Pyke received his fourth ARIA Award for his 2016 collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Live at the Sydney Opera House; released the compilation The Best of Josh Pyke + B-Sides & Rarities in 2017 and last year released his first children’s book, Lights Out Leonard.
“It’s been very busy, which is a great problem to have,” Pyke told InQueensland ahead of the release of his new album Rome, which is out on Friday.
“So despite not touring, I’ve been doing a lot of writing – I’ve written a bunch of kids’ books and I’ve been producing other artists, and doing stuff for TV and film and I’ve also obviously been producing and writing the new record, so yeah, so yeah, it’s been pretty busy but it’s been good.
Pyke first came to national attention following the release of his 2005 single ‘Middle of the Hill’, an earnest, stream-of-consciousness acoustic pop song about his childhood that reached No.19 on the Triple J Hottest 100 and paved the way for his gold-selling debut album Memories and Dust, which also included chart hits ‘Lines on Palms’ and the title track.
Pyke has always drawn from personal experience for his songwriting and said it was the only approach he knew.
“I just never have an agenda with writing songs, it’s always been like that, so when I wrote Middle of the Hill, I didn’t sit down and go, ‘I want to write a confessional, three-minute-long, autobiographical song with no chorus, I just wrote it.
“I had been trying to be a professional musician since I left school and ‘Middle of the Hill’ didn’t come out until I was 26, so by that point, I’d had every shitty job you can imagine. It’s like they say, it takes a lifetime to make an overnight success so it might have seemed like I’d sort of come out of nowhere to some people but for me it was the culmination of a solid 10 years of trying really, really hard.”
“It’s just always been the same so I never have an agenda when I’m writing and that’s why I’ll end up with sort of 30 mostly finished songs for an album and then I’ll whittle it down to the 10 that I love the most but they’re always initiated with the same mentality, which is just that, if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t, I don’t labour over it.
“My ethos is that if you don’t write with an agenda, then you just end up with something authentic.”
Pyke’s burgeoning side hustle as a children’s author has been a big success since his first book was published last year and the singer-songwriter said he has enjoyed stretching his skill set.
“Kids’ books have always had a really strong place in my heart,” he said. “My wife started out in kids’ book publishing when we met, about 15 years ago now, and having two kids, we’ve spent so many hours reading and the more you read, the more you realise it’s not that easy and there’s a real skill to it.
“I think everybody thinks they could write a kids’ book but it’s actually as hard to write a good kids’ book as it is to write a good song, so I really wanted to dig into that skill set, and the first one, Lights Out Leonard, has gone great.
“It’s now been translated into five different languages and released In China, Taiwan, Netherlands, Germany and the United States. So, that was great and then I’ve got another five that are going to come out over the next year-and-a-half.”
Pyke has discussed his struggles with anxiety in the past and there is an overarching theme of “letting go” that runs through his new album Rome, which Pyke has described as his “most authentic record in sense”.
“Because I didn’t have any time constraints, and I had no agendas, I was able to do whatever I wanted to do in terms of crafting songs that I’m excited to be able to hear,” he said.
“I always love opening and closing an album with songs along a certain theme and the first track ‘Old Times’ Sake’ and the last song, ‘Where Goes the Girl’, are very much kind of bookends to this album.
“They’re both referencing the idea of letting go of a situation and for me, it was interesting to start an album with the idea of that and then kind of work my way back around to that same sentiment by the end of it, and they were actually, more or less, the first and the last songs that I wrote for the album, as well.”
Pyke is scheduled to kick off a tour for Rome in Brisbane in October with two sold-outs shows at Fortitude Valley’s Black Bear Lodge and the Old Museum at Bowen Hills, and said the prospect of performing live again “feels great in theory”.
“I’m still not convinced it’ll be a possibility though, to be honest and even if it’s possible to play shows, at this point, you still have to practice social distancing and the reality is, these shows have sold out and you can’t socially distance a maximum-capacity room.
“But I am chomping at the bit and I desperately want to do these shows and I’m going to think outside the box and do everything I can to make them doable.
“It might be the sort of thing where you play two sets during the evening – an early set and a late set – but we’re still spit-balling and trying to figure out what will work.”
Rome (Sony) is out on Friday.