Best Ever: October 2018

The best concert that Josh Rouse ever attended was a Lenny Kravitz show nearly 30 years ago in Nashville.

“When I was 17, my aunt’s boyfriend, who was a G.I., took me to see Lenny Kravitz at the Cannery in Nashville,” Rouse recalls. “We smoked weed out of a beer can on the way there. We were in the front row, and there were probably 500 people attending. He had quite a funky band and incredible stage presence. The show left a big impression on me.”

Nashville was one of many childhood homes for Rouse who released a brilliant pop album in 2005 with that city as the title. Rouse’s gift for top-notch songwriting hasn’t faltered since his 1998 debut Dressed Up Like Nebraska, and his most recent release in April, Love in the Modern Age on the Yep Roc label is another winner.

Why name an album Love in the Modern Age?

“Well,” Rouse responds, “a majority of the global population spend an enormous time either finding love digitally or communicating with the people they love through a screen.”

The album is “just another chapter” in his extensive catalog, he says.

“If I look at anything too hard, I end up not liking it. So I try not to analyze my own albums after the fact. I walked into a shop in Toronto the other day and a rather old song of mine was playing. I did an ‘Ooh, who’s that?’ It’s good to disconnect and get taken by surprise like that.”

Love in the Modern Age differs from his previous Yep Roc release The Embers of Time. 

The Embers of Time was a set of more personal songs — about dealing with being a father, husband and musician. Love in the Modern Age is mostly fiction. I needed a break from being the guy who wears his heart on his sleeve every night. Sincerity is great but can be tiring and boring.”

Leonard Cohen’s early 1980s albums influenced the synth-type sounds on Love in the Modern Age. 

“I had used synths to a degree on previous albums,” he says, “but wanted to go more synthetic. It’s refreshing to change it up, especially after 12 records of acoustic guitars!”

Some reviewers have said songs on Love in the Modern Age are reminiscent of the reclusive, yet outstanding, Scottish trio The Blue Nile, which last released an album in 2004.

“Yes, they were a reference,” Rouse says. “Stark and beautiful. I don’t take myself as serious as they probably did. So, chordally they were an influence, but, lyrically, I need it to be a bit more funny.”

How does he describe the style of music he plays?

“I get asked this all the time by people who ask me what I do,” he says, “and I say ‘pop music.’ They are catchy songs — sometimes moody. And they swing!”

Rouse, who has lived in nine states and 10 years in Spain, says he cannot name another artist’s concert that influenced him most, because there were so many. He points to one influential tour, however.

“I opened for David Gray in the U.S. while his record White Ladder was breaking, and it was exciting,” he recalls. “Then I was asked to open in the U.K. for David six months later playing arenas. Watching his group play the same show he did for a few hundred people half a year earlier taught me that you have to believe in what you’re doing and sell it.”

Rouse says his “musical heroes” have changed so much over the years, and his current heroes are those who work day jobs their whole lives and still write music or perform.

“My grandfather, Ray McColloch, was that guy,” Rouse says. “He played in bar bands his entire life and cut one record in Nashville that no one can find. He was my hero.”

A live performance listings guide with feature articles on performers