Josh Thorpe is a Canadian visual artist, writer, experimental musician, and songwriter now living in Glasgow, UK.
Thorpe's paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, installations, and public works have shown internationally at venues such as DOK Artist Space, Edinburgh; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; 3A Gallery, New York; Power Plant, Toronto; CSA Space, Vancouver; Museo Napoleonico, Rome; and Open City, Lublin, Poland. He has recently completed a large-scale public work for the City of Toronto. He is also the author of Dan Graham Pavilions: A Guide, published by Art Metropole, and The Unexpected, published by Swimmers Group, and articles in various publications, including Momus and Canadian Art.
Thorpe completed a Master’s of Music Composition at York University in 1998 and a Master's in Visual Studies in 2009. He has participated in Toronto’s experimental, jazz, and songwriting scenes ever since. He has collaborated and performed with Jennifer Castle (Idée Fixe), Eric Chenaux (Constellation), Ryan Driver (Fire), and Doug Tielli (Tin Angel). In the mid 2000s, Thorpe was a member of Owen Pallett’s so-called favourite band: Everybody Get Sick.
Josh Thorpe is a Canadian painter, writer, and songwriter now living in Glasgow, UK. After years of making experimental and ambient music and scratching out messy paintings and sculptures in Toronto, Thorpe fell in love, wrote a number of rock songs, recorded an album, and moved to Glasgow to live poor but happy.
(Scroll down for longer bio and album notes.)
Scrappy Art Rock You Can Dance To
A debut album by UK-based Canadian Josh Thorpe
(including collaborations with visual artists Ian Wallace,
Sandra Meigs, Trevor Shimizu, Geoffrey Farmer and others)
~ Nov. 8, 2018; Glad Café, Glasgow, UK / International~
Known primarily for his work as a visual artist and experimental music composer, Thorpe now releases his debut album of songs. The album was recorded in a single day in Toronto’s Palace Sound with bassist Mike Overton and drummer Jay Anderson (Comet Control, Biblical).
Scrappy Art Rock You Can Dance To recalls ‘60s psych-rock, ‘80s post-punk, and is influenced by sources as wide-ranging as Lou Reed, John Cale, Kinks, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, and Mary Margaret O’Hara. It’s simple structures, sweet melodies, and solid rhythms are complemented by unusual tunings and chord voicings, and by guitar solos that seem to crumble as they build.
“My favourite records are simple; not overly produced. And there’s room for chance and accident to occur, a bit of chaos and noise. I find most music today too controlled. So, though this band is nostalgic for a certain kind of sweet song, it also craves unusual sounds and wants that all mashed together. That hybrid sound very much grows out of Toronto’s unique experimental scene, which I miss.”
As part of the project, cover art and music videos have been offered by visual artists Ian Wallace, Sandra Meigs, Geoffrey Farmer, Trevor Shimizu, Shaun Gladwell, Lily Ross-Millard, and Renée Lear.
“I wanted to keep the music a bit separate form my visual art, wanted the band to open up some new exchanges and relationships. Having had these brilliant colleagues and mentors of mine involved has brought a lot of beautiful energy to the work.”
Scrappy Art Rock You Can Dance To will be launched in Glasgow on Nov. 8, and will be available internationally on all main streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, etc., as well on CD by special order.
Thorpe lives in Glasgow with his wife M.E. Smit-Dicks, and works as an academic tutor at GCU. He holds masters degrees in Music Composition and Visual Studies, and for many years he participated in the experimental and songwriting scenes in Toronto, having collaborated and performed with Eric Chenaux, Doug Tielli, Ryan Driver, and Jennifer Castle, among others. His paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, installations, and public works have shown internationally. His writing has been published by Momus, Canadian Art, Art Metropole, Musicworks, Power Plant, and Border Crossings.
Electronic Press Kit: http://www.joshthorpe.com/epk.html
Notes on the Album, Songs, and Videos
The Album: Scrappy Art Rock You Can Dance To
Recorded live-off-the-floor in a day. Then a number of evening follow-ups to track the voice and add a few more guitars, a bit of piano. I wanted what I think of as a 'transparent' sound; I didn’t want to be too aware of the production. We had in mind recordings like Mississippi Fred McDowell’s I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll or Velvet Underground’s self-titled record from 1969. This was about owning up to the rough grain of the music and its imperfections. And my guitar style is messy. You can’t pretty that up. Actually music today, art today, tends to try to be too polished. I like rough sound.
Songs & Videos
Previously sounded too much like an old famous song. I won’t name which of course. Randomly changed one chord: Went up a tone instead of down. That one small change completely shifted the feel; it’s better.
Not that originality is important. Difference, yes; but not originality. In fact, I think the reason to do most things is to have more of what you like in the world.
Video artist Sandra Meigs:
“I love the dreamy romantic light everywhere in Josh's song ‘The Light’. I have been working with the feeling of light in my painting so was keen to do this song. I thought to use sparkly objects for the video so I went to Party Max and bought a bunch of tinsel, the paper disco balls, cellophane wrap, then set up a miniature world and put the fan on it. Shot on my iPhone, hand held. Kind of an underwater disco world. A site for the wonderful lyrics sung in soft loving voice.”
