapy — can you relate to this?
I guess I start by thinking about what I connect with. What feels important to me at that moment. Sharon Van Etten said something like “the more selfish you are with your songs, the more you serve your audience” and I think about that a lot. We all tend to think our feelings are unique and nobody knows what I'm going through(!) but when it comes down to it we’re all the same.
I think it can feel good to write something that has been weighing on you, to get it off your chest. So I guess in that way it is “therapeutic,” but I don’t think about it like therapy. Therapy is hard and exhausting and is a constant practice. I guess that does sound a little bit like songwriting. Come back to me on this one :)
"Get What You Need" is a beautiful start to the EP. Your candid, poetic lyrics are common throughout your songwriting. You also studied poetry at college — what is it about the use of words that fascinates you and do you have a particular process when writing?
I tried hard not to study english in college. Words are kind of like the family business and I wanted to rebel and find my own path. Everyone in my family is either an english teacher or Presbyterian minister and there’s no clear line between literature and scripture. So I grew up around people who spend a lot of time finding meaning in words - sometimes I get fed up and think the world is chaos and nothing ‘means’ anything, and other times I think about how language is the way we try to make order in the chaos.
My process used to feel pretty fragile and I felt like I could only write a certain way. But throughout the course of the pandemic I’ve been forced to change that process, I didn’t have a choice. That was scary at first but now I wonder why I was so afraid of doing it a different way. Most of the time what happens is a phrase comes to me - it falls into my head, or I’ll overhear it in conversation, or I’ll mishear someone else’s lyrics (this has been happening a lot recently) and then the song begins from there. I almost always make that phrase the chorus because it’s the most distilled version of the idea. To me that's what a chorus should be.
"Thunder Blanket" showcases stunning string arrangements. It's a really emotional song. Can you tell us a little about the story behind it?
I brought the beginnings of that song to Dan Wilson and originally it was a pretty bitter song. I was hurting from a recent breakup and the song was angry. I think I was trying to be tough and trying to deny that I was still in pain from the recent loss. I kept saying “I DON’T want to be your thunder blanket” but at some point Dan stopped me and said “yes you do.” He totally disarmed me and allowed me to be vulnerable. He is like the songwriter’s chiropractor - you go to him and he completely realigns you, fixes your bad habits, works out the kinks, and you leave the room a better writer and a better human being.
Rob Moose did the amazing string arrangement. Every time I love a song I find out that he played on it. Like without fail. There will be books written about his influence and involvement in popular music one day.
Do you have a favorite track off the EP and if so, why?
Other People is a special song for me. When I wrote it I liked the verses but I felt like the chorus was flat and didn’t do what a chorus should do. It felt too simple. I wrote another chorus that was flashy and big and had more muscle and brought that version of the song to Tommy English. Tommy hated the new chorus but I kept fighting him on it. I finally showed him the original version and I remember his eyes getting big and he quietly just said “woah.” It was a good lesson in trusting my first instincts and a reminder that the most naked ideas are usually best.
How has 2020 affected your creativity? Has more time at home helped or hindered?
I think it’s done both. I’ve had to go looking for songs instead of just waiting for songs to come to me. I’ve found it really helpful to make time to just drive around aimlessly listening to music. I think it’s the same thing where the good ideas come when you’re in the shower. Something about driving around opens my brain and songs start rushing in. I’ve been teaching pottery classes at the studio where I make work - that has been a very important break from music. It gets me out of my head.
If lockdown was to happen again, who would you want to be stuck at home with?
I’ve got an Instagram book club that I host with my friend Matt Thomson from the band The Amazons where we read the biographies and autobiographies of musicians and discuss/pull them apart from our experiences as touring musicians. We read Questlove’s memoir recently and he’s up there on my list of people I’d like to force to be my friend. As a DJ, foodie, music historian, and player he seems like the perfect quarantine companion.
What does the rest of the year have in store for Joshua Speers?
Right now I’m writing the next record that is supposed to come out next spring/summer. I started looking at vans on craigslist last night. I miss being on tour so much and honestly I sleep so much better in cars so I’m taking baby steps towards the #vanlife lifestyle. I have a bucket list of famous fly fishing rivers out west that I need to start making progress on too!