Josh Rouse is at his best when writing personal observations about life’s intimate moments. The soft-spoken and unassuming songwriter detailed his crumbling first marriage on Nashville and his subsequent relocation to Spain on Subtítulo with his brand of 1970s AM radio pop.
Following a couple albums worth of Paul Simon-style experimentation with Spanish-sung songs, Rouse returned to his popular roots with The Happiness Waltz (read our three-stache review). This time, Rouse reflected on how raising children changed the dynamics of a marriage. It’s pop music delivered for Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight set.
Songs like “City People, City Things” and “A Lot Like Magic” sound effortless and flow like an easy-going conversation among friends. In a live setting, they fit seamlessly with Rouse’s other gems like the buoyant “1972” and guitar shimmer of “Dressed Up Like Nebraska.”
Rouse is nearing the end of a short U.S. tour that included two sold-out shows at City Winery Chicago. On a mild June afternoon, Rouse sat at an outdoor patio table at the venue’s courtyard to discuss the familiar groove on The Happiness Waltz; his collaboration with Spanish director, Daniel Sánchez Arévalo; and how a Beatle influenced the album’s lyrics.
Pop‘stache: You’ve expanded your sound with Latin-style melodies and bossa nova on El Turista and Josh Rouse and The Long Vacations. What brought you back to the soft rock flavor of your more popular albums?
Josh Rouse: I was writing quite a few songs and I thought it was maybe a good time to put out a record with the kind of material I’m known for, I guess.
P ‘s: Did anything surprise you during recording?
JR: No (laughs). We demoed everything. And Brad Jones (produced Rouse’s 1972 and Nashville) flew in for five days and we got to work and recorded it. The songs were good and easy to play, so there were no challenges–it was really smooth. Maybe I’ve been doing this long enough that it’s second nature.
P ‘s: Your lyrics on “The Happiness Waltz” are some of the most direct ones you’ve written. For example on “Our Love” you sing, “call late on Skype while I’m on tour/we’ll look for a place in the states/Brooklyn is nice, but it’s so damn expensive/we’ll stay right here in Spain.”
JR: I was listening to John Lennon’s Double Fantasy quite a bit when I made this record. His lyrics were always direct but this one was talking what was going on his life and relationships. And I liked that.
P ‘s: Looking into the future, you’ve completed scoring a new film by Spanish director, Daniel Sánchez Arévalo set for a September release.
JR: It’s called “La gran familia española,” and we used a couple songs from Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations record. The rest of the songs are new and mostly instrumentals. There are different moods because the music is up-and-down with intense moments, but there is some humor as well.
P ‘s: Your music has appeared in movies from Eat, Pray, Love to Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. Do you want to do more soundtrack work?
JR: I’ve had a lot of songs in movies, but this is the first time I’ve done music for a film. I like it, it’s a lot of fun and I found I’m pretty good at it (laughs). There wasn’t too much back and forth (with Arévalo); he was a fan of mine so it helped that he could reference things for me. I think the toughest part was when those scenes got cut out. I would say, “Hey, I spent some time working on that” (laughs).