Interview with Josh Haden (Spain) by Killian Laher
We got the chance to talk to Josh Haden, main protagonist of the band Spain. In the first of two interviews, he talks about his recently deceased father; Jazz legend Charlie Haden and also his new album Carolina, which we reviewed here. You can see the results below…
“From my dad I learned that the entire human race is connected. I learned about hardship, struggle, compassion, love, and the importance of family. I learned that a song is as important as one’s life. I learned to write each song as if it were my last. I learned about the importance of art in combatting the hatred and bigotry we see around us every day.” – Josh Haden
I can’t begin this interview without mentioning your late father Charlie. What was it like for you to have a such a musically recognised and talented father? Was he influential on your music listening or did you seek alternatives?
I think it’s important to put the appeal of jazz into perspective. Even though people such as you and me, and everyone who appreciates and feels great music are into jazz, we represent only a small percentage of people worldwide who even care about music in the most remote sense. I would say that puts about 98% of the people of the world as having no idea what jazz is, signifies, much less understands or appreciates.
My dad, Charlie Haden, is one of the most important figures in not only the development of jazz music but in the development of American music and culture in general. Along with Ornette Coleman, my dad opened a new pathway whereby musicians could express themselves artistically, and music listeners could listen. They literally caused a revolution. Free jazz was about spirituality and letting go of one’s ties to the earth. Pop music, generally speaking, is about product placement, materialism, capitalism, maintaining the status quo.
My father was an incredibly talented musician. At the age of two and 1/2 he was yodelling and playing ukulele along with his family on the radio. Mother Maybelle Carter would bounce my dad on her knee. By the age of eighteen my father was a veteran of country music and was on his way to Los Angeles, where he met Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins and changed music forever. Without Charlie Haden music would not be what it is today. That’s how important my father is.
The free jazz guys weren’t making music in a bubble. They wanted the world to hear and be affected by what they were doing. They wanted to play music and also talk about music to whoever would listen to them. Read interviews with my dad and you’ll see the importance he placed on being an active member of humanity. He believed not only in freedom in music but in freedom in society and as a member of the human race. My father was outspoken politically and he paid the price for it.
From my dad I learned that the entire human race is connected. I learned about hardship, struggle, compassion, love, and the importance of family. I learned that a song is as important as one’s life. I learned to write each song as if it were my last. I learned about the importance of art in combatting the hatred and bigotry we see around us every day.
My dad’s music influenced me but my dad was into all kinds of music. Through my father I discovered the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys. My dad loved the songs of Billy Joel. When I discovered punk rock as a youngster I used to play my dad my favourite bands, and he liked some of them, and others he didn’t like so much. His favourite punk band was the Minutemen. He even played a gig with them! My dad was very open minded about music but when he didn’t like something he really didn’t like it and I learned from that too.
From the outside looking in, it looks like you have taken your time over each album, carefully crafting each one. Are you a quick, one-take type writer like Neil Young or do you take your time Leonard Cohen-style?
I love both Neil Young and Leonard Cohen but I don’t know very much about how they work. For me every album is different and presents its own challenges, and usually those challenges have little or nothing to do with music. I’m constantly writing and if I had my way I’d release a new album every week!
As I said before in the 1990s there was a period of time I couldn’t record or even play shows. I’ve had my life threatened by record company executives and my livelihood threatened by lawsuits, and all for a musician whose entire output hasn’t sold more than 100,000 units worldwide over a period of twenty years, go figure!
The new album is a departure in sound, can you tell me about this, how did this come about?
To me the new Spain album, Carolina, isn’t so much a departure in sound, although it is more focussed on one genre of music. There’s always been a country music element in the Spain albums and I wanted to bring that out in the new album in a more concentrated way. I think it has a lot to do with the passing of my father two years ago, which is when I started writing the songs for Carolina. It also has to do with just wanting to put together a group of songs that are cohesive and share the same themes, and can be more easily recognized by the listener as from one particular tradition of music.
There was also something else at play that was kind of in the back of my mind during the recording, and that is we are at a period of time in American history when some very destructive and disagreeable traditions of the American way of life (although certainly not limited to America) from a particular region of America – greed, racism, selfishness, bigotry, myopia – are for different reasons becoming more prevalent, and I wanted to address them. Songs like “Tennessee”, “The Depression” (about the Great Depression) and “One Last Look” (about the 1968 Farmington mine disaster) connects America’s past to the present in a very conscious way on my part.
Any touring plans?
Yes! We just did a one month tour of Europe, 26 shows in 30 days. Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, United Kingdom and Luxembourg. We’re touring as a trio and the shows have been so good. We’re really pushing the Spain songs to the limit and making the show exciting and inspirational. In the Fall we’ll be playing more European shows, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Hungary, more France and U.K., and more.
For the U.S. my focus right now is to establish a residency in Los Angeles and branch out from there. We’ll be playing every Tuesday night in L.A. in August at the Love Song Bar (in the same building as Downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater), resuming our residency that started in May, so L.A. people watch for that.
We also have plans to tour in Australia and Japan for the next album, which will be out in 2017. If you are from Australia or Japan and would like to see us play please send us a note!
What’s next for Spain?
I am having the greatest time of my life right now. Carolina’s producer, Kenny Lyon, is playing guitar in the live shows, and he really understands what I’m trying to do on a musical level. I’m really focussed on the live shows and making them as exciting as possible. In Nantes the gig posters described our music as “INDIE POP SLOWCORE AMERICANA FREE JAZZ” and I’m borrowing that description. This is our genre, taking traditional elements of American music and twisting them to form something new. I’d like it to be that when you see a Spain show you’ll never know what to expect, and every show is different. On this past tour people were driving from show to show to see us. Some people would tell me they drove 500 km to see us. I’d like to continue inspiring our audience in this way.