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Two On The Mic: The Movement

Devin Morrison Interviews Joshua Swain.

 
The Movement‘s Ways Of The World was released June 7, 2019, and spent its first two weeks at #1 in the Billboard Reggae Chart. It’s already amassed over 5 Million streams on Spotify and the band has just begun what will be a heavy summer and fall tour schedule. Rootfire Editor, Devin Morrison, caught up with frontman Joshua Swain on the phone last week.
 
This interview is special because it’s less of an interview and more of a conversation between two musicians who admire and respect each other’s work. Josh and Devin have known each other for years, playing the same shows and festivals around the country (Devin was a founding member of LA roots-reggae revivalists The Expanders for many years), and sharing a manager for awhile (me). So this is not only an in-depth discussion about The Movement’s new album, it’s also the kind of conversation between musicians that most people would never have the opportunity to be part of. So please cue up Ways Of The World and listen along as you read this conversation between friends…

Reid Foster (Rootfire)

 

Devin: First of all, congratulations on the new album. I fucking LOVE it. 

Josh:  Thanks man!

Devin: Yeah dude. Honestly, I was a big fan of Golden when it came out, but I think I like this record even better. Can you tell me what creating this record was like for the band, and for you specifically?

Josh: Like the majority of our stuff, it was a lot of me writing on the acoustic, and taking ideas that I had from even years back that maybe I’ll record on my phone or something, and throwing those together. And then Ross (Bogan, keys) was making some riddims for us when we were on the road, and I’d kind of be like, “Listen to this Expanders song! Make it like this!” Or like, “Listen to this Chronnix song,” you know? I think there were a couple tunes where I was like, “Check this song out, this Damian (Marley) song.” I think that’s how “Loud Enough” came about, was just emulating a Damian song a little bit, or songs that really hit us hard. So Ross wrote a good amount of the riddims, and then I’d write to that. And then we had T-Ray from Tribal Seeds make a tune for us. So it was kind of all over the place when it came to writing. It wasn’t like Golden, where I had a few ideas and then we all just went into the studio with Danny (Kalb, producer of Golden), and everything came about really organically with Goodwin (Matt Goodwin, current Movement keyboardist) in the studio. But Ways Of The World was pretty set. We went out to the same studio that we did Golden in, and had like 3 days with Johnny Cosmic (Stick Figure multi-instrumentalist and producer of Ways Of The World). We were just planning on getting like 3 songs done, or at least kind of mapped out, but I think we ended up doing a lot of the tracking for every song in those 3 days…just trying to lay out demos, and trying to get a feel for them, but we ended up keeping a lot of stuff that we did. I think it really only took like another week. We flew back out there and finished it up. And then I went out to Stick Figure’s studio and did some edits and stuff like that with Johnny for a few days. But the majority of the writing is like me on an acoustic and then we developed it from there. And then maybe 5 or 6 songs were already pre-done riddims that I actually wrote to. Yeah man. And you know, the lyrics I guess are really just like me being either pissed off at the time, or like in a good mood or whatever, which I guess is the same for everybody. But just a lot of soul-searching and shit, and you know, me dealing with my fucking alcohol issues, and government, being pissed off at society and shit. And then one day I’ll be in a good mood and think, “Maybe people don’t want to be pissed all the time,” you know? 

Devin: I was gonna ask you about lyrics, because you’re one of my favorite song writers.

Josh: Well same here man!

Devin: Thanks! Whenever I listen to a Movement song I find myself getting really wrapped up in the story, and especially on this new record. Like, the imagery that your lyrics project on my brain is really something I enjoy. To me you have that quality that all great songwriters have, which is figuring out how to say something that’s been said before, in a way that no one else has said it, while still keeping the subject matter relatable for listeners. That’s a super hard thing to do, and you do it. And as a fan I really appreciate the way you are able to stay away from lazy, kind of obvious metaphors and rhymes and stuff. So I wanted to ask you, as a music fan yourself, have lyrics always been super important to you when you listen to other groups?

