Bethsaida Productions: Tell us a little bit about you: who are you, where do you come from, what do you do?
Josh White: My name is Josh White, born and raised in Noblesville, Indiana… I grew up in the middle of nowhere. When I was 18, I moved to Northern California, specifically San Francisco, just to get away from it all. I wanted to experience life outside of a farm. For my entire life I just knew what it was like to dig a ditch or take care of cattle, so I decided to move out here and experience something different. I went to a music university in San Jose and I definitely fell in love with San Francisco. I did a two year stint out here and then I remember being on a plane going home and thinking “It could be awesome to pursue Jesus and music inside of a city like this,” never thinking that would be something that I could do.
Over a period of vesting my passions into church culture, into music, slowly but surely God positioned me back in San Francisco. I work at a place called Canvas SF in San Francisco and I get to serve as one of the pastors there. I love it and I get to work with a bunch of different storytellers, creative, you name it.
BP: How did your desire for music begin to blossom?
JW: From the very beginning when I was a 5, I was put into piano lessons. I remember my mom telling people that I learned to read music and read books at the same time. From a very early age, music was always a staple in my life. I grew up on everything from alt-country to classical music and then I had this very secret dark love for heavy metal in between all of that. But growing up where I grew up, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to invest myself outside of the mundane band camp or the stereotypical bar scene where you just listen to some guy who’s half-drunk and playing random tune that he knew. That was about it. So I knew that at least getting outside of the confines of the Midwest, at least coming to the West Coast, that would let me experience something a little bit different.
So I spent so much time understanding the music scene in san Francisco when I came out here almost 7 years ago for the first time. And that was my first real exposure. And so now, understanding who I am as an artist, as a musician, I’m now able to bend back to Jesus. For so long that meant that I would lead worship in churches and just until recently, the last year or so, that musicianship level has matured into primarily developing other musicians and other worship leaders. But even more than that of me, it’s been developing the culture behind the scenes that happens for a musician, which is the songwriting, namely the lyrics, or coming up with that hook in a song that makes the entire tune just pop out of nowhere.
BP: Did you ever have a desire to be a solo musician or start a band? Did that ever materialize?
JW: Early on, my first thought when it came to being a musician was I just wanna go to college, get a secondary education degree, and go teach music at a high school somewhere in the middle of New York City. That would be my life during the day and my life at night would be that bar scene, going out and finding somewhere to go play in some random place. I never really thought I would pursue anything when it came to an actual musical platform.
However I think God definitely had different plans for me in that capacity. I worked for a few different ministries: we’re talking about ministries in the thousands, where I was given opportunity after opportunity to develop an interest into getting into that. And while I knew there were better musicians around me that were better performers or vocalists than me, I soon realized my innate calling inside of musicianship was the writing aspect. I never wanted to develop that on-stage platform in the context of being a musician, but the off-stage platform of writing and helping to develop musicians, I think that’s been there even since I was little.
BP: Who were your musical influences growing up and who are your musical influences today?
JW: My two biggest musical influences growing up were John Prine, an old country western artist. I heard the song “Sam Stone” when I was little. It was the first time I understood a metaphor in a song. This song talks about someone coming back from the Vietnam War who deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, he takes pills to compensate for it. And so there’s a line in that song that says “there’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes.” And I heard that and was like, “You can write a song by telling a story. That’s amazing.” And that was the first lyrical influence I can remember.
The first non-lyrical influence, the first musical influence, was the song “Clair De Lune,” the Claude Debussy song. I remember I used to listen to that on repeat for hours on end. I was totally fixated on the melody pitch, the piano line inside of that song. I think those two songs were probably the two biggest influences for me.
I loved the deep, almost dark writing of old country western songs. They may sound happy, but a lot of them have very dark undertones to them.
Now you go forward to today: I would say not a lot has changed inside of that. I actually right now have the opportunity to write with my biggest lyrical influence that I know of which is a tremendous blessing that I never thought would ever happen. So my biggest influences today are Andy Baxter from Penny And Sparrow: in my opinion the best lyrical writer I’ve ever seen; John Paul White who used to be with The Civil Wars, huge influence of mine.
BP: And guilty pleasure metal song or metal band?
JW: Oh man, Pantera all day. The Great Emo Aftermath, that’s a new band that I just came across. It’s actually an emo-punk band that went metal. They’re awful but they’re fun to listen to.