Josh Ramsay Does Big Reality ‘Show’ On His 18-Song Debut
That ’90s sales slogan “Go Big or Go Home” may have been Josh Ramsay’s secret mantra around his debut album. Multi-instrumentalist, engineer, actor, frontman of Marianas Trench, singer and songwriter, there has always been an element of surprise as to what Ramsay might do next. As a songwriter, Ramsay has worked with multiple artists, even co-writing Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe” and five albums as frontman Marianas Trench. Embracing diverse instrumentation, with a collection of genres, co-writers and guest stars, the Canadian artist has crafted one of his greatest theatrical pieces to date with The Josh Ramsay Show.
Staged around jazz, rock, country, pop orchestras and several instrumentals, the 18 songs of The Josh Ramsay Show is a dramatic work. All spliced between three cinematic instrumentals – “Army of One”, Ballad of Cheeky Valentine” and the weirder “The Deep Woods” – the Show sees Ramsay go from deed to deed, and different movies, from the opening rocker “Lady Mine”, featuring Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and drawing on the country “Best of Me” with Dallas Smith of the Canadian group Default on vocals. “Delirious” is a ravishing pop-rock love song, a duet with Fefe Dobson that could play out as the lovers reunite in a climactic scene. The Josh Ramsay Show takes unexpected twists with the harshest “Painted Faces,” the orchestral “Spellbound,” and the emotional ending to “Miles and Miles,” featuring the artist’s sister Sara.
The Josh Ramsay Show is the culmination of everything that has preceded the artist throughout his career of more than 20 years.
The American songwriter spoke with Ramsay about why it took more than two decades to release his first solo album, write a song for Bryan Adams and how he ticked off most of his music bucket list with The Josh Ramsay Show.
American songwriter: This album feels like a 20-year journey. You wrote, recorded, designed and produced, and played all the instruments yourself. When did you find the time between Marianas Trench and working with other artists?
Josh Ramsay: I’ve always planned to do a solo record, and I have the guys’ full support. [Marianas Trench]. Basically, I always planned to make an album where I played all the instruments myself – that was a list thing for me. There’s a certain thing that happens when a person plays all the instruments, where the feeling magically aligns. No matter what you play, you’ll feel the same. I always wanted to do this at some point, but I never had the time to do it. Working at Marianas Trench and producing other people on the side are both full-time jobs. When the pandemic came and everything was quarantined, all of a sudden I had the opportunity to do something since me and the guys couldn’t get together. The first question I asked myself: ‘you want to do a solo record, what does it look like?’ I wasn’t going to do another Marianas Trench album, so that led me to do as many genres as possible.
AS: The instrumental breaks are very poignant and really make the album sound like a soundtrack. Why did you want to include all three on the album?
JR: Over the years, writing music and arranging stuff, I slowly got used to working in a cinematic type landscape. I can go back to our [Marianas Trench] first album [Fix Me, 2006]. I remember I had a song with a little string quartet in the background, nothing out of the ordinary, but an explosion happened in my head. I can see from that first dream project to the second album, where there was more restraint, then when we got to For all time , it was like complete cinematic stuff. Then with Astoria , I started bringing in the rest of the symphony along with the woodwinds and brass. Now it just became a part of me as a writer. I love using these colors. How are they working on this album? I think they are an act break. He breaks the mood and goes from one thing to another. On Astoria, there was a heavy song called “Dearly Departed”, and I needed to go from that song to a super upbeat song that sounded like The Jackson 5, so it was a very abrupt mood change. It was the first time I thought ‘if I write something cinematic to break the tension here and break the mood, it will take us from this sad place to a place where I can now enter a song more joyful.’ That’s when I realized you could use these things to convey emotions, gradually. You don’t always need singing or lyrics to convey an emotion.
AS: Sonically, all these songs sound like they came from completely different places, but there must be a guideline for you for these 18 songs.
JR: I just wanted to create a great musical adventure. Nowadays, people listen to music in shuffle mode all the time, so the album almost feels like a play with this mix. For me, there is something constraining when you get locked into the thought “I just work in this genre”. I feel creatively framed, so doing that was more, ‘I’m not going to worry about genre and just focus on the most important thing, which is good songs.’ If you’re going to do 18 tracks, you can’t have filler. There is no place to stand still. You have to make sure there is never a dull moment. Musically, I know it’s so scattered. I just had to hold on to my voice sounding like my voice and hopefully that would be a guideline for everything.
AS: Chad Kroeger, Dallas Smith, Fionn, Fefe Dobson, Serena Ryder, Ria Mae, Tyler Shaw and even your sister Sara are on the album. How did each element contribute to the bigger piece for you? Were you ticking off more of my music bucket list?
JR: Absolutely. I was excited to work with Chad because the song sounded like a Nickelback departure and a Marianas Trench departure. I don’t think anyone would expect us to do that. The country song “Best of Me”, which I wrote especially for Dallas [Smith] and her voice since we’ve talked about working together many times over the years. There’s a song called “Can’t Give It Up” (featuring Tyler Shaw), and that song is very adult contemporary, in the sense of something Adele could do. I was originally going to pitch this song to Bryan Adams. I thought hearing his voice in an Adele-type environment was an interesting place to explore, but Bryan was too busy working on his own record – fair enough. Funny story: I was mixing the record downstairs, and he was recording upstairs in the same studio. How Canadian can you become? (laughs) I really wanted to work with Tyler, and that’s not what I would have written for Tyler, but I sent him the song and he sent me a finished vocal the next day, and the song took a any other life than it would have been used in the way it was originally intended.
AS: Writing for several artists and Marianas Trench throughout your career, how was it different from writing for yourself? this time?
JR: I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way to write songs. I think that’s always what interests me. When I co-write with other people, I see how other people work and I find that no one does it the same way. As I have become a more experienced songwriter and a more experienced musician, I think my progress has changed a bit. When I was 16 or something, I would sit on the piano and start playing something or I would sit with a guitar playing gibberish and see what happened. Now I’m much more comfortable and comfortable in my own skin as a writer. When I write songs, I never take an instrument. I’m usually doing something unrelated, like grocery shopping or something, and a tune comes to mind. Then, over the next two days, I’ll work on various chord progressions that I think support the melody. I do everything in my head. Then I go into the studio and start recording, and that’s when I usually write the lyrics.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never force it.
Photo: Becky Kovatch | Big Picture Media