Five Questions: Josh Garrels

The diversity of Josh Garrels’ music represents the textured patchwork of both the nature and nurture of his upbringing. The roads that draw the map of his life trace through various stops. At one time or another, Garrels has been a “son of a hippie commune, skater boy, suburban drug dealer, music/design student, coffee roaster, urban shepherd, and now nation- and globe-trotting minstrel of hope and healing.”

As he reflects back on those experiences and contemplates the way forward, he leans into his faith, his family. His new album, Love & War & The Sea in Between, serves as the canvas onto which he sketches those thoughts in musical forms. Regardless of one’s own stance on matters of such import, the album is a gorgeously transcendent collection of songs. Garrels is the first to offer that people don’t have to agree with his beliefs to dig his tunes.

And he’s right. So much of pop music, these days, is overflowing with nothing more than ego and posturing. When an artist steps out of that mold to offer something truly of themselves, the impact is felt in ripples and waves. Anyone in search of music that speaks to their better angels, as it were, would do well to check out Love & War & The Sea in Between.

NoiseTrade: Some artists make the same record over and over. You don’t do that. You continue to explore and expand with each new work. Do you think what holds some people back is a lack of imagination? Talent? Courage?
Josh Garrels: I think the key idea that you hit upon is that of “exploration.” Imagination, talent, and courage all require an inquisitive spirit to be the power source in propelling us forward. There are infinite variables and configurations to explore within any one song – from melody to performance to engineering – and as a writer/performer/engineer, I’m always searching for what will make each song emerge as a unique entity. The thing about exploring is that you hit a lot of dead ends, but when you find something that works, it’s exhilarating. Without a fascination with unexplored possibilities, the creative process grinds to a halt and, sadly, we’ll end up repeating ourselves as we camp out on the grounds of familiarity and safety.

NT: Explorations of longing in poetry and song are some of humanity’s most beautiful expressions. You contribute your fair share to the lot. As the Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Everything has to do with loving and not loving.” Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
JG: I think so. Yet, the word “love” itself is so hard to pin down in our culture, that that quote could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me, “loving” would be defined as a selfless giving of oneself for the sake of others, without condition of reciprocation or return. As faulty humans, we experience this truly divine form of loving sporadically, and, for some, it’s never experienced at all. Most mass culture and media culture are driven by the precepts of “not loving,” which would be withholding ourselves from each other, exploiting others, and demanding our rights in return. Yet we’re made for loving, so we live with a deep longing that continues all our lives. When a song or poem truly reminds us of what we all know is there, we can’t help but respond.

NT: Do you find that people are hungry for musical connections – and other interactions – that address life’s larger questions? That invoke and relate to something deeper in themselves? After all, there are no “baby, baby, baby” lines in your tunes.
JG: For sure. Ultimately, I think that all people, either consciously or subconsciously, are drawn to the arts, because art speaks the language of the soul. And every soul is searching for connection to transcendent answers to life’s over-arching questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What happens when I die? Is there a God? These are some of the questions that form every person’s worldview, and how we answer these affects how we navigate life. As Pete Seeger says, “[there are] people who say that music is just an attempt to make life live-able. It’s true to a certain extent, that’s one of the purposes of music – to help you survive your troubles, help distract you from your troubles. But some music helps you understand your troubles, and as you see here … some music can help you do something about your troubles.”

NT: Your sound is a hybridization of Citizen Cope, Sufjan Stevens, M. Ward, and Jose Gonzalez – but, in some ways, is more accessible than any of them. Do you ever consider making your lyrics more broadly inclusive in order to reach a wider audience?
JG: It’s an honor to be compared with the likes of those guys, for I’ve got ‘em all in my iPod. I’ve always known that choosing to explore the intricacies of my faith in Christ would be a potential disconnection for many listeners. Yet, I’ve been compelled to do so, not out of a sense of obligation or to proselytize, but because when I’m honest with myself … I can’t escape how interesting, mysterious, and life-changing the whole thing is. I turn these things over in my mind and heart a lot, and the songs become a sort of tool or vehicle for me to flesh out what’s happening within. I do this as much for me as for the listener. I think to abandon this subject matter for the sake of being palatable to more listeners would be dishonest, both to myself and to them. I think it’s authenticity that people listen for first. I can connect with songs from Black Sabbath, The Sex Pistols, Prince, or Polyphonic Spree without being compelled to believe what they’re singing about. Yet, I’m compelled to listen because they’re believable.

NT: The monetization of art is an interesting topic. Why have you stepped away from that model by offering your new album for free? How do you see the intersection of art and commerce evolving in the future?
JG: A few things came to play in my decision to give away this latest album for free. First, I asked my fan base if they would be willing to help fund the project on the front end, and their response to this invitation was awesome. Because of fan-based funding, I was able to finish the project without going into debt. (Every other project I’ve done has put me in debt $10-12,000 … which then is paid off with album sales.) I had no hole I needed to fill in with this album, so to speak.

