Get to Know: Singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer

I first heard about Josiah and his music back in 2021, when he released his debut album Shimmer and donated all proceeds to charity. An almost hidden musician, he has taken a break since then and is now back with his brand new EP titled Epochs, which are a collection of acoustic guitar singles that are wonderful to listen to. I recently caught up with Josiah and we had a good chat around all things music and politics at how he separates the two. Read on to get to know more about this unique artist.

Josiah Mortimer

Congratulations Josiah, on the release of your latest EP Epochs. This is your latest release after Shimmer which released in 2021. How does it feel to release new music after so long?

Thank you! I wrote Shimmer, my first album, in the depths of lockdown and it was mainly a form of catharsis – I think we all had a lot to process at the time. Like Epochs I recorded it all at home, at a slightly silly pace. If I’m honest I think I overdid it!

So I took a year and a half off recording, and waited until it felt right again. Eventually it took forcing myself to write to get something out of the door. It’s a bit like making yourself go for a run, or so I’ve been told… It’s hellish stepping out, but once you’ve done it it’s a great feeling.

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You’re a political journalist by day and a part-time singer-songwriter. Please share your musical journey from the beginning.

I grew up around music in the sense that my parents have excellent taste (I still steal band recommendations from them), and took me to plenty of festivals and gigs. My dad is a lovely guitarist and I’ve tried to pinch a bit of his style, transferring it to acoustic from electric. I picked up a lot from him, and learnt playing by ear. In my teens I was quite obsessed with Johnny Cash, moving on to people like Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and John Martyn.

A very long story short, I started playing in rock bands as a rather ludicrous-looking young punk/emo, but my tastes soon mellowed considerably as I became more interested in acoustic music, after getting a Takamine for my 16th birthday (I’m 30 now and it’s still my main guitar.) I began playing open mic nights and gigs in Cornish villages, learned to love recording (at home and in tiny studios), and moved from writing miserable acoustic punk songs to slightly more nuanced singer-songwriter tunes. I can only apologise to my younger self for being a complete sell-out.

My job is journalism, which is creative in a way, but I see the two things as very separate. I tried writing political music but it’s hard to not sound cliched, so I’ll stick to the personal or semi-philosophical stuff.

The overall sound of your latest EP is somewhat different to Shimmer. Could you share the creative process behind this new release with us?

I was very proud of Shimmer but I wanted this recording to be a bit more stripped back. The four tracks are quite personal and I was keen to focus more on the lyrics.

Most of my songs begin as tankas, a form of extended haiku. I do a series of them on a theme and then eventually hack them into lyrics. It sounds a bit convoluted but I find it very hard to write lyrics any other way. Lyrics are always the hardest part of song-writing for me, which is probably a bit daft given that 99% of people (including me) spend very little time thinking about them as a listener.

The guitar riffs are always easier, and I tend to work them around what the lyrics feel like. For the music, I’ll generally just stare into space with my guitar in our Brixton flat and play around with various ideas until I find some sequences that fit together. I’ve got a basic little recording set-up here, and then I send my recordings to my very talented US friend Greg and he works his magic, mixing them. A million thanks to him.

Who are your musical influences?

I listen to a huge amount of (fairly melodic) electronic music – Maribou State, Bonobo, Bicep, Caribou and so on. But I don’t think it feeds through much into my music. I think the wonderful folk-ish band Stornoway write the perfect songs, and I’m a big fan of Marika Hackman’s acoustic work, and Tom Misch’s guitar style.

If you could describe your music in one genre, which one would that be?

I feel like the label singer-songwriter is a bit of a cop out (I’m very guilty of signing up to it!), so I’ll have to say folk pop. Ten years ago that would have been a very painful thing to admit but I’ve come to terms with it now. We’re in a golden age of pop. It’s cracking.

Do you aspire to perform your music live on stage, one day?

I’ve done a lot of gigs but the terror to benefit ratio is sometimes a little off for me! I’ll happily do short, contained gigs and I love playing with other people. Stick me behind a singer and I’m happy as larry.

Is this the start of regular music releases from you?

Music is a wonderful hobby for me – it is an outlet, a bit like knitting or painting. I love sharing music with others. I think I’ll probably end up doing a recording or two every year until I snuff it. If some people end up enjoying some of the songs, or the lyrics resonate, that’s lovely and a great bonus. I am putting stuff out into the ether – sometimes it lingers, most of the time it doesn’t. And that’s all gravy.

Any teasers on your forthcoming music releases?

I’ll probably take an overly-long break now. I do love song writing but I’m in an instrumental mood at the moment. Maybe I’ll put out a banjo album next year. With lots of harmonica. It will be purely for my own amusement, and I must apologise to the world in advance!

Thanks so much Josiah for your time and for letting us Get to Know you better! You can follow Josiah Mortimer on all the usual social media platforms and you can listen to his EP on your favourite music streaming platform. Stay tuned to Jem Girl at the Piano for all the latest indie music news!

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