Interview | Josh Osho [May 2015]

“I want to say an album – because it’s true – but… It’s just so much more than that right now”. With almost a hint of guilt in his voice, Josh Osho attempts to enlighten us with an idea of what he is currently working on in the studio, though resists describing too much in fear of not doing it justice. Despite his initial hesitance, he continues, “It’s difficult to say it’s just an album… When we’re in the studio we’re thinking, ‘We live for one time and one time only’, and it’s not just about one album or the next album, it’s about how we can expand as humans beyond the album and in every facet of our lives”. Profound comments like these seem to stem from an attitude Osho has adopted toward not only his music, but also toward the way he interprets life in general. A man accustomed to struggles, Osho’s personal life and career as a recording artist has seen him overcome many obstacles to develop into this young man.

Osho signed his first record deal with Island Records in 2011, when he was just 18-years-old. His style – mostly a mixture of Blues & Folk music, with a splash of R&B – brought Osho to the attention of the major record label and was seen as an opportunity not to be missed, though he looks back at his time with Island with mixed emotions, “I’ll be honest, I’m not going to try and act like I didn’t get duped. A lot of artists will either be really bitter – and I understand that because I’ve been bitter – or a lot of artists are like, ‘I knew all along, I was just playing the game’. I got duped. I was an 18-year-old kid with honest intentions to create, but it’s not as simple as that. Honest intentions don’t get you from A to B”. Osho, like many young artists in similar circumstances, was experiencing the key difference between being an independent musician and being part of a major label. “Other things were coming into play that I didn’t know [about], so at the beginning I definitely felt in control just because I had my guitar in my hand, I was making music and I was in the studio. That’s as far as it went for me. Whilst you’re content, everyone else around has their intentions and they’re moving things to make sure that your contentment is guiding you down a certain road”. This particular road that Osho speaks of was narrow, constricted and encroached on his creativity. He continued, “I’d probably say after the Giants video that – as far as I was being represented – it wasn’t really in alignment of where I was”.

In keeping with his stylistic origins, some of Osho’s biggest musical influences are Lauryn Hill, Nick Drake and Donny Hathaway, so naturally he would have liked to follow in their footsteps in terms of his artistic direction. Osho explained just how much of an affect Hathaway had on his musical maturity, “There was a little while where Island Records thought I should do vocal training”, he explains. “And it’s funny – the vocal teacher, she didn’t necessarily think so [too]. She was like, ‘Someone you would really love because he had character and incredible control [of his voice] – Donny Hathaway’. Ever since, man… Before I interacted with his music I didn’t really have any vocal inspirations because I wasn’t really a vocalist, I didn’t see myself as a vocalist. I was writing a lot and I sang just as an instrument to translate my ideas and express myself, and when I heard Donny Hathaway, ever since he’s just sent me on the path to really understand my voice better as an instrument”. Osho speaks passionately of Hathaway, who is an obvious influence both from his conversation and his performance; with his stage show being a testament to that.

Irrespective of this, Osho feels there was an agenda to align him with a “certain urban audience”, and this was done most notably through who he was paired with musically. On his debut album, the two guest appearances came from Wu-Tang Clan member and Hip Hop legend Ghostface Killah, as well as the multi-talented Childish Gambino. Osho was enthusiastic in his praise for both the aforementioned artists, and fully appreciated the time spent working with them as well as, to a certain extent, showing some understanding as to why the collaborations occurred. “It’s been 6 months now and I’m doing shows and the people are loving it and it feels right, but why is it not translating on radio? Why is it not translating in the interviews?” His rhetorical questions are met with appropriate hush. “People are asking me questions about when I used to sell drugs and that wasn’t even a big part of my life. People wanted to focus on an element that allows them to feel comfortable in how I’m being represented. We understand that story, we’ve had it so many times, so let’s put that one there. We understand the idea of a black artist being ‘urban’, working with Hip Hop artists, with Grime artists or R&B singers. We don’t understand the idea that there’s an artist that wants to dress this way and wants to play blues or folk or make those references, so we’re not going to entertain that”. Osho’s shrewd assessment is delivered with a trace of frustration that he didn’t come to this conclusion sooner.

If he had done, there is a chance that Osho could have released the debut album he intended back in 2012, instead of what was the eventual product, L.I.F.E, “It’s not that I would change it, it’s that I would just release the album we had before [I signed to] Island Records”, Osho clarifies. “In a way it kind of burns me because I can’t even remember [how the album originally sounded], I just know what we recorded… I just know that there was so much time spent on musicality. I used to spend 3 hours a day – before we even went into the studio – burning through these songs, playing every single guitar part again and again and again”. At this point, Osho frantically lists various elements of the recording and production process that were omitted from the final album, “We went up to Angel and recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a 32-piece orchestra and you would never f**king know. And it’s not even just about me and why I get frustrated, it’s the level of craft that went into it”.