Josh: Yeah for sure. I think that you know, us being artists or whatever, we can look at other bands and be like…I guess the word that’s normally used is, “Man, that’s shit’s fucking corny,” you know? And believe me, I’ve definitely written my fair share of corny-ass songs, but…

Devin: We all do it! There’s a place for corny songs, I believe that for sure.

Josh: Right! And there were a couple moments on this record where I was like, you know, I really want to make this song super relatable, like, to any teenager that’s driving to the beach or whatever. Like, I’m gonna dumb-down these lyrics and just make it a super easy song. I did that intentionally on a few songs. Where I’m like, I’m not gonna talk about anything heavy. And even coming up with rhymes that I knew were like pretty simple…I still kinda went, you know, that’s gonna be ok, because I’ve understood over the years that people like that shit. So there were a few moments where I wasn’t really thinking too hard. And then there were songs like “Orange Sky” where I was pretty proud of the lyricism, and the poetic value of the lyrics themselves. 

Devin: Ok well, since you brought it up; “Orange Sky” is my favorite song on the record. I can’t stop listening to that song. I really think it has hit potential. It’s a great fucking song, and it really demonstrates your lyrical skills when it comes to using imagery. The hook is killer and really catchy, but it’s the verses that have me listening to the song like 5 or 6 times in a row. It’s really beautiful. And it’s also a perfect example of what I was talking about regarding conveying a sentiment that has been written about many times before, i.e. that there is more to life than working all the time and having some time off here and there, but it’s done in a way that’s original and personal and introspective and thought provoking. Is there anything you can tell me about what went into writing that tune?

Josh: Yeah, it’s funny. I wrote it as kind of an idea for a song, but really more like a poem I guess. And we knew that the instrumental was so catchy; that one was done by Amp Live. He sent over like a bare-bones nothing of a riddim and we kind of developed it from there. But we knew that it had such potential, that after I wrote the song, Reid (Foster, manager of The Movement) and a couple other people were like, “Let’s try to re-write these lyrics because they’re hard to understand, no one really knows what the fuck you’re talking about, they don’t really go with the chorus.” And we ended up re-doing the chorus, and changing a few words. So I actually wrote another song for that, which was like this love song, and it was like super easy to understand, just like a love story. And we ended up scrapping that and going back to the original. But yeah, the original lyrics were like you know…we were driving through the desert, and I was just kinda thinking about how at one time this desert was an ocean, and just thinking about all the fucking millions of years that the Earth and the universe have been evolving, and the reality of the situation that we’re in, which is insane, that we’re even here you know? And just kinda freakin’ out on how crazy it is to be alive, so crazy to think of all of the shit that’s gone down to get us to where we are today. And then the sad fact is that today, where we are socially and consciously, so wrapped up in ourselves, and our jobs, and really focused on ourselves and our egos, and just our own little shitty half-a-second on this Earth. And most people aren’t thinking about how magical it is that we’re here, and how we should be spending our time. So you know, “Can’t live life for the weekend” meaning you can’t just work all fucking week and then have your two days or whatever it is, and get back to it. So that’s where the lyrics came from. But you know, it is funny because everybody was like “Dude, we gotta change the lyrics. Gotta change the lyrics.” And yeah, I tried. And failed.

Devin: I’m really glad you didn’t change them.

Josh: Yeah me too, because in the long run it’s my favorite one, and those were the lyrics that I’m probably most proud of out of all the records. 

Devin: I love them. I mean, I think you did a really good job of conveying the sentiment of the song in the lyrics, poetically and abstractly instead of straight-up. Like what you just described the song being about to me, you didn’t actually say any of that in the lyrics. You let the imagery speak for itself. You don’t say, “This is what I’m amazed by and why it amazes me.” Instead you just describe what you are amazed by, and let the listener be amazed and inspired along with you. It’s really dope.

