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Josh Ritter, a product of Hoosier love

Not the son of John.


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  • Josh Ritter

Everyone, I did it! I snuck back into NUVO HQ, and I hacked another article into the system. Enough about how awesome I am (even though I am really awesome), but I’m happy to focus on Josh Ritter who is coming to play in Lafayette on Thursday. Take that, Indy! Just kidding. We cool.  

Josh Ritter has made a name for himself in the mold of Ryan Adams-eque American rock and roll with a penchant for intriguing storytelling. Oh, the stories Ritter will tell. If you’re one of the few who thinks Ritter may be John Ritter’s son, you’re wrong. You have to go to this show now and apologize to Ritter in person. There you’ll most likely hear classics like “Getting Ready to Get Down,” “The Curse,” and songs from his latest release, Sermon on the Rocks.

Ritter talked to me about his songwriting process (or lack thereof), his relationship to Indiana, and spooky books. Read this article quickly before TPTB find out what I have done.

NUVO: With your recent release, Sermon on the Rocks, you do something you normally do with having fun with storytelling and wordplay. There’s also such an upbeat dance vibe to the record. What was the type of feeling you wanted to share with this last album?

Josh Ritter: You know you really follow where the songs go. The songs always come out in a certain way. You just try not to get in the way of them. I wrote way more songs than what ended up on the record, but I was kind of following that, you know? And they determined what the record was going to sound like. Which is weird and sometimes frustrating, but that’s kind of the way it goes.

NUVO: Speaking of the album, since you’re playing in Lafayette, Indiana in the Hoosier state, I have to ask what was the inspiration for the track, “Henrietta, Indiana”?

Ritter: That one came to my mind just as a town name at first. I didn’t know anything about the song, but Henrietta just kind of rolls off the tongue. It seemed like a place that had a vibe to it. This girl who is growing up, and her father and brother make this terrible choice. She has to decide whether or not she’s going to make the choice or not. I like writing about places I’ve never been or, more like, places that I can imagine. Towns are so important to my way of thinking about music. In “Getting Ready to Get Down” there’s a town, a girl coming back to a town…a homecoming. It seems to come into my mind a lot.

NUVO: You’ve played in Indiana before?

Ritter: Yes, I have.

NUVO: In Indianapolis, right?

Ritter: Yes.

NUVO: Other than that performance do you have any connections with Indiana or any memories from when you played here that stand out?

Ritter: My parents met and fell in love in Indiana.

NUVO: Oh [laughing] that’s good.

Ritter: So I’m very grateful for that. I’d hate to not be here. [laughing] Yeah, the many times I’ve been to Indianapolis it’s always struck me as kind of a city that was built to be big. The streets are big, the buildings are big. I think it’s just an interesting city. That being said, I haven’t got the chance to travel elsewhere [in Indiana] as much so I’m really excited to do that.

NUVO: I think you’ll like Lafayette as well. There’s a lot of character to small cities with aspirations to be bigger. There’s a lot of inspiration in that. As a storyteller though, going back to that, do you have a lot of literary interest? Anything you’ve been reading recently that inspires you musically?

Ritter: Recently I’ve been reading a lot of spooky books. I don’t know why, but I kind of woke up one morning and decided I really wanted to read some spooky books. I’m doing that, and you know you just can’t trust it. You just go with it. It’ll line up to something. It may not be a spooky song, but it’ll add up to something that I wouldn’t have predicted. Does that make sense?

NUVO: Yeah, it does. Do you have any examples of ones that you’re currently reading?

Ritter: I’m reading a book by John Wray called Canaan’s Tongue. It’s about a band of vigilantes, and the strange stuff that happens to them. I’m a big fan of Shirley Jackson. She had a book called The Sundial that I just finished. There’s all kinds of good stuff out there if you’re looking for it.

NUVO: When you write songs is there an emphasis on the storytelling first? Like with “Henrietta, Indiana,” you said the song kind of finds you, but do you try to focus on having a theme in mind?

Ritter: Well, you know, it happens any number of ways. I think about it a lot of times like you’re making puzzle pieces, like a little bit for music and a little bit for words…like little things. And then you have them all out on the table, and you have to put them together somehow. You just try randomly, and things happen. Other times you just have this moment of pure inspiration, and the words and music come out altogether. Like “Henrietta, Indiana” that came together quickly and out of the blue. It could happen any number of ways. I wish I knew better. I would be writing way more songs.

If you go:
Josh Ritter
Thursday, May 19, 7 p.m.
Lafayette Theater, 600 Main St., Lafayette
$25 advance, $30 day of show, all ages


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