Interview by Tamara Payne
The Verve Music Group says, “Joshua Payne is one of the most abundantly gifted of a new breed of singer and songwriter, blessed with a big, classically-trained voice and a soul to match.”
As his number-one fan (and cousin), I cannot disagree. Further, his success has been both a blessing from God and a technological miracle. Joshua was born with a profound hearing loss, but following surgery, was able to hear. His parents, both very musical, trained his ear with musical tastes ranging from James Taylor to Prokofiev. Joshua used his talents early on in church and school, but during his youth, his interest in singing was upstaged by swimming, soccer and football.
After sustaining a football injury, Joshua changed his major in college and began formal operatic training. Joshua excelled and earned a number of accolades including eight-time regional and state winner with the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Joshua continued his studies in music, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Memphis. Simultaneously he was an artist-in-residence with Opera Memphis, performing such title baritone roles as Don Giovanni and Sweeny Todd.
After graduating, he moved to Nashville and did odd jobs to support himself while launching his singing and songwriting career. The fruit of this labor was Your Love, My Home, his debut CD on the Verve Forecast label. On this project he collaborated with legendary pianist-arranger-producer Michael Omartian, who has produced 25 number-one hit songs with artists including Christopher Cross, Peter Cetera, Amy Grant, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart and has co-written countless other top songs for an astonishing array of today’s top recording artists.
“Payne’s experience performing live on opera stages made him something of a one-take wonder – he turned in such compelling vocals on the first takes that a couple of the tracks were orchestrated around his performances on the original demos and on several others he delivered impeccable vocals live in the studio with the band on the first take, a rare phenomenon in any recording process,” reports Verve.
Having recently finished a “gig” in Italy, I caught up with Joshua to get his thoughts on forward motion and Mussolini.
Genuine Motivation: Joshua, what was the first song you ever performed?
Joshua Payne: Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell for my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my aunt and my mom and cousin. I was two and I loved Glen Campbell. I remember my grandmother laughing so hard. I think I liked making her laugh.
GM: When was it, and what was it that made you realize you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
JP: I was 22 and I couldn’t put down the guitar. I couldn’t stop writing words. I couldn’t stop the melodies in my head. The melodies had to be sung; the words had to be songs. It was like breathing. Now, I write or I die. It’s not just part of me, it’s defining and involuntary.
GM: Who inspires you?
JP: People, especially the ugly and the strange, inspire me. Abnormal feels the most comfortable to me. Pain is also incredibly inspiring or, should I say, motivating. I want to help folks who are hurting. Writing is medicine for me and my hope is that it could be salve for the masses. And though I can’t force them to take the pills it doesn’t keep me from manufacturing the meds.
GM: Of all of the songs you’ve written, which ones do you feel the most?
JP: The songs I feel most are being written right now. Tunes from the past are getting harder to sing. I remember being so excited about them in their moments, but even those amazing moments subside. Still I try not to cheat an audience who may want to hear something from way back when. They may still be having their moment with that tune. So I do my best to keep the old songs performance-worthy.
GM: Have you gotten comfortable with being on stage, or do you still get nervous?
JP: Always nervous. I’m uncomfortable when I’m not a little nervy before a show.
GM: What encouragement do you give yourself to keep going when you get discouraged when things move slowly?
JP: I step away from it all when I get frustrated. I just put it down and act like I’m never coming back to it. I get busy in the yard or with a building a project or painting or drawing or… Invariably, I do come back to the writing. It is my life blood, but to survive when I hit a wall, I disguise my frustration and compartmentalize. I draw the curtains. Even though I know there will be a better day, I know too that standing in front of the wall or the closed door does not make the present frustration any better. So, I re-imagine and create a new now – the new task, whatever is standing open and right in front of me. The other day I imagined a garden. So, I planted a garden. That put things into perspective. Seeds do flower, but they take a while.
GM: What were you doing in Italy?
JP: I have a friend who is a pop opera singer there. She’s getting to be a big deal. She and I did a gig together in Tuscany and the rest of the time was about seeing the countryside. Though I’ve been all throughout Europe, this was my first time in Italy. I’m already planning my return.
GM: What did you like best and least about being in Italy?
JP: What I liked the least: 1. I didn’t get to take the love of my life. 2. Rome. Mussolini monolith. Over and over I kept hearing “Mussolini was a good man.” If I were president that would be the first thing I’d blow up. it would be like Germany erecting a monolith to Hitler. Wouldn’t fly. 3. Monuments of martyrs enmeshed in catholic pomp and circumstance, when it was the church that killed those saints. Very weird to me.