Josh: It’s funny. I did another interview, and the girl said that they were all listening to it, and their whole take, like 10 people, was that you should be concentrating more on work. Like, “You can’t live life for the weekend” meaning you can’t live life to party all the time. And I’m like, “No, the song is like, you should be partying all the time! You should be living your life and having a great time and exploring and all that shit.” And she was like, “Ooooooooohhhh.” So it’s funny. It is open to interpretation, and I think that’s where we kind of got bogged down with like, people aren’t gonna fucking understand what you’re saying. And you know, it’s really not that important that people know what you’re saying. You have a song like “Loser” from Beck or whatever. Nobody knows what the fuck he’s talking about. And it was like the hit of the 90s. So yeah, it’s important, but not important. 

Devin: I totally agree! I mean, it’s part of the beauty of being a fan of a band. It’s like, you hear a song and it’s so open to interpretation that you can hang your own meaning on it. And those are the really good songs to me.

Josh: Right.

Devin: I hear a lot of introspection and self-reflection in your lyrics, which leads me to think that song-writing might be largely a therapeutic, healing activity for you. Can you talk about what role the song-writing process has in your life beyond being just a means towards compiling songs to put on an album?

Josh: Yeah, I don’t know man. I think that like, I’ve never really considered it to be a healing thing. Like if I look at it objectively, I don’t really go “This helped me get through that,” or “I write to feel better” or anything like that. But it does, you know what I mean? That’s not the intention. But it’s kind of like an unfortunate thing where, not just me, but artists in general, they kind of build their identity around their art. And without it they’re lost. I mean, there was a time when I wasn’t in the band, and I was living in Denver, working at Target. And fucking working at this sub shop. And I didn’t know who the fuck I was, you know? I didn’t know what I was doing, or anything. I was done with The Movement. Never had any plans of ever coming back. And I realized, you know, it’s kind of shitty. It’s kind of a shitty thing in a lot of ways to really build your identity around something that can be seen as just really not that important. You know, being in a band making music. I mean, it’s considered this noble thing or whatever, but I think that anybody who’s spent enough time in a band can say, well, it’s not really this noble venture. It can be at times. But you know, when I’m writing, I’m writing for a record, which is really what I do. I’m not necessarily writing all the time. When I know that it’s time to get down to business and start coming up with material I’ll really start writing more and more. So normally it is kind of like, “This is what I need to be doing. I know that we need to start having more material.” So the intent is to create material for a record, for the business. But when I look back it, you know, that’s my life. Like I said, how I kind of perceive myself as a dude in a band, and this is what I do. So yeah, all those things kind of combine. That is what makes me who I am. And when I write about stuff…you know, making this album is kind of the only time I’ve ever had the audience in mind. Because I think a lot of our past songs or records have been kind of like, no real thought given to the audience and what they may want to hear. So like I said there were a few songs that were aimed directly at maybe being pleasing to the ear of a certain demographic or a larger audience. But the majority of stuff is just me writing what I’m thinking about. And there are a few tunes where, you know, I am talking about my shit. On “Remember”, you know, it’s just basically a song about me being a fucking total loser alcoholic, and trying to get out of that. And then stuff like just me being pissed off at the way society is these days. And government stuff. And people being dicks in general. So I mean it is a venting process. And you know, there’s this little part as well where you think, “Maybe this has the potential to have some little influence in some people’s minds, and maybe affect the world in a better way.” That’s a hope of mine, but there’s no real hope that it’s actually gonna fucking change anything. 

