Shortly before going overseas with his bandmates in Showbread for a European Come&Live! tour, frontman (and solo artist) Josh Dies took a few minutes to speak with JFH's Scott Fryberger about his new solo album, Scalene, and his latest novel, An Edict of Worms...
This interview took place in October 13, 2011.
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): You're getting ready to release your third Dies record, and we all know that Josh Dies is not your real name, but your stage name. But for those unfamiliar, what is the symbolism behind the name "Josh Dies?"
Josh Dies: Well, Scott, I'd like to tell you that it is [symbolic], but it isn't. I think I came up with the name when I was like 15 or 16. It's when Showbread was doing the punk rock thing, and there was a goth punk band that I really liked on Tooth & Nail at the time called Ninety Pound Wuss. And the lead singer's name was Jeff Bettger, but he used the stage name "Jeff Suffering." And I just thought that that was really interesting. So, in a way, I kinda ripped him off when I came up with "Josh Dies." And when Showbread got some small level of popularity around that time, people just kept calling me that. I still like it; it's just a funny stage name in the tradition of other people that have stage names - David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, etc.
JFH (Scott): Your first release as Dies was in 2007; how long before that did you have the idea to do a solo project?
Josh: I'm not sure that I thought about it at all. I think some people maybe do solo projects as a way to do what they can't do with their other band. But with Showbread, we don't really have any limitations. We can make Showbread do whatever we want it to do. So I never really felt the urge to vent anything, cause everything was going directly into Showbread. It wasn't until around 2006 or 2007 when we were writing Anorexia Nervosa, and we had to write twenty-four songs for that record, and I think we ended up with more like thirty. A lot of those didn't fit the context of the story, or they were like really, totally industrial. Those two records go with the whole goth/industrial thing, but we had handful of songs that were more like KMFDM or Skinny Puppy; the more straight-forward industrial stuff. And they seemed like oddballs, cause there's still the continuity of rock music on Anorexia Nervosa, and not just straight-forward industrial. So I thought that those songs were cool, and I'd always been a fan of that type of music, so I thought I would keep those and move those aside. Those b-sides ended up being on the first Dies record, and I kinda finished it up by writing a few more. I thought it would be fun to just do a straight-up industrial record, and there ya go. That's where it came from.
JFH (Scott): And as far as Scalene, is it the same deal, or did you plan this one out a little more?
Josh: I planned it out a little bit more. The only reason it exists is, again, not because I feel that there's any limitation as for what we could do with Showbread, but just because I did a solo record and it was kinda fun. It's not like an outlet where I needed complete control, because I have complete control in Showbread in the sense that we all agree on everything. Especially now, it's almost 100%. So there's not really any creative stifling going on there, but I thought it would fun to follow up on what I started with the first Dies record and then the EP that came out after that. I actually brainstormed a concept that I thought would be a little too weird for Showbread, and I had this thought for several years. It was just in the back of my mind. Actually, even before the first Dies record came out, I had this idea that I would do one day if I had the opportunity, outside of Showbread. And I kept coming back to it throughout the years, and then the last couple of years, I've really started developing it more and more, thinking it was pretty cool, thinking I could make this the new Dies record. It doesn't really fit the whole Showbread thing, which is saying a lot, cause Showbread does just about anything. I thought "Yeah, I'll use this on the new Dies record." And the more I built it up, I liked it too much to use it on a Dies record. Honestly, a Dies record will be heard by probably less than 10% of the people that will hear a Showbread record. And I didn't want to, in that sense, waste it. And that concept became Cancer, which is the new Showbread record that we're working on, and so then I had nothing to use on a Dies record, but I still wanted to make one for fun. And I was trying to think of something that Showbread would never do, which is hard to figure out, because honestly we could make a country or a hip hop record, because Showbread wouldn't do that. *laughter* But I don't have any interest in doing either of those things, so I decided to just embrace the whole Phil Collins, Genesis, New Order, new wave 80s music influence. The kinda stuff that I like to listen to a lot. Showbread uses a lot of those influences subtly, but never full-on. So I thought that, and that it would be fun to go all-out and do like 80s new wave, synthpop music and try to make a record that way. So that was the idea, and it turned out to be effective, at least for me.
JFH (Scott): You also have a little bit of what I consider dubstep in there. Is that something you like to listen to a lot?
