Josh Cournoyer was a big part of the Providence music scene before moving to Nashville in 2014. He was in local bands The Invite and Northern Lands and now returning with the debut of his first solo album Bankrupt City in project I&R. We spoke of the process arriving to this point in his music career and with his inspiration and influence of the Ocean State, it still proves to be home.

 

 

Hey Josh! Before asking all about I&R tell us a bit of the past. What bands have you played with?

Almost all of my musical experience has been playing in or fronting bands, so I was very determined for I&R to have room to grow into some sort of loose collective of musicians from the beginning.  I started writing this record in the winter of 2015 and at the time I was playing everything on the demos, but about six months before tracking for Bankrupt City I brought in my first collaborator and it’s just sort of grown from there.

In terms of my musical roots in Providence, the two projects I have the most history with are The Invite, who I played bass for starting in 2005, and Northern Lands, the band that I played in up until I moved to Nashville.  Northern Lands was the first time that I took the role of primary songwriter and lead singer. We were pretty active in the Northeast from 2011 to 2014 and released an album on 75orLess Records called He Took A Dive in 2013.

As far as Nashville goes my first job was as a touring guitarist for a pop-rock band called Runaway Saints.  When they moved to Los Angeles I switched gears and went back to writing for myself with the intention of starting this project. I spent a lot of time holed up in my home studio and it was a grind early on so I started picking up some fill-in bass work to help not feel stifled.  I’ve gotten to play in backing bands for a lot of Nashville artists that I absolutely love, The Narrative, Coco Reilly, Trisha Ivy, and our mutual friend and epic human being Dylan Sevey.
SEVEY! Well its inspiring and exciting to see you giving I&R the attention its been craving. How did that name come to be? 
To me it’s an analog for the spectrum of creative expression, how the dents we make in the universe can define us, destroy us, or leave us overwhelmed with unanswered questions about our place in all of this.  The specific origins will remain vague, allowing people the space to have their own interpretation of the identity of this project.
I have definitely made some dents. Congratulations on your first solo album! Who helped produce Bankrupt City?
I wanted to bring together a group of musicians who would be player/producers, each bringing a slightly different approach to the table.  Mike Poorman (Hot Rod Circuit, The Dearhunter), Joe Pisapia (k.d. lang, Ben Folds Five, Guster), and I produced the record.  Arun Bali, who plays with Saves the Day and Craig Finn, was also a producer on three of the tracks, including ‘Venice’. All the recording was done at Big Light Studio and Middle Tree, both of which are in Nashville.
Any Providence musicians featured on this album?
Bankrupt City features a bunch of players from New England.  In order to make a more temporary collective work, whether it’s in the studio or a live setting there has to be an immense amount of trust.  Assembling a crew of musicians that I’ve been friends with or fans of for years helped in facilitating that.  Mike grew up in Connecticut, we met while he was running a studio in Providence called Strangeways Recording.  MorganEve Swain handled all the string arrangements, played viola and fiddle, as well as adding a second vocal layer to most of the songs.  Both she and Mike flew in for sessions, which I couldn’t be more grateful for.  Zac Clark is another New England to Nashville transplant and an outstanding keys player, he dropped by the day we were cutting ‘Pale’ and laid down this wonderful meandering piano part.
What’s one of the oldest songs?
‘Venice’ is actually the oldest of the bunch, the seed for it was planted on a day off from tour in Los Angeles back in 2014.  Being out of my community in Providence, away from family for the first time, and without as strong of a support system was a real struggle.  I hit an existential brick wall and realized how much I had been relying on my hometown to help keep me healthy, which was a tough revelation.  It started to change the way I viewed the world, especially when you add in the fact that whatever struggles I might face still happening from a place of privilege as a white man.  There are so many people who battle mental health or substance abuse issues that are also facing societal inequity and I feel strongly about using my platform for positive change.  ‘Venice’ is also a bit of a reminder to myself, and hopefully the listener as well, that we’re all in this together.  True empathy has to be the starting point for any productive conversation about how we help enact and create more supportive and inclusive communities.

 

 

What inspired the album name?

When I left Rhode Island I was coming out of a pretty rough time financially, playing in bands and working at venues for a decade was always a balancing act to keep my head above water.  I moved to Nashville, which had already started to become a boom town, it took a long time to process what was happening around me.  My friend Steve Soboslai helped record some of the early demos for I&R out of this beautiful old studio near Music Row that had been a Warner Brothers studio in the ’70s.  Butch Walker and Brendan Benson from The Raconteurs both had studios on the ground floor.  One day the owner decided the building was better off being demolished to make room for a luxury hotel.  More and more creative spaces with historical significance falling victim to this and I started to realize that being bankrupt can also be a state of being.  It’s goes beyond a financial distinction, there are forces who will strip a city of it’s soul in the name of progress and it’s incredibly problematic.

You moved from Providence to Nashville in 2014. What had you realize it was time?

My good friend Johnny Gates hired me to play guitar on a short tour while I was still living in Providence and that lead to an opportunity to play more shows with his band around the Southeast.  Northern Lands was winding down, I was two years shy of thirty and in a solid relationship, it just felt like the appropriate time to start a new chapter.  My first six months in Nashville it became pretty apparent that I needed to prioritize some personal growth, that the version of myself I believed to be accurate wasn’t going to work anymore.  Living in a city with so many transplants also expanded the diversity of my influences, making me really introspective about how disciplined I was as a writer and a player.

Will you be planning a tour for Bankrupt?

We’ll definitely bring I&R to a larger audience once Bankrupt City comes out this spring.  We’re in the early stages of laying the foundation for that now. I’ve teamed up with Nick Sollecito, a fellow Rhode Islander living in Nashville, he’s been playing bass with the project for a few months and is also helping to shape the live translation of the songs.

What is something you want your listeners to walk away with when hearing your lyrics?

I started writing songs at a pretty young age in a therapeutic way to process a world that I didn’t always understand.  A lot of times it was a light in a dark room, both creating my own music and hearing lyrics from other artists that spoke to some larger truth.  The community of bands I grew up in helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way and I became less and less isolated.  For me, that sense of connection leads to so many lessons and the foundation for building a life that I’m really grateful for.  If the listener walks away feeling a small sense of hope and an acknowledgment that it’s okay to not always have the answers, I would feel like I’ve done my job as an artist.

 

I&R will be performing with John Faraone and Mountainess at Columbus Theatre on Saturday December 29th 2018.

::%:: 8:00 pm

::%:: $10