I Can’t Slow Down
The first song I wrote after I met my wife, artist M.E Smit-Dicks. I knew there was something in the song when M. kept singing it around my flat. Like many of my songs it contains simple images of the world, and a sense of ecstasy. But it came out of the energy of falling in love. And, at the same time, of falling in love with songwriting I think.
Nothing to do with Lionel Ritchie’s 1983 “Can’t Slow Down,” though I do love that song. I think the song is partly nostalgic for certain feels you get with ‘80s pop. But more Grateful Dead or Iggy Pop or even Pretenders.
The oldest song on the album. Written maybe 2005. I played it live with a big band I called Supergroup, which had Jennifer Castle and Eric Chenaux on guitars and the experimental composer Allison Cameron on drum machine.
The engineer, Chris Sandes, took on my project based on this song. He said I sounded like Mary Margaret O’Hara. I didn’t understand that and still don’t. (But I want it to be true.)
Video artist Renée Lear says,
“Molly the Owl and her owlets once lived in San Marcos, California, atop a 15-foot pole in a box fitted with a camera. Made available to me through live stream over the internet, these creatures became an object of fascination. Recently I was watching while listening to Thorpe’s song ‘Summer’. Then I made this.”
A lot of songs start from conversations. A word here or there suggests a melody and a mood. Many of these come about in simple domestic and mundane situations. This one came from M.: “How does the time get away?” It immediately formed a rhythm for me and became a draft of a song within minutes. M. was singing it the next day.
I shot the video. The first half documents people playing around at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rooftop pavilion by Dan Graham and Günther Vogt. You can really see how their intervention excited people’s imagination. The rest of the video is just stuff I like: fireworks, flowers, trees, geese.
A Dance Song for Mary Margaret O’Hara
I stole some words from a song by O’Hara, that’s why the title. Just four or five words. O’Hara made a brilliant album in 1988 that touched a lot of people. I remember watching the video as a kid and thinking, You can do that in pop music?
The lyrics for this song feature a cameo by David Attenborough. I loved nature TV as a child, and this is a song about that kind of. My drummer here in Glasgow, Owen Curtis Williams, heard the Attenborough reference immediately. Then I knew he was a special man.
Not a song about drugs per se, just a song about wanting to be high in any sense. In the ‘60s, high didn’t just mean on drugs. It meant high in any or many ways. A novel called Season of the Witch by James Leo Herlihy illustrates this usage nicely.
This is the most multi-tracked song on the album. It was Chris’s idea, the engineer — he wanted to hear more layers for once (on a pretty sparse album).
Visual artist Trevor Shimizu describes the video:
“When I came back from vacation, a pigeon stayed in my studio and shat everywhere. Pigeon shit on painted concrete is very difficult to clean. This discovery led to an unfortunate video walkthrough of my studio, which seemed like a nice counterpoint to Josh’s triumphant and free spirited song.”
Mike and Jay arranged parts for this very basic song that take my very simple few chords into a space that’s much more particular and articulated. With a firm and sexy rhythm section built by empathetic and super talented bandmates, my spastic guitar playing seems totally normal!
This is one of the older songs. I think I wanted to sound like the Feelies, so the original tempo was much faster. It doesn’t recall those guys to me now because it’s now a lot slower. I always like to hear everything clearly, so I usually take the tempo down.
Geoffrey Farmer on the video:
“I’m interested in archives, and for some time I have been searching through archive.org collecting material that interest me. The video I made for Josh is partially inspired by filmmaker Arthur Lipsett and also my desire to learn how to edit. To make this music video, I drew from my collection of footage, to create visual associations with Josh’s lyrics along with my own interpretation of his music.”
Throughout my work you hear bits of influence from the mind-blowing American experimental composer Robert Ashley. This one is a spare number that gives the voice room and allows the weird machine of bass and drums to kind of wind around itself. The words are typical of a certain kind of writing I do. A mix of observation and dream, and listening for the sound of certain words.
Artist Lily Ross-Millard:
“Listening to ‘the Park’ for the first time, I was somehow immediately immersed in the visual world of early MTV, David Lynch and Cronenberg's body-horror. The choreography and editing process involved an obsessive attention to rhythm, something that I think heightens the absurd and disturbing experience of watching this woman in red sing this song to us on television.”
The tuning of this song is close to some kind of “just intonation.” Some of these notes just wouldn’t be possible on a piano because of the tuning. It’s got a flat major third and very flat minor 7th.
When the esteemed Canadian songwriter Ryan Driver came to Glasgow, he told me I should consider rewriting the song so it featured a different type of animal. People might be confused and try to associate the song with the movie The Lobster, he thought.
Actually, the words begin with a quote, “God is a lobster.” It’s from Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus, which I read in bits and pieces sometimes because it’s like psychedelic fantasy.
All the other songs were recorded on a Japanese Strat from the ‘80s. But this song was made on an Epiphone 330, with modifications. It was lying around the studio and I’d never played a hollow-body before. I thought I was in heaven for a minute.