Devin: Well, I mean, I identify with that feeling of hoping that a song is gonna influence people for the better, but sometimes losing faith that it will. I will say though that on the other side, being a fan of yours, and being a fan of so many bands and lyricists, and having spent a lot of time thinking about this specific subject…I really do think that although it’s cliche to say that making music can change the world for the better, it really tangibly does in some real ways. Like, if you think about yourself as a fan of music, and how much certain bands have meant to you, and how many songs you’ve found that have meant so much to you, and have helped you get over a certain low feeling. ‘Cause at this moment in history especially, I think that just general loneliness is a big problem for people. Because everyone is so isolated, and there’s not a lot of genuine connectivity. And we didn’t evolve to be that kind of animal. We’re a communal animal. People today are really dealing with that. So when you hear in a song that someone else is feeling the same way, you take comfort in that. And it goes at least some distance towards bridging that huge gap that we’ve kind of created between everybody. So I think in that way at least, as a song writer you are definitely making some kind of difference. And you know, it shows, ‘cause otherwise people wouldn’t be fucking showing up to your guys’ shows. Which, by the way, I heard that you guys did some shows in Colorado where between 6 and 8 thousand people attended? That’s fucking sick. 

Josh: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, you know, you’re right too. I tend to think of things as pretty black and white sometimes, and on a global scale of like, “Oh, is this gonna change, like, war, or is this gonna help the homeless and get everybody out of this slump?” But you’re completely right when you think about it as a personal connection, or just a small moment in time in a person’s day where they might be feeling shitty, super depressed, lonely, and they can listen to a song and get out of that. And it’s so much better to think of music as like this incremental healing, instead of “I’m gonna change the fucking world like Marley!” So it does help to think of it that way. And I just gotta say, literally all me and my girl listen to is Expanders, and your voice, all day long pretty much everyday. And that like really hits home to me in terms of like, you know, when we’re just like chillin and there’s nothing going on, or if we’re driving to the beach or whatever, literally we put on your music and it’s an immediate sigh of relief. So I can relate to that. It’s just like, “Ah, now I’m in a good mood all of a sudden.” 

Devin: Thank you man, that means a lot.

Josh: Yeah.

Devin: I know you guys have a lot of touring coming up. Can you tell me a little about the upcoming runs?

Josh: Yeah so we just did these Colorado shows. We have two days to rehearse today and tomorrow. Then we start up in Rochester, and just do a little East Coast run down to Myrtle Beach. So it’s really only I think two weeks long, like 9 or 10 shows, something like that. But it’s cool, I mean, we haven’t been back to the East Coast for quite a while it seems, so I’m interested to see what the shows look like. And then after that we’ve got some Mid-West stuff, and then some West Coast stuff coming up. But the main thing about the touring is, you know…being in this band for so long, we’re all really really used to not having people at our shows. So I never have any thought that there’s gonna be anybody there. Even like, we played at Buena Vista, this little middle-of-nowhere mountain town, and we thought “There’s not gonna be anybody here, it is what it is, and we’re just here to make a little cash I guess.” And it was a pretty decent crowd. So I’m interested to see what the East Coast is gonna look like for us this time. It’s kind of hard to believe when you have even 100 people there. It’s like, “Holy shit!” It just feels good. So we’re excited about touring, and starting to feel like finally, it’s been like what, 15 years or something, that hard work is kind of starting to pay off. Especially with the new record. I think that this one was kind of what we needed to, you know, be able to tour and not be sad all the time. 

Devin: Yeah! Dude, I mean, fuck, I identify with that so much. And it’s good to hear that you guys are feeling like that. Because to me, as someone on the outside looking in, it seems like over the last couple of years you guys have had some real tangible momentum and growth. I know that outside perceptions can sometimes differ from how things feel to people on the inside. So I wanted to ask how you are feeling about  the way the last few years have gone for the band, and about what’s on the horizon for you guys? 

