Josiah Leming had been driving for a few hours, slowly rolling down the New Jersey Turnpike in traffic, making his way to NYC for a solo show and a session. When we met up with the songwriter behind Josiah and the Bonnevilles in Prospect Park Brooklyn, it was clear this current run of dates hadn't been the easiest of endeavors. He was doing it all on his own, taking long drives between cities with nothing but the radio and the thoughts in his head to occupy the time. He also had a newly acquired boot on his foot...a mysterious injury he didn't really want to get into details on.
So I think the location of this one was a welcome break from Josiah. We were surrounded by green, albeit a somewhat gritty version of an urban oasis. But it was quiet and peaceful...Josiah finger picking through three songs for only our small crew and a passing swan or two. On "Cold Blood", "Easy To Love", and "Lie With Me", his slightly gruff vocals and warm waves of guitar resonated off the old iron bridge of our secret woodland hideaway. In between songs he shares thoughts on heroes like Townes Van Zandt, his songwriting and production processes, and his relaxed surroundings. It's a real exhale of a session, so take a break and give Josiah of Josiah and The Bonnevilles a few minutes of your time.
I got a girl. She only puts out water in the night, in the day and in the morning. Wakes me up band called Josiah and the Bonnevilles. We are in New York City, in Brooklyn I think, at Prospect Park. We're hanging out. We're doing a couple of songs. Oh yeah, well I like this spot we were just in traffic for about an hour so it's a very peaceful spot. I got a girl She only puts out water in the night, in the day and in the morning Wakes me up I shake her to the bone to calm her down to stop the mourning I got a heart that only fills me up with cold blood I've got a brain that only fills me with confusion Oh, lord I got some time I fill it up with lies that I repeat to myself to keep on going Got a life Man, it's filled up with the sorrow of a thousand other men with sin's atoning I got a heart that only fills me up with cold blood I got a brain that only fills me with illusions Oh lord, my lord Oh, lord I go to bed and I put the bottle down and still it calls me from down the hall and up the stairs It says, "Come on. Let's go around," and when I go, it takes me all the way I got a heart that only fills me up with cold blood I got a brain that never gives me the solution Oh, lord I got some cash I borrowed from a man that didn't know he was lending I held him dear Man, I held that money near It disappeared, just blew off in the wind I got a heart that only fills me up with cold blood I got a brain that only fills me with confusion Oh lord, my lord Oh lord Now my girl, she fills me up with water in the night in the day and in the morning Wakes me up, tries to take me home I am alone now without a warning I've got a heart that only fills me up with cold blood I've got a brain that only fills me with confusion Oh lord, my lord - I remember sitting down in the backyard in Vegas and I recorded "Cold Blood" maybe 10 times, different producers but on my own. It was never right. And finally, that chorus came in and I was doing the background vocals at the time but it just came to me in the car. I was going to McDonald's or something. I drove home real fast, record the background. I sat on the back porch and I heard it and the bass kicked in the background and I was like "all right. " I knew I was like kind of... I had something that I liked a lot. I like the production on that one, too. It kind of has a lot of different versions now. I do it away solo. The band does it a different way because we have a drummer now. We kind of lay into it. But I like it like this. This reminds me the most of like the Townes Van Zandt's "Live at the Old Quarter" type of thing. It's finger picking of that is awesome. So, I like to do it solo. Oh, that's insane. It's beautiful. - We should get a shot of that, guys. Dude, that is so graceful. This song is called "Easy to Love. " I had a girlfriend. She'd always say, "Josiah, I am easy to love," and then we fought all the time. Midwest woman, you're changing like the seasons Will you paint me a picture with your heart all bleeding Oh, you're just getting started and I'm already tired Is this what you wanted, a little gas in the fire? If you really are easy to love then why is it so hard to let a fight end? If you really are easy to love then how're you going to feel when I leave you alone again, again? Oh, go and call your best friend. Tell her what you're thinking Yeah, I go get mine We'll do a little drinking If you really are easy to love then why's it so hard to get a word in? If you really are easy to love Baby, why is your heart always hurting? If I'm gone in the morning. Well, I'll be chasing down my wild horses to figure out where they are going Far from the cold winds, you are blowing If you really are easy to love Baby, why is it so hard to let this fight end? If you really are easy to love Baby, how you going to feel when I leave you alone again, again? - I have music ideas floating around all the time but I never write until the lyric kind of connects in my head. My brain is just constantly turning those gears. It's like there's just a mountain of dirt in my brain. I'm just going through it all the time. So I'll come across little things. Yeah, I'm starting to write things down now. I never did before but I keep remembering things that I like that I wish I had written. So, I try and type now. I use a typewriter at home because it doesn't do anything else. Like I said, I'm so easily distracted. so a typewriter doesn't notify me, there's no calendar, there's no internet. But yeah, I got to start writing this stuff down. I'm getting old. This album is super personal so I don't know how much leeway there is to insert like other you know, people's situation into which I know is a kind of a cornerstone of good songwriting. But for me, I needed this album to just kind of... to just unload some stuff. I have with a lot of people, they kind of get on me about it but I just don't write with that in mind, with other people in mind. I don't know. Like for me, I got to go and stand on stage every night and sing these songs and live with them and do them. I can't tweak them to make them like more open to other people. It's got to be something that I can get behind, you know. I'm sorry I sometimes say too much Sorry that your love is not enough I'm sorry if these chains are too tight I'm sorry I can't say the words right But if you lie with me I can make you stay I can wake you from this bad dream Our love can die another day Another day Sorry I sometimes think too much Sorry I make you drink too much I'm sorry you can't sleep well at night I'm sorry I can't say you are mine But if you lie with me I can make you stay I can wake you from this bad dream Our love can die another day Oh, you can lie to me Tell me that you changed your ways I can wake you from this bad dream Our love can die another day Hey Down in the twelfth pound I can hear the countdown But I can't stand up I just lay on the ground And you can lie with me I can make you stay We can wake up from this bad dream Our love can die another day Oh baby, lie to me Tell me that you changed your ways Oh come on, wake me from this bad dream Let me die another day Oh come on, wake me from this bad dream Let me die another way Hey
"I'm nostalgic to the core," says Josiah Leming. "I think back on things a lot. I get hung up on certain moments, and that's when I feel like I've got to get a guitar into my hands."
