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Talking Shop: Joshua Radin

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Heroes star Hayden appears in Josh Radin video

He played at Ellen DeGeneres' wedding, and his new video stars Hayden Panettiere - so who is Joshua Radin?

Music fans in the UK may be most familiar with his work from watching TV shows like One Tree Hill, where the singer-songwriter's forlorn ballads frequently underscore tear-jerking romantic scenes.

In fact, the Cleveland-born musician started out as a screenwriter, before picking up a guitar and writing his first song on a whim.

An early demo caught the ear of his old schoolfriend Zach Braff, who put several of his gently strummed songs on the soundtrack to Scrubs and his film The Last Kiss.

Having conquered America, Radin is on tour on the UK, where he is belatedly releasing his second album, Simple Times, while completing work on the as-yet-untitled follow-up.


Joshua Radin
Radin was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Hello, Joshua

Hi there, it's great to meet you.

We've been wondering how to pronounce your second name.

Everyone says it like "Rah-din", but it's actually "Ray-din".

It's quite unusual. Where does it come from?

I don't know! I haven't done the genealogy. I'm European by ancestry - Swedish, German, Polish, Russian and Austrian - so who knows what surname my ancestors had when they turned up at Ellis Island? It could have been Radinsky or Radinovic. But I have no idea.

You started out as a painter and a screenwriter, so how did you end up making music?

I only started playing music five years ago. I grew up as a writer but I was such a music fan that one day I figured "what the hell, I'll try it".

My first song took a day to write, and I felt I had expressed myself more honestly in that one song than I had in my last screenplay, that took a year.

Who was the first person you played that song to?

My girlfriend at the time. We had lived together for six years in New York and the relationship had started to go sour.

I didn't know how to tell her, because I was so entrenched in it. And I felt so guilty about leaving that I just wrote that song. It just came out. It was really powerful to be able to say something to someone that way.

My goodness. What did she make of that whole situation?

She was the one who convinced me to go and get a gig down in the West Village! I played that song and two other covers - Fly by Nick Drake, and Between The Bars by Elliot Smith - and the owner of the bar offered me a Saturday night gig. So I had to learn a few more covers!

Joshua Radin
The singer has been called "this generation's Simon and Garfunkel"

Is your music suited to TV shows because you understand the narrative and dramatic structure of screenplays?

I think that's part of it, but it's also that I grew up thinking visually. In my early life I was a painter. And when you're writing a screenplay, even though you're sitting in front of a laptop typing out words, at the back of your mind you're always thinking visually. So I think that was ingrained into me when I started writing songs.

You walked away from your contract with Columbia Records over this album. What happened?

They wanted one more song. A big top 40 radio hit to drive sales of the record. But I said "no" and I gave them all their money back.

That must be a hard situation to be in.

I'd say the period where I didn't sleep at all lasted about a month.

And what happened next?

I found a little indie label that had just formed - they hadn't put out any music - and I signed to them. We put it out a month later without any press and it went to number one on iTunes in America, so there was a little vindication.

One of the songs that stands out is Vegetable Car - it has a really playful, silly lyric. Where did that come from?

It's just a funny little song about me sitting on my porch in Los Angeles. This girl would drive by my house all the time while I was writing songs, and she would never look over at me. But she had one of those vegetable cars. I don't know if they have them here, but all over Los Angeles they have these old diesel Mercedes that are all rusted out that have been converted to run on vegetable oil.

I'd imagined a car with pumpkins for wheels, and a cucumber handbrake…

That's what my mum thought. 'She steers a vegetable cart, is that what you're saying?'

Anyway, so this girl would drive by and I figured I'd write her a little song, and maybe she'll drive by and it'll be on the radio, and her windows will be down and I could run up and say 'I wrote that song. It's about you!' It's my dream scenario.

Joshua Radin
Radin has duetted with Patty Griffin and Ingrid Michaelson

You should have worked the licence number into the lyrics.

Well, I didn't want to make it stalkerish.

Isn't it already a little bit stalkerish?

No, because I'm not too specific. It's not like she could hear it and be 'yes, this has to be about me'.

I have a song on the new record where I use a girl's name for the first time. But, yeah, I'm still at the point right now, because its not released, where I'm thinking: 'should I change it to 'baby?' It's a real person, she just doesn't know that I have a crush on her.

Is it someone in the public eye?

I don't date women in the public eye. I don't want to be in tabloids. And then, once you break up, you have to see them all the time.

That's what the first song on Simple Times, One Of Those Days, is about. It's about running into photos of Schuyler [Fisk - Sissy Spacek's daughter and Radin's ex-partner] everywhere after we had toured together for two years.

We would take photographs with fans after shows and then, after we split up, I'd tour in the same cities and people would bring their pictures back and ask me to sign them. So everywhere I'm going, I'm running into my ex-girlfriend's face.

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi
DeGeneres (left) and de Rossi wed in August, 2008.

You played at Ellen DeGeneres' wedding to Portia de Rossi. How did that come about?

I played on her chat show and she became a fan, I guess. But when she asked me to play the wedding, my initial thought was 'no', because I'm not a wedding singer.

I didn't know if she wanted me to play covers, or be in the wedding band and play Motown songs. But she was super nice and said, 'I'm having an intimate wedding. It's only about 20 people in my living room and I would love it if you'd come in and be the surprise for Portia and play six or seven of your own songs'.

At the same time, they were trying to pass Proposition 8 in California. Ellen was such a huge proponent of it, and I knew that wedding was going to be covered by all the press, and it would further that goal - that everyone who wants to get married should be able to get married.

I felt like she was having a wedding, but it was also a political statement. And I was flattered to be part of it.

I can imagine she's not the first person to ask you to play her wedding…

Right. I must get a hundred emails every day from people saying 'we're getting married to your song'. But it's funny - it's always a different song. I like that part of it.

Joshua Radin was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Mark Savage. His album, Simple Times, is out now.



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