Josh: Well I feel like we finally, you know… I got sober, and we started to take it seriously and not be such wild morons all the time. That really helped. And you know, with Golden, it was the first record that we did where I wasn’t completely hammered in the studio. It really matters when people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and not living like you’re Motley Crue without the fans. So when Golden came out we were all really happy with it and in a good state of mind. I think that was the real start of us being any type of relevant band. And if you kinda like keep your side of the street clean and do what you’re supposed to be doing, being a good person and not all fucked up all the time and super filled with your ego and all that stuff, then good things just kinda start trickling your way. And that’s kind of what happened. We released the record and got some really good tours with like Slightly Stoopid and Dirty Heads, and all those things started to happen. With that kind of touring you gain fans. And as long as you’re playing decent shows, and not doing what we used to do which was to just get wrecked and then get on stage and act dumb and play a terrible show and most likely lose fans…you know, we started doing the opposite for the first time, playing decent music, and kind of had our shit together. And like I said, when you do those things, good things start coming your way. So after Golden it really did feel like we were building up a good momentum. And you know, a couple tours with Stick Figure will do wonders for any band, you know? So those things happened. And having a good crew like Rootfire and Ineffable behind you. So things were just kind of primed for this record. And hopefully it will take us to the next level where we can keep that momentum going and try to see, you know, hopefully it’ll start growing exponentially. You know, me and Matt were just talking the other night. Like, what does it take to get from our level to a Stick Figure level or a Rebelution level? Maybe those things are unattainable for some bands, it’s just not gonna happen, and we might be one of those. But just trying to think of ways to keep the momentum flowing, and hopefully we just keep getting bigger. And you know, maybe the goal is to just not have those expectations, and to just be surprised when they happen for you.

Devin: Right. I mean, it’s hard not to have those hopes because we live in a society where we need money, and most musicians are woefully underpaid. Of course fans would like to romanticize and think that we don’t care about the money, but it’s like fuck, you gotta eat, you gotta live, and it would be nice to not live show to show for rent money and whatnot.

Josh: Yep.

Devin: Ok, so let’s do a real-quick lightning round before we wrap. I’ll fire off some quick questions. Number 1: favorite Jamaican artist or artists?

Josh: Chronnix right now.

Devin: Nice! Me too. What about your favorite old-school Jamaican artist?

Josh: Um, it’s really funny. I could go deep into this, because your name pops up a lot in these conversations that I have. ‘Cause I know that you’re such a learned connoisseur of old-school Jamaican music, and it definitely shows in your writing and all that. But I’m like, shit, the reality is that I didn’t really grow up on that. We grew up on like alternative music. I didn’t listen to a whole lot of reggae. You know, I listened to Bob of course, so that would be my answer, fucking Bob.

Devin: Bob is a great answer.

Josh: I never really delved into too much. You know, living your whole life with Gary (Dread, drummer of The Movement) will teach you a lot about reggae music for sure. But you know, just like, Beres Hammond, Half-Pint, just kind of your ordinary things. But this isn’t music that I really went deep into. It was mostly Bob. And then kind of went straight from Bob to American reggae like Sublime. And I listened to a lot of UB40 and stuff like that. Pretty mainstream stuff. So the Peter Toshs and things like that were kind of side-stuff for me. But I grew up heavily on Bob and that’s basically what got me into thinking about, “Is there a way that I can play reggae music?” And then when Sublime came out, it was like, “Oh that’s how.”

Devin: Favorite album of all time.

Josh: Oh my God.

Devin: It can be more than one. I know there’s never one answer to that question.

Josh: Right. That’s so tough. I would say…back in the day, my favorite record was Guns And Roses, Use Your Illusion 1 & 2. That kind of gave me this feeling of, I want to be like this crazy fucking Axle. So that would be on the top of the list ‘cause I just listened to it for such a long period of my life. But you know, I also enjoy some Tupac. All Eyez On Me is just a classic record. And then Babylon By Bus, we were just jamming that. That was a mainstay of mine for a really long time. I don’t know. There’s just too many.

Devin: You mentioned Chronnix. What are one or two other current artists that you are digging, that you would recommend to people looking for great new music?

Josh: I mean, can I say Expanders? ‘Cause this is my answer on every interview that I do. Literally all I listen to now is basically Chronnix, Expanders, and John Brown’s Body. And I’ve been trying to really find new music to listen to, and there’s just something that hits me right with those three bands. And that’s just what I’m into right now. JBB is like a staple you know? And like Expanders and Chronnix.

Devin: Well shit. I’ll take it. Favorite band to tour with?