It would have been understandable, if ill advised, for Osho to criticise every aspect of his experience with Island Records, but instead he used the experience as an opportunity to learn and mature. He showed his understanding of the situation by declaring, “Success, in economic terms, creates a fear factor, and I think humans naturally have a tendency to create walls around things they fear. Sending someone to a vocal coach or getting someone to collaborate with someone that’s had previous ‘success’ is a dynamic that we all use at times”. Osho recognises that any difficulties that he faced during his association with Island were not personal gripes, and accepts that it is just part of how the system works, “As far as being able to analyse [his relationship with Island Records], the first thing is removing yourself. A record label’s job is… We all know it’s a product game. I’m not saying it as a bad word, that’s just what it is. So, their main motive is to make sure at all times you’re aware of yourself. You know, Josh Osho – The Artist”. He elaborates further on how these motives can affect the artist, “Even if you don’t become big headed outwardly, it doesn’t matter, you’re conscious of yourself all the time. You sit down and you write and you say, ‘Ok, cool. What would Josh Osho say?’ You’re thinking of yourself in 3rd person”. A moment of silent consideration followed as those in attendance absorbed the concept.

Just as powerfully as he controls the room with his musical performance, Osho also does so with his dialogue, and by this point he was in full flow, “And not just the record label – this is the thing – we all contribute to it, I was a part of contributing to it without even realising. I remember – and it was on the John Doe EP, and that’s what that whole EP was about – the idea of a John Doe is someone with no identity and the first record on it was called ‘Forget, To Remember’ – forget who you think you are, to know who you really are. Remove all the ideas of who you think you are – it might be a record label, it might be an Auntie, a friend, an insecurity – that creates this identity that you end up using as a filter for all your expression”. These philosophical messages that Osho postulates were learned in difficult circumstances, which only reaffirm his belief in them.

Osho’s eventual split with Island Records, in addition to other, more significant factors in his life, allowed him to reassess his career and his overall perspective, “When you get removed from a record label – not just from a record label, any environment that you very strongly identify with – it creates space. It creates an openness in your mind”. This openness led him to spending extensive periods abroad, travelling to New York and across central and southern America. When questioned about his time in New York, Osho responded with a reflective hum, while holding his finger to his chin. The room exploded into laughter before Osho explained, “Everyone’s immediate reaction is, ‘Oh, that must mean it was bad?’ then I say, ‘Well, no’ ”. There is a slight pause before he justifies his outlook, “Just imagine someone asked you after life, ‘How was life?’ the first thing you would do is exactly what I did. You’re not going to go, ‘Oh, I really enjoyed it’, you’re going to go to say that then say, ‘Whoa…’ If we sit and be honest and recollect our years, besides the memories we’d like to remember, enjoyment is probably the least [appropriate word we’d use]”. Osho goes on to describe how New York’s spectrum can be paralleled with life’s itself – some good, some bad, but ultimately it’s what you make of it. Not only did his time in New York make a mark on his character, but it affected his vocal performance as well, as the singer/songwriter revisited his vocal growth. “A massive part of it was busking in New York. I had to sing really loud to compete. So, it makes you go into your voice even more and also the tunnels ring out, so when people weren’t in there you’d play around – everyone would do it – you’d play around and just hear where your notes could go”.

Osho is currently in the midst of working on new material and is spending a lot of time in the studio, although he admits there isn’t a definitive plan for the music as of yet. “I really don’t know where this space or where this creativity is going to take all the people involved, but of course an album is part of it”. Though what he has been occupied with is considered new, Osho stressed that it is really his original sound, “This is the thing; when the new music comes, people are going to be like, ‘Oh… Ok, cool’. This is not new. This is what I’ve done. This is what I do. The only difference is that [my previous album] had gone through a filter, which again, I am not condemning, I’m just saying that’s what happened”.

With that being said, Osho could not reveal any potential release dates, but he did give details of another forthcoming project, “I’m working really hard on making sure I get this short film out and done by this summer – Losing Sight, Gaining Vision is the name of it. Besides the moral and the narrative of it, I think it just gives a good offset to where I am now. It’s narrated by the music of now. There will be voice memos from when I wrote the songs in the film”. Josh Osho’s attitude toward his life and career is both refreshing and inspiring, with his new music likely to follow suit.

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