Even if you never did anything but dream, anyone who has ever imagined being a musician can be forgiven for begrudging the success of those who are. Especially when that person is talented. And smart. And thoughtful. And charismatic.
And 22 years old.
Except it turns out he's also a really nice guy.
For emerging artists, creating and distributing new music has never been easier. On the flip side, standing out from all the clutter has never been harder. Early on, The Faim scraped and clawed to build a following in Perth, Australia.
Then they responded to producer John Feldmann's Instagram post offering to consider touring bands without record deals. A year later they recorded an EP with Feldmann, Summer Is a Curse, and also found success through licensing an original song for TV as well as covering Blondie's "One Way or Another" for a Coca-Cola commercial that has run in 18 different countries.
The Faim just released a new album, State of Mind, and are in the midst of a months-long world tour--which made it the perfect time to speak with Josh about music, and the business of music.
Plenty of people love to play...but it's another thing entirely to stand in front of a crowd. Where did that confidence come from?
It all depends on your perspective. I loved singing when I was younger, but I kept it quite private. I didn't like singing in front of other people. But my parents encouraged me, they signed me up for things...and eventually I fell in love with performing.
The biggest thing was seeing how other people responded and felt. Especially my parents. Seeing people get joy out of something that was already a passion for me...that makes it a lot easier to overcome a little fear or anxiety.
Because you're not just doing it for you--you're also doing it for others.
Which always makes it easier to do something hard.
When you responded to producer John Feldmann's Instagram post, you were basically an unknown band from Perth. What do you think he saw in the band?
John's Instagram post said he was looking for unsigned bands with touring experience. We were definitely unsigned...but had almost no touring experience. [Laughs.]
So we sent him this massively lengthy response: We said we're hard-working, dedicated, passionate, we really want to learn and grow and become the best version of ourselves....
A month or so passed and nothing happened. Then he responded, but we all thought it was fake. That it wasn't really him. We scheduled a FaceTime call and were still skeptical...but when we saw his face, we finally realized it was real. [Laughs.]
John said our perspective on songwriting was very honest, very personal...and as he got to know our story as people, he felt there was something real about us and our music.
That was the start of quite a ride.
Speaking of personal: How do you decide how much of yourself to put into your songs?
There's a fine line between wanting to stay as true to your art as you possibly can while also maintaining some degree of, say, privacy.
So I do keep some things to myself, but writing music is also a form of therapy. It provides access to a stream of consciousness I could never otherwise find.
But here's the thing: No matter who you are, or where you stand in the music industry...if you want to make an impact and have longevity, you have to be honest. That has to be in evidence throughout your growth as an artist.
People want to connect with you whether you've met them or not--and if they find out you're inauthentic, they're out.
Besides: The best way to stand out, to be unique, is to be yourself.
Years ago, bands that licensed their music were looked down on. Now it's seen as another way to get an artist's music heard.
There is still a little bit of stigma associated with licensing, or working with co-writers...people think it somehow diminishes a band's authenticity.
But it all depends on the approach.
When we covered the Blondie song for Coca-Cola, we honestly already loved the song. We were excited to do it--regardless of whether it might be used in a commercial.
Building a career is about doing what's right for yourself at the time. We were asked to do the song, and we accepted. We appreciated the opportunity. And we put everything we had into trying to do something great.
Ultimately, how you carry yourself as a band and as people defines you more than whether or not you've licensed a song.
And whether it's an authentic outcome of your personal creative process. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) once told me, "If I'm standing in a ditch and someone gives me a ladder...shoot, I can write about that."
Of course he's right. He's Billy Corgan. (Laughs.)
Art never comes from just one place. You need to hold up a mirror to everything and see how it reflects to and on you.
I'm constantly looking and searching. I can't switch it off. I have this insatiable need to write something, or draw something...it's a tick that doesn't turn off. Like a subconscious energy that magnetizes you. Which I feel is an important part of being creative.
How do you know when you have something good enough to present to the rest of the band?
Most of the time I don't show them something until I feel it's right. The other guys are always coming up with riffs and progressions. I tend to focus on melody and lyrics.
If I feel it connects with a genuine emotion, that it feels natural and unforced...I'll keep it to myself for a while and grow it out until I feel I can present it to the guys in a way that also feels natural and unforced.
How do you know when a song is "done"?
Sometimes you can release a song and still feel it's not done. [Laughs.]
We're always looking for that extra 1 percent. Which is a double-edged sword: You want to put everything into it, to perfect every little detail....
But music wasn't meant to be perfect. It needs to be great...but not at the expense of emotion. What matters is how it makes you feel. Not whether it's technically perfect.
We also see recording and performing as a learning experience. As a growing experience. You have to go with your gut...and then be open to the other perspectives that may result. That's the best way to learn.
Every step backwards can become four steps forward.
A band is an entity but also a partnership. How do you make group decisions?
Sometimes we look for a majority, but it really depends on the gravity of the decision.
Which means most of the decisions have to be unanimous, because every decision seems really important at the time. [Laughs.]
We hear each other's opinion, try to get in each other's heads, understand the reasoning...that's really that's important. Things crumble when you don't have that kind of connection. If one person feels isolated or unheard...eventually that affects everyone.
But there's a level of give or take. Being in a band is like being in a relationship. It's a two-way, or in this case four-way, street.
Ultimately, though, if you have a good idea and a good reason...everyone will agree.
Say you could write a song you feel is perfect, but no one will ever hear it...or you can write a song you think is really good and everyone in the world will hear it. Which would you choose?
On the one hand, I see making music as a way to hopefully benefit the world: Maybe give a few people a little different perspective, maybe take action...music is something that should be shared.
But for the purpose of the metaphor, while I would be a little bummed, I'll take writing the perfect song. Music is also personal, and a little bit of therapy.
And, really, that's the way creating something begins and ends: with the person who creates it.
But still: I would prefer to have both. [Laughs.]
Now that you're recording and touring and gaining critical acclaim as well as commercial success...looking back, is the reality anything close to what you dreamed about as a teenager in Perth?
Not at all. It's awesome...but we had no way of knowing the amount of obstacles we'd face, both professionally and personally. And the amount of responsibility involved.
On a personal level, I had to learn to break down my own barriers, take off my own armor, convince myself to be vulnerable and honest...I don't naturally give away too much of myself. You might say I'm a personal person. [Laughs.]
So on the one hand, I'm very introverted, but on the other hand, I'm extroverted in terms of meeting people.
But I've grown to appreciate sharing more of myself, especially when people tell me our music has helped them gain a little perspective on their own lives.
And it's helps that writing music we would want to hear turns out to be what lots of other people want to hear, too.