Josh: Right now it’s gotta be Stick. We’ve kind of grown close with those guys and they’re just a bunch of nice dudes that kind of feel like brothers to us. So I’ll go with Stick Figure, for a hundred.

Devin: Last question. What are some things that people might not know, that you would like them to know, about what life as a professional touring musician, on the road 4 to 6 months out of the year is like?

Josh: Mmm. Man. What is it like? I guess it’s different for everybody. For me, it used to be something different than it is now. Right now it’s a lot of like self-management stuff, and introspection I guess. And deciding how to use your time wisely. To not be out touring where your days are not mattering. Like playing a show, and making sure that it matters. Making sure that your goal for the day is not misplaced. So like, it kind of starts with eating right and getting good sleep. And for me it’s also staying away from alcohol and drugs and bullshit, and just really making sure that the time is spent wisely. ‘Cause you know, I’ve got a girl back home, and bills to pay, and it’s like, “Is this the right move in my life right now?” And it’s a lot of fun. If you’ve ever been around Gary and Jay (Smiles, bass) for two seconds all you do is laugh constantly. But it’s a lot of self-management for me. Every minute is spent going, “Is this the right move? Is this the right thing I need to be doing right now?” And it’s pretty tiresome to be that way. I wish I could kind of just go with the flow more. But when you get to be almost 40 it’s like, fuck, I can’t be doing this forever so let’s make sure that this show counts. Just make sure it counts. But it’s also a lot of fun. It’s not all work.


The Movement are on tour throughout the U.S. this Summer and Fall. Check the dates below. Get tickets here.

 

Jul 10: VA Beach VA – Elevation27
Jul 11: Outer Banks NC – Outer Banks Brewing
Jul 12: Emerald Isle NC – Salt Bar
Jul 13: Wilmington NC – The Reel Cafe
Jul 14: Myrtle Beach SC – The Boathouse
Aug 25: Heber City, UT – Reggae Rise Up Utah
Aug 31: Geneva, MN – Shangri-La Festival
Sep 7: Lolo, MT – Montana State Hemp Fest
Sep 11: St. Louis, MO – Old Rock House
Sep 12: Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
Sep 13: Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room
Sep 14: Denver, CO – Cervantes Ballroom
Sep 15: Colorado Springs, CO – Black Sheep
Sep 18: Dallas, TX – Gas Monkey
Sep 19: Austin, TX – Empire Control Room
Sep 20: Houston, TX – White Oak Music Hall
Sep 21: Corpus Christi, TX – House Of Rock
Sep 25: Santa Fe, NM – Santa Fe Brewing
Sep 26: Phoenix, AZ – Last Exit Live
Sep 27: San Diego, CA – Belly Up Tavern
Sep 28: Hermosa Beach, CA – Saint Rocke
Oct 23: Jacksonville, FL – Surfer The Bar
Oct 24: Deland, FL – Cafe DaVinci
Oct 25: Stuart, FL – Terra Fermata
Oct 26: St. Petersburg FL – Jannus Landing
Oct 27: Melbourne, FL – Debauchery
Nov 5: Raleigh, NC – Pour House
Nov 6: Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theater
Nov 7: Asheville, NC – Asheville Music Hall
Nov 8: Charleston, SC – Music Farm
Nov 9: Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
Nov 13: Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl
Nov 14: Philadelphia, PA – Ardmore Music Hall
Nov 15: Washington DC – Union Stage
Nov 16: Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Nov 17: Portland, ME – Portland House Of Music

 

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Editor
Devin spent almost 20 years as singer and songwriter for L.A. based roots-reggae band The Expanders. During that time he helped write/record/release 4 records, backed numerous veteran Jamaican artists at performances throughout California, and toured across the U.S. and Europe. He is also an experienced record selector and collector of Jamaican vinyl. Devin now splits his time between recording/performing solo acoustic reggae, playing guitar for veteran SoCal groups Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Lions, and Hepcat, and editing reggae news for Rootfire.net. You can follow him at @manlikedevin

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