Awkward story time! My experience with folk songwriter Joshua Hyslop began with a very strange situation.
Two summers ago, at my friend Margot’s suggestion, I began listening to Hyslop’s music, and I fell in love with his tragic and questioning yet immensely peaceful style. I spent several weeks listening almost exclusively to “Have You Heard.” It is one of the most pensively beautiful songs I’ve listened to—and that’s a bold claim for a lover of indie/folk music, where melancholy is basically the holy grail.
Later that summer I was having coffee with Margot. We got to talking about random reckless actions, and next thing I know, I had a half-serious dare to tell Joshua Hyslop that I would “be his muse” (to be read with much dramatic flair). To her surprise, I laughingly agreed and posted on Hyslop’s Facebook page offering to be his muse.
I suffered an agonizing 30 minutes of existential questioning, wondering just what I had done. And then the response: “Haha, thanks Emily”—which, when translated, means, “How the heck am I supposed to respond to this?” I apologized for the odd comment and tried to move on with my life. (Editor’s note: She clearly didn’t.)
Two years later I’m glad I have a legitimate reason to hear from Hyslop about his music—and his actual muses.
Emily Cardé: How did you get started with writing music?
Joshua Hyslop: My friend Dave and I started writing songs together when we were about 16. We called ourselves The Road Less Travelled, and we would perform around our hometown. For me, writing was just trial and error. Mostly error.
Ethan Weitz: What does your creative process typically look like?
Joshua: It’s different all the time. There are songs that take minutes to write, that come along out of nowhere. But there are songs that take weeks, months, and years to write. Sometimes I get the lyrics first, sometimes I get the music first. I really don’t understand how it happens.
Ethan: What are some of the biggest inspirations for your music?
Joshua: I write a lot about things that I’ve gone through, or things that people around me have gone through. A lot of the time I think my songs are a reflection of my subconscious.
Emily: “Have You Heard” seems to wrestle with doubt about God’s relatability. Can you delve into that one a little for us and explain some of the ideas behind the song?
Joshua: That’s tough. I wrote that song quite a while ago, and I’ve come a long way since then. I think you’ve got a pretty good handle on what it’s about though. I’ve always been a skeptic and that song deals with a lot of my own doubt.
Emily: I always get a sense of peace from listening to your music, even when the theme is more heavy. Is that a conscious style choice or is that just how your music comes out?
Joshua: I think it’s just how it comes out. I’d love to write stuff that’s more rock and roll. Maybe I will someday. But right now when I write this is what I get.
Ethan: “Hallelujah” is one of our favorite songs of yours. What’s the story behind that song?
Joshua: Thank you! I was in a pretty dark place when I got that song. I wrote it shortly after a friend of mine passed away a few years ago from a drug overdose.
Love break me down, pick me up off the ground,
Oh, let me out from where I have gone,
And unlock my heart, I don’t know where to start.
Love, break me down, and take me back home.
—Joshua Hyslop, “Hallelujah”
Emily: Is there a unifying concept behind the album “In Deepest Blue”? What was the inspiration for that album?
Joshua: There isn’t really a unifying concept. I guess you could say it’s a collection of songs that speak to different moments in life, but that’s pretty general. A lot of the time I associate songs with different colours and these 12 songs seemed to fit well together from that perspective.
Ethan: The imagery of water appears repeatedly throughout “In Deepest Blue.” Why is that?
Joshua: Good question. I don’t know, really. Again, it wasn’t a conscious thing. Maybe it’s the unifying concept!
Emily: What is your personal favorite song that you’ve written?
Joshua: I don’t know if I can choose. I have different favourites for different reasons. It’s probably between “Do Not Let Me Go,” “Last Train Home,” and “In Deepest Blue,” though. I’ve got some new songs I’m pretty excited about right now.
Ethan: What do you consider the greatest successes and challenges of your journey as a songwriter?
Joshua: I think my greatest success is that I’m still writing songs and performing in front of people. But I think that’s also my greatest challenge. Every time I finish a new song I get terribly anxious that I will never be able to write another song again, that it’s all been one big fluke. If I do write another song, I get terribly anxious about having to perform in front of people. It can feel paralyzing at times. Continually facing and trying to overcome that obstacle is hard, but it’s worth it. Underneath all of that anxiety, it’s what I love to do.
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