Singer-songwriter Josh Rouse’s fourth album 1972 is, as one might expect from the title, rooted in Rouse’s love of that era’s musical offerings. But don’t expect kitschy references to Seventies pop culture or flat out mimicry of the decade’s biggest artists. “I’m not trying to sound like Neil Young at one moment or the Rolling Stones the next,” Rouse says. “But this is what I was listening and that’s what I was referencing.”
It’s an interesting move for Rouse, whose early work already reflected a Seventies influence, combining folk and alt-country with leanings towards punk and new wave. But last year’s Under the Cold Blue Stars moved in a slightly more soulful direction, with the title track showing off Rouse’s ability to create rhythmic, groove-oriented rock. With 1972, Rouse has fully immersed himself in the decade and emerged a little more exposed, his humor and influences on his sleeve, and with an album that you could dance or at least shake your hips to.
“To be honest, when people go see shows they kind of just stand there and it can get tiresome,” Rouse says. “From touring so much, we tend to make more up-tempo sets so I thought, why not make people want to move a little bit. Let’s do a record that can go out and the crowd feels good the whole time.”
While musically, his inspiration dates back a few decades, his lyrical influences were contemporary. A big fan of Wes Anderson, Rouse found himself watching the director’s films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) with particular attention to the level of detail visually, the nuanced creation of characters and the subtle, wry humor. All of these things had always been present in Rouse’s work, though his stories are becoming more explicit. Under the Cold Blue Stars was a narrative album about the married life of a couple in the Fifties. And Rouse has always had a sharp wit, slightly obscured by the moody earnestness of folk and new wave. But with a better groove and bouncier beats, Rouse’s irony shines through. He used the pleasant and sometimes not so pleasant random encounters of touring to let his inner storyteller out.
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“James” is an ode to the devoted patron of a karaoke bar in Atlanta. “I was doing Michael McDonald on karaoke,” Rouse admits “and someone got me a beer I didn’t want, so I gave it to this guy that was sitting there and he just thought that was too nice. He looked like the type of guy who just sat in there all day and drank and he’d been doing it for a long time. He never told me too much but it was enough for a song.
“My intention was to do a record that had a great groove with songs that had interesting lyrics and were about something and I’m pleased with the way it turned out.”
Rouse will begin a U.S. tour behind 1972 in early October, with fellow singer-songwriter Leona Naess opening.