Interview with Josh Rennie-Hynes
By Rob Dickens
Australian singer/songwriter Josh Rennie-Hynes has been living in Nashville for a few years now. Some celebrated solo outings and a successful pairing with Stephen Grady, under the moniker The Ahern Brothers, laid the foundation for a strong career in his native land.
But he sought something more. He manoeuvred his way through the requirements of working in the United States for a significant period, headed to the city with the most, and most-gifted, musicians on the planet, endured the pandemic away from his loved ones and radically changed his music.
In 2018 when I was soaking up AmericanaFest, Josh was playing a gig at The Local in Nashville’s West End as one of the last shows of a busy program. Earlier that day in that venue I had seen Kaia Kater, Paul Cauthen, Romantica, Sam Morrow, Whitehorse, Alejandro Escovedo, Asleep At The Wheel and Earls of Leicester. By early evening, the rest of my party had departed and most of the other punters as well. Undeterred Josh put in a terrifically energetic set of his new material, forging a new, exciting direction.
It was time to see how he has been going, four-years-plus on.
LTTL: Last time I chatted with you was at Americanfest in Nashville in 2018. You had recently moved to the US and were embarking on a change of musical direction, ultimately leading to Day Rage being released last year. That album cover in particular seemed to be emphasising a point of difference, as much as the songs. Tell me why the change of direction, were you trying to get away from the soft harmony ballad sound?
JRH: Hi Rob, nice to talk with you again. I moved here in 2018 on the back of receiving the Nashville songwriters residency from the Australian Arts council. I’d just left Australia and my duo, The Ahern Brothers and moving to the US was a return for me to my solo career. I’d felt the pull to move to the US for a while and it was something I felt I just had to do. I moved into the East Nashville world and spent my first year here putting together a great group of musicians to record my third studio album ‘Patterns’ (2019). This album was recorded live to tape at renowned Sound Emporium Studios, produced by Alex Munoz (Margo Price, Nikki Lane) and is my most rock n roll orientated album to date. I had begun touring on this album throughout the US then covid hit…..
Right before covid hit I had met Kyle Henderson, an artist and producer here in Nashville and we hit it off straight away. We decided to get together to start writing and recording what would become the songs for ‘Day Rage’. We basically spent most of the lockdown and covid time holed up together working on this album for 8 or 9 months. It was so much fun to record as we did the whole thing ourselves in his home. We experimented and played around a lot with different ideas and sounds and these songs allowed me to explore parts of myself and characters more than ever before. I think I was internally breaking out of some moulds I had felt I was in. I was processing a lot of the madness that was going on at the time in the world too – like how it felt being so far from Australia watching covid unfold, my mum having cancer at the same time, not being able to return to Australia and such, it all went into these songs. The whole album has a tangible electricity to it I think and at the time I was in a pretty wild headspace while creating it. Big highs and lows. Dabbling with maybe too many substances. Wrestling with my light and dark sides. It’s all there on that album and I’m very proud of it.
How have you managed to stay in the US work-wise? I assume you had an initial work visa and that’s been extended. Was that a difficult process?
Yeah I’m on an Artist visa here so I’ve had to renew it a few times now and I’ve managed to stay afloat because I’m an industrious bugger. I’ve been here four and a half years now, it’s flown by. There’s a lot of red tape involved with any visa related things. I’m hoping to get back to Australia in 2023.
How did you spend the pandemic? Did you make it back to Australia or bunkered down over there? How did it affect your music?
I spent most of the pandemic and lock down making music – I holed up and focused on making ‘Day Rage’ for nine months or so as well as releasing a slew of singles. The pandemic allowed me to slow down and spend every day focused on music and this was a magic time. I’m very grateful to Support act in Australia too for the support they offered during this time too. A lot of what I felt and thought during the pandemic made its way into the songs for ‘Day Rage’ as well as my singles ‘Trouble’ and ‘Reach or Reason’.
Are you still living in East Nashville? That’s an amazing artist epicentre. Given the city’s massive building and population growth, is it still affordable?
I’m still in East Nashville, yep. When I first moved here I was amazed at how many people are creatives here. It felt like every person I met was doing something cool so naturally that’s very inspiring to be surrounded by. I’ve got 3 or 4 friends with studios here who I can record at so that’s nice too, that access and ease makes a big difference to the creative process I feel. The city is certainly growing a lot with so much new construction, homes, coffee shops, food spots etc. It’s still affordable and you can still find places in East Nashville. It’s just like any place I think, cities always grow and fluctuate, I never try to get to fixed to my idea of what any place should be. I love it for what it is here, not for some version of what I or others think it was ten or fifty years ago. Every has their own version of a place. I’m here right now and I enjoy living here right now and that’s all I know.
Have you hooked up with any other Aussie expats?
SO MANY SENSUAL HOOK UPS. Sorry…..yes I see a few Aussie Friends here – Bex Chilcott (Ruby Boots) and sometimes Jordie Lane. I see Mark Moffatt from time to time as he’s a legend and the APRA rep here.
How do you find living in the US? What are the music and cultural differences that stand out the most to you?
Good question. It’s very similar to Australia in a lot of ways but also vastly different in others. I think I’ve always felt a draw to the US because growing up so many of my musical influences came from the States. I’d always kind of felt a desire to just be here on the ground and living amongst it. I moved here in the Trump era and many people thought I was crazy for that. It’s all history and living to me so I felt grateful just to be here witnessing it all regardless of one’s political leanings. The poles of extremities are further apart here and it’s just so big, 350 million people in this melting pot, so you definitely feel that sense of enormity, too. There’s more of a hustlers mentality in the US I think, people are less reliant on the government for any sort of help especially around the Arts so folks just go about getting to work, which I like. Overall I feel very blessed to be living in the US and making the music I want to make. It can sometimes feel like a bit of madhouse though, and some days I crave the peacefulness and calm of Australia. Some days I yearn to smell the bush again. So I’m looking forward to coming back to Australia in 2023 for some shows and to once again view the US from an outsiders perspective. I might cry when I see Australian land from the plane window as it’ll be over five years since I’ve returned.
Coincidentally, you have a new single out or soon to be. Tell us about it.
My latest release is a song called ‘When We Touch’ and it’s a darker, sexier pop number (think Ryan Gosling’s ‘Drive’) We shot a video late one night for that song here in East Nashville that’s on Youtube, too. I’ve got another new single coming out in early 2023, it’ll be another song taken from a new pop/electronic album that I’ll be releasing in 2023 (yet to be named).
Since I haven’t been touring or performing much these last few years I’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville writing and recording a ton of material, a lot of which I’m gearing up to release in 2023. It’s an eclectic mix of songs and sounds that I’m very proud of and excited for people to hear. It ranges from pop to rock n roll back to some more folk/roots sounds, but it’s all me at it’s core.
I explored a lot with these new albums, trying different writing methods and production, recording and working with different friends and studios here. I feel like I allowed myself to follow my inspiration wherever it lead and that’s given me a real sense of freedom and peace as an Artist, the realisation that I’m not bound by genres or any other pre conceived notions. That sounds like an obvious thing for an Artist to say but I think my job is to push my own limits and boundaries and not get too comfortable repeating the same things. I get bored easily lol.
Here’s Josh’s latest release and the title song from Day Rage:
More Music Adventures Await!
Interview with Josh Rennie-Hynes