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Exclusive Interview: Josh Ramsay of Marianas Trench to Release His First Solo Album | 107.5 Kool FM

“Did Elton John steal your album title idea? The Lockdown Sessions?” That’s how jokingly I begin my conversation with Josh Ramsay, who is releasing his first solo album which he, too, made during the lockdown. “I was just sort of joking,” he laughs, referring to his album’s title, The Josh Ramsay Show.

“There were several times in my career where I came up with working titles that were jokes that ended up just being the actual title. And this was one of them,” he explains. “I was kind of like ‘Well, I played everything, so what is this? The Josh Ramsay Show!?’ And it just kind of stuck. I also liked it because I was thinking about the album sort of like a variety show. Every song is a different genre. I really tried not to do the same thing twice on the record. So, in that way, it  reminded me of those ’60s variety shows where everything is a little different.”

THE MAKING OF THE JOSH RAMSAY SHOW

Josh Ramsay is the lead singer for the band Marianas Trench, which includes Ian Casselman (drums), Matt Webb (guitar) and Mike Ayley (bass guitar). He’s long wanted to do an album where he played all the instruments himself. And, the guys in the band were supportive of that. But, he tells me, “it was sort of like… well, when am I going to get around to doing that? Then the pandemic happened and I was like ‘I’ve got an idea!’ […] So, for me, the pandemic was great because that’s all I did. Sit around and make music. I had a blast!”

“I don’t think anyone would appreciate it if I just went off and made a Marianas Trench record on my own.”

Josh is also the songwriter for Marianas Trench so he didn’t want to make an album that just sounded like something the band would release. “I don’t think anyone would appreciate it if I just went off and made a Marianas Trench record on my own,” Josh explains.  “I don’t think the guys in the band would be very excited about that! And I don’t think the fans would be very interested in that either.”

The direction for the album came when his manager asked him what genre he was going to do. Josh says that made him think, “Why don’t I just try to do as many genres as possible? “And that ended up being the most inspiring idea for me,” he says,  “because then it was like I want to write songs that wouldn’t fit on a Marians Trench album. Some of them would. But it doesn’t feel like a Marianas Trench album. But it does feel like me.”

“It doesn’t feel like a Marianas Trench album. But it does feel like me.”

Josh has described The Josh Ramsay Show as a “love letter to music” which runs the genres from country, to EDM to grunge to Big Band swing from the 1940s.

Josh Ramsay of Mariana's Trench

ALL BY HIMSELF

For a long time, making this album meant Josh was in the studio, alone, doing everything. He says making this album, by himself, reminded him of when he was a teenager making music. “It felt like going back to my roots a little bit. Just playing and seeing what happened. I sort of felt like a kid in a playground.”

“It felt like going back to my roots a little bit. I sort of felt like a kid in a playground.”

Josh played just about all the instruments on the album and when I throw out the example of cello, it turns out, yes, he played that too!  Actually, he says, cello was the most challenging. “I had a cello and I was like, OK, I’m going to make sure I play at least one line on this thing. So I did play one tiny little cello part.”

As for his favourite instrument to play? “I think the most satisfying thing for me to play is probably is the drums,” he tells me, “because it’s so visceral. And you can work out all your frustrations. And there’s never ‘You’re hitting it too hard!’. It’s just like ‘hit it harder, harder!’” he says while air drumming.  “So, that’s perfect for me!”

MOST EPIC RECORDING SESSIONS

Anyone familiar with Marianas Trench’s music will know Josh loves to use strings and orchestras. His new album includes some orchestration. The last song on The Josh Ramsay Show, for example, is just Josh singing with an orchestra. Initially, he wrote using symphony libraries with virtual instruments. In the middle of a pandemic, you can’t get 150 people in a room. But, then he had an idea which resulted in “some of the most epic recording sessions” he’s ever done.

“It was SO time consuming, I can’t even begin to tell you!”

“I realised we could do it, if we just recorded the symphony like 3 or 4 people at a time,” he explains.  And, so he did. “And it was SO time consuming, I can’t even begin to tell you! It was like, for the next 3 hours we’re going to record the first violins and, after that, the second violins…. and on we went through the whole orchestra. And then it took me weeks to edit it to sound like one cohesive thing.”

FIRST SINGLE “LADY MINE” FROM THE JOSH RAMSAY SHOW

The first single from The Josh Ramsay Show is called “Lady Mine”, a ’70s-esq tune that features Chad Kroeger of Nickelback.  Josh wrote the song first then asked himself whom he might have sing on it. Chad, someone with whom he’s been friends for a long time, popped into his head. “The more I thought about it, the more I realised, he was the only person I could ask to sing it,” he explains, “because he’s the only other male singer I know who could sing it!”