Josh: You know, I'm honestly pretty ignorant about it. When I was in high school back in like '98 or '99, I listened to a lot more electronic music than I do now. I was really into industrial, techno, dub, drum & bass, house and all that weird stuff. And back then, I used to hear that very rarely, but now you hear the phrase "dubstep," and I don't even really know anymore what we're talking about when I hear all these different subsidiaries of electronic music. Like "Oh, this isn't techno, it's drum & bass." Well whatever, it all sounds the same. And in the last couple of years, or maybe even the last year for me anyway, dubstep has become some bizarre buzz word. And it seems like everyone throws anything that's electronic or glitchy or bass-heavy into the category of dubstep, which is kinda strange to me, cause I don't even know specifically what that is still to this day. Or how it became this thing that everyone is super aware of. But I ended up putting some stuff on the record that people have told me sounds like dubstep, but was more influenced by Nine Inch Nails, especially the stuff he did on the record Year Zero, which has a lot of weird electronic, freak-out stuff, and things like Aphex Twins--just really chaotic, glitchy things. I had a gentleman collaborating on the record with me--his name is Dillon Redman--and he's into that kinda stuff too. So a lot of that is his fingerprint on the album. So all that's to say that I don't really know what dubstep is or why it's such a popular phrase or why everyone thinks that everything electronic is that, but there you go. I guess time will tell on that one.
JFH (Scott): Yeah, I'm not too familiar with it either. I guess I'm more indifferent than for-or-against dubstep. But at the end of the album, in the last track, it sounded like what I've been "taught" that dubstep is as of late.
Josh: Yeah, and several people have said that to me as well. It doesn't offend me or upset me or anything, I just don't really get it. So a lot of people are like "Oh, that's cool that you went that way," and I said "Well, we weren't really trying." *laughter* But if that's what you think it is, that's fine. That song in particular, "Marana Tha!," the last track, was the one that Dillon had the most direct input in at the end of the song. And it was based on... you know, I like to end any record with some kind of ballad or a worship song, a high note, if you will - and there's a song on the Nine Inch Nails record Year Zero called "The Great Destroyer," which does what our song kinda does, where it's kind of a straightforward punk song and then it just kind of erupts into this chaotic, glitchy, electronic thing for a couple of minutes. And it was like, what would that be like if we did that with a piano ballad, and then took it really far? And that was to his credit; he did a really fantastic job with that. And then people were like "Oh it's dubstep!" And I said "That's fine, whatever that is." *laughter*
JFH (Scott): And what did you say his name was that you worked with?
Josh: Dillon Redman. I've only met him once while we were on the free tour, Raw Rock Theology earlier this year. Was that this year? Yeah that was this year. I have no perspective of time anymore. Yeah, this young man came up to me at a show - I don't remember where it was. *to his wife* Where was the last show at, Abi? Was it Iowa? *to Scott* I think it was in Iowa. But yeah, this young man had come up to me with a CD, and he had done a remix for the Who Can Know It? remix project, which is about to come out, and he's like "Here, I did a remix for you, and I just finished it today so I thought I'd bring it to the show." I thought that was nice, and we had a pleasant conversation, and he went on his way. That night I listened to it, and it was really impressive. The remixes he gave me are gonna be on the remix album [Who Can Unknow It?]. But I liked it so much that I emailed him and said "Hey I'm about to do a record, and it's all electronic. Would you like to collaborate with me?" And he was up for it. The whole process was the two of us emailing files back and forth. So there you go. The lesson is: if you like a band and you wanna collaborate with them, do a remix and bring it to the show. *laughter*
JFH (Scott): That's easier than I thought it was.
Josh: Yeah, there you go!
JFH (Scott): Who else did you have work on the album with you?
Josh: Well, musically it was just the two of us, me and Dillon. I would write and record the entirety of the song. At the least, a bare bones version of the song, and at the most, pretty developed. And then he would add some texture, and maybe a few more keyboard parts, and every now and then he had a little bit more influence, like I was saying for the last song, where he would actually do some songwriting himself. Other than that, I had a friend of mine do all the production and the technical end of things; he did the mixing and the mastering for all the music. Mike Jensen, who used to play in Showbread, mixed the vocals for me. And then I had a couple friends do the illustration for the artwork, and Peter Rollo, who's kind of like Showbread's in-house designer, did like the package design and stuff. So it was like a family project. I just exploited people. I have friends, and I exploited their talents.
