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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

May 18, 2007
Josh Berwanger, the primary songwriter who has stepped to the fore on Keeper of Youth, is a man having to work harder than he should just to make the music he wants to. Hell, just for this interview he had to battle two children in order to answer questions.

Since he and his friends disbanded the Lawrence, Kansas emo rock staple The Anniversary only to birth The Only Children "five minutes later," Berwanger's musical trials and tribulations have run the gamut, from battling booking agents to falling out with record labels and tackling political song material. In this LAS exclusive interview, Berwanger talks with Matt Conner about The Only Children's progression from alt-country side project to what has been described as a meat and potatoes pop band with legitimate chops.

---

LAS: I've read that you came to the recording sessions for Keeper Of Youth with around thirty songs...

Josh Berwanger: Yeah, I guess that's true. Originally, I was going to do two albums.

What are the criteria for songs that you keep and songs that become unused?

Well, the reason I didn't do that is because I was booking time at the studio - this was before SideCho Records - and I didn't have a label. At the time I thought that if I was just going [to release it] by myself and only twenty people were going to hear it, I might as well make two albums and use them all. Then SideCho came in and said they wanted to help put out my record, so then it didn't make sense to do that. No label wants to put out a double record.

I almost feel embarrassed talking about this, but I was writing a lot of political material and I wanted to do a political record as one of the themes. But I wanted to do it in a way that wasn't so obvious. I think that unless it's Bob Dylan or Neil Young making a political record, then I don't want to hear it. If it's some band that just came out, for some reason it just turns me off. So I know if I was a fan and I heard that someone was coming out with a political record, then I would say, "Oh, brother."

So I have all these songs that were written in that way but not so obviously [political] or even not at all, depending on how you look at it. But I just scrapped that whole idea. Those songs will probably always be demos on tapes. I thought I would just concentrate on the set of songs that would become Keeper Of Youth.

So these are your non-political songs?

Yeah, I guess so. There are undertones to a few, but yeah, for the most part.

I wanna go back for a bit and talk about your old band, The Anniversary. Why leave that band to go solo?

It was a very weird time. It wasn't one particular thing that I remember. All this drama happened and no one knew what they wanted to do in the band. We were all best friends and we had been doing it for so long. Half of our hearts weren't in it. I know my heart wasn't in it. Half of my own friends were saying I needed to quit and another half was saying another thing. I just needed to figure out what was best for me.

What ended up happening was Glurp - the label that our first record came out on - I was talking to them [about] all this solo stuff that I just wanted to put out as a record. I asked if they wanted to do it and sent them some stuff and they said yes. The Anniversary wasn't yet broken up but I had already signed this deal. I was just concentrating on what ended up being The Only Children. Our drummer ended up calling the guys in The Anniversary to get together, because nobody had talked to each other for six months or so.

Something happened and I just said, "I quit. I'm not doing this anymore. I don't wanna do a meeting or anything. I just quit." Then Jim, the bass player, was like, "Well, if you're quitting, I quit." Then three months later, we ended up having one last meeting and three of us were done with it and two of us didn't want to quit. So those guys joined the band that was gonna be just me - The Only Children - and we started practicing five minutes later.

Was it hard to watch something you had been involved with for so long just dissolve like that?

I think it's harder now to look back than it was then. I had been dealing with the stress of the band for so long that by the time it was over, I had already moved on. I was already doing The Only Children. Now it's more of just a shame, I guess, the way it ended. The fact that we were all high school friends, it's sometimes a bummer the way things turn out.

This album is very much a rock-and-roll effort. Is that a byproduct of what you're listening to?

If someone asks what my favorite record is, the answer has to be "What week?" I'm always listening to music and always obsessed with something. It probably recycles every six months. If I feel like I'm listening to something, then I'm oppositely influenced by it. So I was listening to a lot of early Memphis rockabilly stuff like Lloyd Arnold and Jim Shaw. I was also going through a Dr. Alimantado phase, this reggae dude. I'm obviously always listening to the Rolling Stones, but those are the ones I remember listening to non-stop for that month.

The influence of those things was more about how they were made and how they were recorded, more of an influence on how I wanted to record it than anything else. I kinda wanted the album to sound like shit and it came out better than I wanted it to. The fact that it was the first record I've ever made that was divided by weekends, instead of just taking a week and a half for the whole recordů I had a hard time doing that. I like to take a week and a half and just focus on the record. But I have a baby now, so we had to do it on weekends. So I would leave and come back and ask, "Okay, what are we doing now?"

But it was a good thing, too. I remember not wanting to sing a particular vocal and just being able to walk away from it. Then the next weekend I came back and felt ready to sing it. So maybe it was good to have that space. It was just new to me.

"Tired of This Town"- is that a literal frustration with where you live in Lawrence, Kansas? Is it a figurative thing of your musical frustrations?

It's kinda every town.

Is that from a restlessness inside of you?

I don't know. Maybe. I'd have to really think about it. There are all kinds of people who move from Lawrence to New York City and they're back in a month. I think [the song] is for anyone who is constantly searching for a place that's really cool, but really every place is pretty much the same. If you hang with all the scenesters in Lawrence and move away, you're probably gonna hang with all the scenesters there in the new place and have the same conversations.

The album comes out next week. What then? What else is happening for you in the immediate future?

We're gonna do a little Midwestern tour, because we can't find a booking agent. I never thought I was going to put out a record again on a label, so it's exciting to have [SideCho] because it's nice to have others excited about your record. When you're doing it yourself, you question things a bit more. At least I do. It's like having a coach and you're on a team and someone is saying, "You can do this. We're gonna help you get here." That's always a good thing in my book.

SEE ALSO: www.theonlychildren.com
SEE ALSO: www.sidecho.com

--
Matt Conner
A contributing writer, Matt Conner lives in Anderson, Indiana.

See other articles by Matt Conner.

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