“I’m not sure if it’s because he’s a great friend or if I caught him when he was a couple cocktails deep. I don’t know!”

So, Josh called him and explained the idea behind the record, which Kroeger thought was interesting. Josh asked him if he would just listen to the song and if he liked it, maybe he might sing on it? Chad answered right away, “Just send it to me. I’ll do it.” Josh muses “He said yes without even hearing it. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s a great friend or if I caught him when he was a couple cocktails deep. I don’t know!”

“In real life, he’s such a class clown. He’s a really funny guy.” 

One of his favourite things about Chad Kroeger is something, he says, probably a lot of people don’t know because Kroeger’s public image and his persona in videos is very serious. “But actually, in real life, he’s such a class clown,” Ramsay reveals. “He’s a really funny guy. He’s got a great sense of humour. And when we shot the music video for this, we basically spent all day just laughing and clowning around. He’s a great vibe to be around.”

The album also features  Serena Ryder, Dallas Smith, Fefe Dobson, Ria Mae, Tyler Shaw, Fionn, DJ Sharkpocalypse, and Josh’s sister Sara Ramsay.

Josh Ramsay from Marianas Trench

JOSH RAMSAY GETTING BACK ON THE STAGE AGAIN

This September, Marianas Trench performed on stage again and, for Josh, it was like a homecoming. “I was born to be on stage” he tells me. “That’s the place where I’m the most comfortable. It was like coming home. It felt great.”

“I think people were really excited. Not even that it was a Marianas Trench show but that there was a show at all.”

That particular show in Vancouver, however was an outdoor show in torrential rain. “I’m actually shocked they let the show [go on]” he tells me. The show the day before was cancelled because of flooding. The stage was covered so it wasn’t so bad for the band. But Josh felt terrible for the audience. “I was like, ‘WOW’ you guys are really getting blasted. But there was a really positive vibe anyway.” He  made sure to get out in the rainy zone as much as possible to be ‘at one’ with the audience.

“I think people were really excited,” Josh reflects, “not even that it was a Marianas Trench show but that there was a show at all. I think people are starved for live entertainment. I think everyone was just really excited to be out in the real world. I know I was.”

“THIS IS JUST A PART I PORTRAY”*

“I have to step into the persona that I’ve made to get the confidence,” Josh tells me when I ask him what’s going on in his head as he’s on stage performing. “I feel like … the guy who I do on stage, I don’t feel much like that’s actually me. I feel like that’s sort of like a character I play.” He elaborates: “About 30 minutes before the show I’m sort of getting into the character and stuff. And by the time I get on stage I’m not necessarily Josh anymore,” he says, motioning to himself. Then, throwing his arms up and in a dramatic voice, says “I’m Singer of Marianas Trench Guy.

“I have to step into the persona that I’ve made to get the confidence”

Josh says this is the way it has always been for him. And it’s helpful because then “it’s there when you need it”. He explains this by telling me about a time when Marianas Trench was performing on Much Music (when it was a television channel, not its current TikTok iteration). About 20 minutes before going live, he received the news that his mother had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. Most people live about 5 years after getting diagnosed with this disease. “So, pretty real life stuff that was being talked to me about. And then I’ve got to play live in front of a few million people. OK. So, how do I do it? I step into the character. […] That’s the job. ”

THERE’S MORE TO JOSH RAMSAY BEYOND THE MUSIC

Around the time he started working on Marianas Trench’s album Astoria, Josh suffered from a deep depression and it affected his ability to write music. “I went through a really dark time in my life. And during that time I had writer’s block” he reveals. “I needed a creative outlet because, for me, if I’m not doing something creative, I will go crazy. I need to be making something, in some way, all the time.”

“If I’m not doing something creative, I will go crazy. I need to be making something, in some way, all the time.” 

Cooking can be a very creative outlet. But, Josh tells me, “I didn’t know how to cook at all. It was one of those things that always mystified me and I was like ‘I wish I knew how to do that but I can’t’.  At that point I could make Kraft Dinner and it probably wasn’t very good.” Needing to do something, he decided he was going to learn a new skill and that skill was cooking. “Using the internet, I basically put myself through culinary school, more or less,” he says.  “Once I  appreciated it as a creative art form, that’s when stuff really clicked for me and … now it’s not a chore anymore. Now it’s fun!”