Second, this may sound weird to some, but at a crucial moment near the completion of the album I sensed God ask me, “Will you give this one to me?” It was actually a hard choice for me. The practical man in me pondered the ramifications of this decision for not only myself, but also my wife and two children. But then, if you think God might be asking you to do something, you kind of know what the right answer is the moment the question’s asked. All this to say, giving the album away wasn’t some high-risk promotional idea I dreamt up. It was actually never my intention. Yet, the fact that the work was already paid for (by others!) set me up to let go of it seamlessly, and demand nothing in return. Now, on the flip side of the decision, it’s been such a joy to give away something that was so precious to me. I feel like I blindly stumbled into a wonderful new way of approaching my vocation and the transmission of my work. Just as there are limitless possibilities in regards to how to craft a song, I’m learning there are new and creative ways to be a working artist in the global marketplace.



Writer Kelly McCartney recounts savoring Bread, the Fifth Dimension, and K-Tel compilations as a kid. Her palate has since matured to favor Death Cab for Cutie, The Avett Brothers, and NoiseTrade samplers.

  • Churchjester

    The world needs more artists (and people) like Josh Garrels.  God bless you, Josh!!

  • Jenn

    I can’t stop listening to this album. Great interview!

  • dave

    Love all your music! I have shared your new record with several people and they all enjoy it. Thanks for music and please keep it coming.

  • Gibs712

    solid questions, solid answers!

  • Paul H

    Josh –
    True “art from the heart” can stick out from the “art for money” crowd so blatanly, even a casual novice ear can hear it.
    Thanks for staying close to the heart – always enjoyed your art.

  • Josh, the one thing I tell people about you, is, you love God and the songs that are given to you are from above, and are to the glory of the Father. He always seems to have you right on target concerning the lyrics wth the time frame we are in. I pray the Lord Jesus Christ keep you and your household hidden in Him. Stay the course, walk humbly, and up rightly with the Father. And remember to adhere to what Jesus said in Luke 16:15. ( KJV).

    Stay the course, keep your sights on Him who brought you out of eternal darkness, into His marvelous light. Blessings brother, to you and your house hold
    See ya on the other side, if not before. : ))) 

    PS. Thank you for the latest album.

  • love it, in so many ways. Thanks heaps 🙂

  • Bryan

    This is so great  – David was a man after God’s own heart because of his honesty and devotion to God. You will never regret honesty.

  • Tylerstynsberg

    this is easily my top album of the year so far.  Thank you for being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s stirring of your heart, Josh!  I pray the rewards will come back to you ten fold!

  • Pingback: Five Questions: Josh Garrels » Kelly McCartney()

  • Amazing stuff here!! What a beast!

  • Pingback: Repaso: Reformation and philanthropy, fighting malnutrition and corruption in Guatemala, and Josh Garrels interview()

  • Mbbs777

    Dude, Josh, you are so cool!  Continue professing your faith in Christ.  There is nothing better!  And your music!  Ohmygoodness, it’s so fantastic.

  • Leggett

    Thank you Josh, L&W is some of the best music I’ve ever heard. You’ve got the real gospel of Christ, everyone born of the spirit is blown by the wind.

  • Tomaz

    Hey Josh, your songs reached Brazil already! I’m trying to promote your work down here and I’m very proud to tell everyone that such a high quality music comes from a christian! Keep up the good work bro and thanks a lot for giving your new album for free to all of us! 

  • Moogiec

    First of all, thank you for allowing us to download your beautiful album for free. It’s been a blessing. Second, I’m so encouraged to read how you’ve resisted the temptation to water down your message in order to reach a wider audience. As you say, people are drawn by authenticity. And when they find truth behind the words, they’ll be encouraged to look for more.

  • Goose

    Thanks Josh.  Keeping running the race!

  • flowers

    As a child of the 60’s,I remember songs that had meaning and were full of melodic wonder…Josh,I want to encourage you to keep running the race and living for the ONE who loves us all.I love the complex simplicity of your words and music.If it wasnt for Duke and Josh,I may have never heard your heart……Coincidence…..I think not.Blessings!

  • Great questions, great answers. Keep writing Josh, can’t get enough of your stuff.

  • RB

    You have been touched Josh! Keep pouring out your gift…

    When can we expect you out to tour the new music?

  • Désiré Rusovsky

    Simply awesome. When do you come in Switzerland?

  • Pingback: Love, Music, and Art « Also Out of My Mind!()

  • Pingback: Josh Garrels « World United Music()

  • wow Josh, you are an inspiration, just so you know your music has just hit my community in South Africa and we really do love it!! Thank you

  • Pingback: Видео: Josh Garrels — White Owl | КОНТЕКСТ ТВОЕЙ ЖИЗНИ()

  • this may sound weird, but your whole album fits my cycling playlist… you really do have a beautiful voice…

  • Elaine761

    Brother, freely you have received freely give, Amen Let the Lord supply not the world He always will

  • Chanell_rene

    Thank you for the amazing gift!

  • MaskingMixtape

    great stuff. love josh even more after reading this, already becoming a big fan of his music, sharing with friends. i find it fascinating how the pressure for watering down lyrics to be palatable can come from various angles, and josh’s response to that is refreshing. if love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others, then we could say that josh is exemplifying that in giving his music away, because the world needs music like this. KEEP ON exploring, my brother, and producing. and come to west michigan. 😉

  • Pingback: Revelation: The Revelator by Josh Garrels. | The Scripture To Music Collective()

  • Guest

    It would be awesome if Noise Trade could link albums that you download and the artist’s tour schedule with your zip code. That way, you would know when the artist is performing nearby. 

  • Pingback: Why Resistance?()