The young guitar and harmonica playing singer-songwriter, Josh Okeefe travelled from his birthplace to his current home of Nashville, Tennessee to discover more about music, find writing inspiration and pursue his career.
Whilst seen as a relatively new artist, he delivers unforgettably powerful lyrics with the gravitas of a seasoned veteran. Having performed sold-out shows from California to New York, and from Nashville to London and Glasgow, and Festivals both sides of the pond, including the prestigious Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 2019 at the invitation of British folk musician and political activist Billy Bragg. Along the way Okeefe has shared stages with many legends, including Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Alison Krauss and Rufus Wainwright to name but a few.
Described as “A rebel artist, a protest singer, the heir to Bob Dylan, or – when he’s doing one of his lighter satirical numbers – a harmonica-tootin’ Mr. Bean… with raw, topical storytelling and a voice that crackles with authentic folk tradition, Okeefe is all of those and more” – we are grateful he took the time to answer a few questions ahead of his upcoming gig at the John Peel Centre this August.
What inspired you to get into music, and has it always been part of your life?
At around 15, I needed something to accompany my words; music seemed to be right choice. At the time, I wasn’t sure the words could stand on their own and I preferred them being drowned out by the strum of an out of tune guitar. I guess, I have been working on both music and words ever since? My guitar stays a little more in tune these days, however.
You were born in Derby but are now living in Nashville, Tennessee – what prompted that move and how is life stateside?
I just wanted to run away from Derby and learn how to write the best songs possible. I was told by a wise man in London that a good place to start honing your craft was amongst some of the best songwriters in the world, in Nashville, TN. So I jumped on a plane at 18 and went from there. I am still in and around Nashville, but my search for great songs and learning hasn’t stopped here.
You have many a story to tell it seems – what has been one of your funniest or craziest moments of your life and career?
Isn’t life always funny and crazy? It doesn’t matter who you are or what life you lead; I think for everyone it’s the same. How many times have you sat back and thought “Life is weird”?
It’s been a really hard year for musicians, so what have you done to keep yourself busy?
I have just done what I have always done – write. However, I would say I have had more time to laser focus on my works and write things I may not have had the time for before. It has gone from writing 6 verse songs to 12 verse songs, I guess folks can make their mind up if that’s a good thing or not.
What have you loved or miss most about live gigs and touring, and did you have a chance to play any live shows when allowed?
Not being able to perform is a huge blow. I am a hermit and do love to sit in the dark and write songs, but it is nice to be able to perform them to people. I have missed the travelling and seeing new places; it’s always a joy to see the world through music.
You have a show coming at the John Peel Centre in August– have you played at the venue before or do you have any local connections to Suffolk or East Anglia?
I have never performed at the John Peel Centre before. I can’t say I have any connections there and thinking about it, I don’t think I have ever visited Stowmarket in my life. It will be an interesting one!
How have you found the move to digital – have you done many virtual gigs, and do you think it has been a positive or negative thing for the industry?
During the pandemic I had been involved in a number of virtual concerts, I would be lying to you if I said I really enjoyed them. I preferred the completely live, live-stream type, as there was some sort of connection to the audience. However, once promoters and festivals realised they could take advantage of pre-recording, that’s the path most of them took and it was honestly more work than it was fun. Only time will tell if virtual gigs have been positive or negative for the industry. Maybe people like the idea of just watching concerts on their phones from home going forward?
To those who love music, what would you advise fans can do to keep supporting the music industry and independent artists like yourself?
Go out and listen to music that comes to your local area, and buy the CD or Vinyl if you like what you hear, it goes a long way.
As a fun one to end on: which album would you have as your ‘Desert Island Disc’?
I would probably have one those relaxations CD’s on hand, “Sounds Of Whales”, “Pure Zen” or something along those lines. I am sure it can get pretty tense being stranded on a desert island.
Thank you to Josh for his time in answering our questions!