Josh Pyke's current album is titled 'To Find Happiness'.
Josh Pyke spent most of lockdown in a bubble of creativity.
The Sydney-based musician released his first album in five years, 'Rome', in early 2020, and although he was unable to tour it, the release opened a floodgate of creativity that resulted in his newest release, 'To Find Happiness'.
Pyke says he "definitely considered" holding the release of 'Rome' until he was able to tour it properly, but felt that delaying the release would be detrimental to his creative inspiration moving forward.
"There's a song on that album called 'Don't Let It Wait' and I really subscribe to that," Josh explains.
"Having released that album kind of put me on this whole creative path that led me to 'To Find Happiness', and 'To Find Happiness' is my favourite record of mine."
Pyke had taken a break from touring for the two years leading up to the pandemic. "I had this beautiful domestic time, really focused on writing kids books and doing a lot of production work and music for film and TV, and I was really, really loving that," Josh says.
"But then I'd done 'Rome' and I was super fired up to get back on the road. I felt mentally ready again, because I was quite burnt out after 12 years of touring."
Josh is open about his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, which he says is currently "pretty good", but is an ongoing battle.
"For me now the biggest thing is, having spoken so openly about it really de-mystifies it and takes any shame out of it," he says.
"So even if it did happen – even if I suddenly had a massive panic attack on a stage where I was performing – I would just say, 'sorry, guys, I'm just having a moment. Just, you know, give me a sec.'"
When Pyke first began experiencing anxiety, he says he didn't realise what was going on. "When it first started happening I had no idea what it was and it's like you think you're dying,” he laughs.
"Now that I know what it is and what the signs are, if I'm having some kind of panic-attack moment it's just not as scary because I know what it is and I know that it'll soon pass, you know? And even if I have a bit of a sh.t evening or a sh.t few hours, I know that it's going to pass."
Pyke also discovered that meet and greets with fans was a trigger for his anxiety, saying it's "another level of scrutiny" he will avoid where he can, because it really doesn't help him as a human.
"I'm so incredibly grateful for my fan base, you know, so incredibly grateful, it's how I've been able to earn a living and support a family and have the life that I have," he explains.
"But when you're touring, you're traveling for most of the day, and then it's all adrenalised, all leading up to this two-hour window. And you really give it your all – or at least I do – and then at the end of that, if you then you go out and do meet and greets for like another hour and a half, it's just exhausting."
Pyke calls 'To Find Happiness' the only album of his own that he can listen to without feeling "incredibly self-conscious". Recorded in the studio of his Sydney home, Pyke worked remotely and had friends and band mates visit the studio as they were able.
"It was really organic and fun and, you know, because I hadn't been expecting to make another record, it kind of just flowed; it was very much that kind of friends and family approach, which was great," he says, "and then there was this window last March where we went up to Byron to mix it with Wayne Connolly up at the Music Farm."
'To Find Happiness' is a thematically heavy record for Pyke, who says "as much as it's called 'To Find Happiness', it's not about having found happiness – it's certainly about the search for it".
With songs exploring deeply personal issues like his mother's illness with Alzheimer's and learning to deal with and process it, Josh says the album's themes are about the quest for happiness.
"I feel like there's a lot of yearning on the album, a lot of yearning for adventure, yearning for experiences outside of your own home," he laughs.
"The irony is I think people that don't really know my music that well think, 'Oh yeah he's a singer-songwriter guy, he plays these cheerful acoustic ditties’, and it's just like, I don't think anything of my albums have been like that at all."
Record aside, Pyke spent much of the past few years working on ABC productions like 'Mikki vs The World' and 'Troppo' – most of which was done from his home studio – as well as the 'It's Raining Mentors' podcast with Elana Stone and a series of children's books.
He also re-launched The JP Partnership in 2021, giving independent Australian artists the opportunity to expand their music careers in multiple ways via a $7,500 grant. "The response was bigger than ever," Pyke says.
"There wasn't a lot of touring and stuff going on, but there was a hell of a lot of creativity behind the scenes, like, everybody was at home writing songs. I think also there was a sort of acknowledgment that there was an even greater need for some external help when it was all going to fire back up."
Josh says if COVID has taught us anything, it's that art and the creation of art is vital for mental health, so if grants are available people should take advantage of it.
"The arts industry has been criminally underfunded for years and years and years," he says. "So I think the more grants are out there, the more people should be applying for them. It's what they're there for."
Pyke is currently gearing up to perform Night At The Barracks, a series of performances through September and early October under the stars at the North Head Barracks in Manly.
As a Sydney local, it's a venue he's familiar with, although not one he has been to yet.
"I still remember surfing around Manly when I was a teenager and seeing it up there looming on the headland, and I've done some bushwalks around there in the past but I've not been to the actual venue – it looks amazing," he says.
"I think Sydney's crying out for more of these sorts of spaces to be utilised; we have such incredible spaces in Sydney and a lot of them aren't used for things like this, but in WA for instance, they've got this amazing old quarry that I've played at a couple of times, you know, and they do these things with these spaces like Fremantle Jail and all that kind of stuff."
With the freedom to choose any tracks from his extensive back catalogue for the event, Pyke says he finds putting together a set list can be difficult. "It means that you end up playing a set which is pretty much all the songs that people will know," he adds.
"Sometimes it means that I don't play songs that I love and haven't played for a while, but I remember reading an interview with Paul Kelly years ago where he's like 'it would just be such an insult to the audience to only play B-sides', you know what I mean?"
Josh's gigs since returning to the stage have focused on a wider repertoire than just his last two albums, so he feels confident about the show.
"You end up playing sort of, I don't know, like three or four tracks from each album," he laughs, "and yeah, it's a pretty killer set, I've got to say."
From the Barracks to the books – Pyke says he is really focused on the kid’s books, and has plans to release two of them a year. "But to be honest, I'm already thinking about another album," he says.
"I just love recording records, you know, it's like I still love the process of making a body of work. And I've got some ideas about some people that I want to work with."
'To Find Happiness' is available. Josh Pyke performs with Emma Donovan & The Putbacks at Night At The Barracks (Sydney) 16 September as well as Wanderer Festival (Pambula Beach, NSW), which runs 23-25 September.