JFH (Scott): That's the way to do it. That way you don't have to pay anybody for it.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. You know, I offered to pay them. I said "Hey, I'll pay you for it!" But they were like "Nah, it's okay," and I said "Yeah, I know." *laughter* "I ain't giving you anything anyway."
JFH (Scott): *laughter* Okay now, the name of the new album is Scalene. And this might be a stupid question, but what does that mean?
Josh: That's actually a good question. Well, a scalene triangle is a triangle that has no equal sides. And I don't know why that word kinda came to me while we were in the middle of working on the record, but I thought about it and I thought it might seem kinda interesting. I just started thinking more about what it could have to do with, like a lack of symmetry or form or something like that. So yeah, I couldn't shake it, and I kept thinking about it, and the artwork is kinda based around that concept. It's like these animals that are wearing the skulls of other animals like masks, and they're always kinda stacked together like a scalene triangle. I just thought it was an interesting expression of a lack of symmetry, I guess. It's not a huge concept on the record, but I got a cool title out of it anyway.
JFH (Scott): Are you gonna be offering Scalene as a free download like Showbread albums?
Josh: Actually, no. There's going to be a Come&Live! release of a few of the songs off the record, like a little Scalene sampler I guess, when the album comes out in November, just so there's some version of free connected to it. But this album is actually something of a fundraiser for me personally, so that sales of this record will be able to directly fund my being able to do the work on the next Showbread record in full come winter and then January/February when the rest of the guys move out to the west coast where I am. And it's basically a way to pay the bills so I can focus full steam ahead on Showbread and the writing/recording period where Showbread doesn't really have anything generating any income. So it's out there, folks: help Josh eat and feed his wife by buying this album.
JFH (Scott): Those who have preordered Scalene from your website have gotten an advance download of the whole album. How has the reception and feedback been so far? Has it been pretty positive?
Josh: So far that I've seen. I'm sure, like always, that there are some who don't like it, but for whatever reason have either remained silent or just haven't said anything to me, which is new cause usually people don't mind sending me letters telling me that they hate something we've done. But this time around, it's been pretty positive. It's a pretty pleasant, listenable album; pretty poppy, more so than anything I've ever done, I guess, off the top of my head. So I guess that in and of itself is a little surprising. Some people did say that they like the record a lot, but they will miss the first Dies album, which sounded like the machinery was breaking. So it's a bit jarring to people who liked the first record. But I mean, at this point, anyone who's paying attention to what I'm doing personally is prepared for it to not sound like it used to and for it to be unusual. But if they've stuck around this long, they're pretty open-minded, and that works to my advantage.
JFH (Scott): In addition to Scalene, you have a new novel coming out called An Edict of Worms. Do you have a release date for that?
Josh: I don't have an exact date, but my hope is that I can get it out sometime around the first of December, or shortly after the album comes out. I wanna do a handful of acoustic, book reading shows to promote the record and the new book. The book is done; it's with the editor right now. He's going through to fix my millions of typos that are always in there. So as soon as he's done, it's gonna go off to print. So if it's not out by the beginning of December, then sometime right around that area. Yeah I'm pretty excited about that as well.
JFH (Scott): For the record, I didn't really catch a whole lot of typos in Nevada, so I think you're doing pretty good.
Josh: Thanks man! *laughter*
JFH (Scott): An Edict of Worms is the sequel to Nevada, which was written in a different way than I've ever ready before, where the story progressed with newspaper articles and journal entries. Is it the same way for An Edict of Worms, or is it a different format?
Josh: IIt's the same format. Without giving too much away, it's not as all-inclusive as Nevada was. Like you said, Nevada has a bunch of journal entries, but it also has web blogs, newspaper articles, TV transmissions and things like that. So it's the same nucleus as that, but it's a smaller narrative scope than Nevada. Nevada has a pretty gracious amount of narrators and characters that all participated and it was really kinda all over the place in a frenetic, fun way. This one's a little bit more focused, purposefully so. It's the same kinda thing, but just a little more controlled.
JFH (Scott): And, at times, Nevada could be a little on the graphic side without really being vulgar. Should readers be prepared for more of that?
