Josh Pyke has become somewhat of a veteran within the Australian music scene. Over the past decade, he’s made his way from an indie upstart to one of this country’s most revered songwriters, with multiple ARIAS, APRA Awards and gold records under his belt. Instantly identifiable through his articulate lyrics and keen ear for melody, his latest album But For All These Shrinking Hearts carries all the hallmarks of Pyke’s signature style while beating with an adventurous and experimental heart all of its own.
“It wasn’t something I set out to do,” says Pyke on the record’s experimental tendencies. “I think it was a product of having a studio at home, and having the time and space to naturally experiment with things without looking at a clock - without worrying about money and stuff like that. I was definitely experimenting and I was approaching songwriting from the point of view of just writing songs; not thinking about what it might sound like or if it might get played on the radio. I do feel like that came through in the end result.”
Building his own studio proved to be a watershed moment for Pyke, who now had the freedom to follow his inspiration wherever it led him. You can hear the fruits of his labour on tracks such as ‘Book of Revelations’, opening the album with an ethereal ambience that covers new sonic terrain for the songwriter. Created by sampling and modulating his voice alongside an effect laden Autoharp, the exploration of new textures and sounds reinvigorated Pyke’s songwriting and helped him capture the ‘lightning’ of creativity whenever it strikes.
“The whole thing about creativity for me is that it should very much be free,” reflects Pyke. “It should be about returning to that idea of inspiration you had when you were a kid. When I started playing guitar I didn't know what I was doing, but it was the most exciting thing in the world. It’s like being a sailor setting out to sea without a map. It feels exciting. So having a studio space for me is an extension of that. It’s just a place to go and play really. Some days I’ll go in there and I’ll come up with a great song and I’ll be able to demo it straight away. Some days I’ll just record weird ambient acoustic stuff, or electronic stuff, or really heavy rock psychedelic stuff - because I can. I think all that feeds into itself and creates an environment were you’re more able to explore.”
Just prior to the release of his latest record, Josh Pyke played to a packed out Sydney Opera House backed by none other than the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. With But For All These Shrinking Hearts, you can hear this influence creeping in as songs are complemented by dramatic, sweeping arrangements. The experience helped Pyke in more ways than one however, offering up a different perspective on songwriting.
“I guess having done the SSO stuff, I was more aware and more open to the idea that songs can end up wildly different to how you envisioned them initially,” he says. “I feel more comfortable to allow other people to expand things that I’ve started, and to have a bit more ownership over those things.” In the case of album highlight ‘Late Night Driving’, this new approach has certainly paid off with composer James Irwin Roscoe turning in a spellbinding string arrangement that brought the track to new heights. “He came back with such beautiful arrangements,” says Pyke. “It was quite liberating to just let someone else take the reigns.”
As Pyke says, he feels more open with his songwriting than ever before. Becoming less protective of his music has ushered in a greater sense of collaboration, working with Dustin Tebbutt and Jinja Safari’s Marcus Azon on some of his first major co-writes. “Musically, it kind of makes you reflect on the things you naturally gravitate towards,” he says. “Then it helps you push away from those things. You’re kind of seeing your own songwriting through someone else’s eyes in a way, and you’re also looking at their songwriting and being inspired by that.”
With his latest effort, Josh Pyke has created one of his finest and most expansive works to date. In his opinion, it’s his latest attempt at the musical escapism we find in our most meaningful and cherished records. “I just want people to be taken away,” he says. “I want them to listen to the record and be able to forget their own lives in the same way that I listen to an Animal Collective record or a Sufjan Stevens record walking through the city. I feel like I could be anywhere, y’know? I’d like it if other people could have those kind of experiences with my music.”
But For All These Shirnking Hearts is out now via Sony Music.