Nostalgia might be a surprising motivation to hear from Leming, the young, erudite, emotional powerhouse behind Josiah & The Bonnevilles, especially considering his band's entire bright future is unfolding right before his eyes. But one listen to Leming's songs and you'll understand: his nostalgia isn't a longing for the past, but rather a quest for understanding of the present. Boyish though he may look, Leming writes with the weathered wisdom and unflinching self-realization of an old soul. Inquisitive, witty, and fearless, his lyrics are high beam headlights piercing through dark nights of the soul, illuminating the pain and joy of growing up, falling in love, falling apart, and moving on.
"These songs came from a really difficult place, and I don't think there's any way around that," Leming says of the 'Cold Blood' EP, a preview of his arresting debut album for Vagrant Records. "I felt like I was in a hole that I was never going to dig out of, so I started writing. Some of the songs were to remember better times, and some were to get me out of the shitty times I was living in."
In the summer of 2013, Leming had just completed a grueling tour of the United States plagued by setbacks and disappointments. Burned out seemingly beyond repair, he relocated to Las Vegas and questioned his next steps until fate intervened. First, a friend introduced him to the music of Townes Van Zandt. Then his brother sent him a copy of Leonard Cohen's 'New Skin For The Old Ceremony.' Josiah felt something important brewing, so he began teaching himself to fingerpick on a small Martin guitar he'd received as a gift from a fan. Clumsily at first, but with increasing finesse every day, he obsessively explored the instrument and his tumultuous emotional surroundings. Slowly but surely, the tumblers began to align and the locks started to turn. What at first appeared to be impenetrable walls ultimately revealed themselves as hidden doors, and suddenly previously unknown musical worlds opened up before him.
"When I was young, the folk and country stuff never connected with me," confesses Leming. "I was more dramatic than that. The flair of the British stuff like Morrissey and Echo and the Bunnymen was what really hit me."
The new material Leming found himself writing in Las Vegas combined the two, fusing the plainspoken poetry of American roots music with the emotional drama of Brit-pop into something of a new-Americana. He set up a microphone in his living room and recorded the meat of what would become the new album by himself, layering guitar and piano and vocals a track-at-a-time. The songs mined his childhood in Tennessee and the longing he felt to escape. They traced his journeys around the country, never settling down in any one place for too long. They mapped his fears and anxieties, spoke candidly to ex-girlfriends, and pulled no punches.
"For me, the music follows the words," says Leming. "I think the lyric creates the hook, and the words are what build connections in people's minds. If you get the words right, and if you sing them with conviction, no matter the melody, people will relate and they'll want to sing along."
And that's exactly what happened when Josiah began performing the new songs live with guitarist Stephen Johnson and bassist/percussionist Josh Nyback. Under the name Josiah & The Bonnevilles, they landed a residency in LA that quickly garnered a devoted fanbase and showed Leming just how far those simple, stripped-down tunes he'd recorded in Las Vegas could go. The power of the live shows and the audience reactions inspired Leming to bring his new bandmates into the studio in LA with co-producer/mixer Dave Way (Fiona Apple, Paul McCartney) to flesh out several tracks and finally complete work on the album.
The resulting record showcases the full spectrum of Leming's talents, from the bittersweet farewell of "Back To Tennessee" and gut-wrenching confessional "Lie With Me" to the Dylan-esque "Please" and infectious "Swing." The arrangements are understated, drawing emotional power not from bombast or grandeur but rather through intimacy and intensity. Leming and the band create wide-open vistas with their music, leaving room for the lyrics to live and breathe and cut you to the quick. "Cold Blood" displays Josiah's mastery of intricate fingerpicking techniques, while "Long Gone" makes beautiful use of his delicate falsetto, and "London" transports you into an entire world built of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and his quavering, passionate voice.
In the end, that's what Josiah & The Bonnevilles do best: transport you. Each song is a journey in its own right: of memory, of regret, of hope, of self-discovery. Josiah may be nostalgic to the core, but out of the darkness of his past, he's crafted a brilliant beacon of an album that's shining a bright, blazing light onto all the promise of his future.