Josh: Heh...uh, yeah, I think they should be prepared. You know, I'm sure some people think that I set out at the beginning to make these things as gross as I can, but honestly that's not the idea. I just go for honesty, and I usually wrap the story around kind of redemptive, theological, biblical message. I just think that it's much more intentional, much more effective if I'm honest, and if I don't try to pull any punches. So the novels, so far, has been on the graphic side, and this one is no exception. I'm a bad judge of if it's worse or not. I've talked to a lot of young ladies who have read Nevada and I always ask them if it was too gross, and they're usually like "Yeah, it's pretty bad, but I hung in their till the end." But no one's read this one yet except me. But it's pretty rough at times, but I try to warn everybody before they read it that their is a point, their is a message, and it's a biblical one, but you will have to go through some unpleasant places to get there. So yeah, you know, be prepared.
JFH (Scott): I'm gonna go back to the music on this one. The last time you put out a Dies album, on the very next tour you did a set of Dies songs. Is that something that you would do again?
Josh: I would really love to. I thought it was a lot of fun, and the other guys - I had Mike [Jensen] and Patrick [Porter], and my wife was actually in the Dies live band, and so was Ricky Holbrook, our drummer at the time, and we all had a lot of fun doing an extra set, something different. And we almost did something like that with subsequent tours, but it was just never the perfect outlet for it, but yeah, I would totally be up for it, and I think the other guys would as well. Maybe in 2012, when we finish the new album and start promoting, we're gonna be trying to make the free tour the staple of our album release tours and also trying to make the unusual context of the show of our album release tours. Like, on our free tour, there was no admission, there were no openers; you just come in and we have a big screen and a projector and a multimedia presentation. So we wanna keep building on that with all the album release tours. And I don't know where we'll be taking it, but it might be an interesting outlet to have a Dies opening set and have a show like that. But yeah, all that is to say, yeah definitely. We're trying to find a way to incorporate that again. We like it; it's a good time.
JFH (Scott): My last question is just kind of a simple one. Maybe, depending on what the answer is. But what have you been learning from God lately? What's He been speaking to you?
Josh: Oh man, that's a great question. Actually, God has really been teaching me to view the Church as a family and to be a part of a big family with a lot of different backgrounds and theological nuances. I think I've found that I have a tendency to be a bit critical when it came to those theological nuances, just because I often find myself in groups of theological views that are something of oddball groups or not the moral majority. Like believing in Christian pacifism, Christian anarchism and non-violence; things that aren't really the standard in the evangelical, American community. And a lot of times we get a lot of flak for that - when I say "we" I mean Showbread and the guys in that - and we were constantly petitioning for our right to belong to the Church as people who don't agree with every little thing or every one of the little theological views. And we still believe in Jesus, we're Christians, we need to be treated like we're family. Even though you don't agree with us, we still belong to the same group and we still have the same call at the end of the day overall. And then I found myself doing the same thing on the other level. The little theological things that I disagreed with, maybe on the opposite end of those oddball things I agree with or maybe just in the grand scale of the different views in the Church, I found myself closing myself off to different teachers that hold views that I don't agree with completely, or different authors, theologians, speakers... All this time I'll telling everybody else, "Well, if you don't agree with one thing, you still need to hear him out, cause he might have something else good to say," and then I found that I wasn't always willing to do that myself. So here recently, my wife and I were part of a church here in Portland, and our church is teaming up with a whole bunch of churches throughout the city or Portland, Oregon, getting together to fast and pray for the city every Wednesday for seven weeks. And there's all these churches that I know I probably don't agree with on a plethora of issues as church bodies and leaders and teachers and everything. But they all get together to cry out to God for a movement of the Kingdom and the city and for change to come to the city, and it's like, "Wow, this is what it looks like when you put those things down for a second." We have these healthy disagreements about these issues, and they're big issues, but right now we need to put those down and we need to focus on what we're actually called to do: to bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth. And so God is using that to teach me how to be a family with the Church and practice what I preach in that sense.
JFH (Scott): No that's alright, it's good stuff. It's something that I need to learn how to do also. I can get pretty judgmental pretty quickly.
You thought that was gonna be a short answer, but I apologize cause it was a big one. *laughter*
Josh: Yeah, I think it's tough for all of us--especially when it's our toes that are being stepped on, or if we're really passionate about one particular thing. But it's just finding that balance of - or at least I'm trying to find that balance of being firm in your conviction and speaking by what you believe without sacrificing your grace and your humility. Learning to hold those convictions with grace and with humility and to love and respect your brothers and sisters who don't agree with you.
Dies' album Scalene is available now at JoshDies.com!