What I liked the most: 1. The pub across from St. Peters, darts, good beer and great friends. I felt very Italian but very not Roman. 2. See number one. 3. The return trip with my girlfriend. 4. See number three.
GM: What kinds of challenges or obstacles does your career pose when it comes to romantic relationships?
JP: Ha! Name one it doesn’t. Initially, you have to be willing to be alone to do this gig. Girls don’t usually go for poets with guitars who are broke. Then, on the other side of it, there is the whole fan fantasy thing – women throwing themselves at you. You gotta be vigilant about what you know to be true ‘cause this can get best of you early on if you get caught up. I’ve come up slow. I’m grateful for it. Lasting love at home is way better than fleeting love on the road. Backstage is for the band. No compromises here. We protect each other. After a while the circus becomes what it is, and you get used to all the screaming in the hall. You laugh, call home, say I love you and go to the next show wishing you were home.
GM: Does your career track come with certain occupational hazards spiritually? What are some of the specific temptations you have to fight?
JP: Again, yes! All of them. This is the road less traveled for a reason. But I’m becoming. Every day I see myself growing outside of what is comfortable. There is nothing about the music world that is normal. It’s like tripping through life on purpose and to the outsider, it looks very accidental.
GM: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now in your career?
JP: I see myself on stage performing most days. I see myself writing with the best writers in the world. I see myself in good company, happy, benevolent, trusted, loved, caring and cared for… Creating.
GM: Ten years ago, did you ever think you would be where you are now?
JP: Ten years ago I was on a path that I eventually abandoned – a bad move. But I always thought I might wind up in Nashville. It’s tough and likely tougher than I thought it would be but, I’m here, and I’ve got gigs on the calendar. It’s a good day.
GM: If you could go back in time, would you have done the same things? Chosen the same career?
JP: I used to go back in time all the time, and I’d kick myself for taking the wrong roads here
and there and… bad move. Shoulda, coulda woulda! What a horrible, troubling place to be. Sure, I would have done some things differently. I do believe in right and wrong paths, but I’m where I am, and it’s not my job to redeem it. So I sleep easy, I wake up, I hit my knees, I pray for grace and understanding, and I walk or sit. Both are forward progress and sometimes sitting is the faster road.
GM: What lessons have you learned through this process?
JP: Follow the steps that are ordered. Forget your own way. Do not self promote. Despise that route even if the silent approach takes longer. Be still, hone your craft and wait. Timing is everything. “For such a time as this…” God knows your address.
GM: What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking a shot at the music industry?
JP: Do it and do it all the way! Learn it and learn it all the way! Go to school until you can’t go anymore and go for music. Do not give yourself a safety net. Do not take accounting or business or… Ok, so let me back up. First, go ask someone who is really really really good if you are any good. If you aren’t, ask someone else, then ask someone else. Ask a poet if he likes your lyric. Ask a preacher if he likes your heart. Look for clues that there might be something special about your approach – something unique. We can learn anything but we can’t learn to be great. That’s something you are born with.
As frustrating as this business is, the only reason I’m still doing what I do is because there are a handful of people out there that tell me how great they think I am and they are some of the most respected people in the business. I decided with much convincing to actually believe them. Things seem to be sorting themselves out. I’m grateful.
Get to know Joshua Payne better at his personal blog. Here’s the editor’s pick from his recent posts.
The Value in Running – May 30, 2010
there is a value in running. you see the pop fly, its going to land behind you. you turn your back on it and run. you turn back to the ball, look up and your brain has done the math – its right in front of you. when the forest is thick and dark there’s nothing to do but climb out. when the map turns like z’s and w’s strung together in spaghetti salad you.. not sure. anyway, when conversations gain heat, announce that you are going to get away and then retreat. and in that place of respite let it be just that – respite. there are rules here; do’s and don’t do’s galore. don’t fret, don’t curse, don’t pout, don’t drink, don’t doubt, don’t panic, don’t hit things, don’t worry and especially don’t worry about the other party, just don’t. do sing, do work, do hope, do love, do yell but only once and only if no one can hear you, then get back to singing and working. if you think about the other person, think only beautiful thoughts. pray for their peace and understanding, then get back to you. this time is for discovery about YOU. discover if your foundation has been shaken. discover if you are as strong as you’d like to be and then repent. how good are you? how lovely are you? how peaceful, gentle are you? how ugly are you? discovering ones self, its an art form. it is the art form of man. eventually you will die yes but why not live a goodly lovely giving life till then. you are practicing your eternity. step away, grow and come back better. likely, when you turn around, your love is standing right in front of you. your brain has done the math. go to her. catch her with your gentleness. even if she isn’t with you yet, she will be, and your kindness does not depend on it. love covers multitudes..