What comes around goes around. At least Josh Rouse hopes so.
When he’s not building his fan base and winning over critics, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter parks cars at a luxury hotel. It pays the bills between albums, yes, but it also keeps him grounded.
“After the first record (1998’s ‘Dressed Up Like Nebraska’) came out, I toured for about a year off and on,” Rouse said recently. “Then there was a lapse of like seven or eight months, where I did some touring, like I toured with Aimee Mann, between that I had to make money so I went back to parking cars. It was a little frustrating, but I was ready to be back home. I’m married, and I wanted to be with my wife.”
Rouse had several celebrity sightings, such as Ray Charles and comedian Carrot Top, but one person, in particular – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman – left a horrible impression on him.
“He stiffed me. He didn’t tip me,” he said. “Isn’t that terrible? I was like, ‘That is just pathetic.’ He does it to everybody, that’s what he’s known for. All those millions and millions of dollars and he can’t help the small working man out. That’s all right, my time will come.”
With his second Slow River/Rykodisc album, “Home” (released March 14), Rouse is well on his way. He breaks the traditional singer-songwriter mold with a set of melancholic, literate and tuneful songs that embrace power-pop.
“Home” doesn’t tackle love and other typical “sensitive singer-songwriter” fare. “Marvin Gaye,” for example, is a metaphor for a tortured artist.
“I’m a big fan of Marvin Gaye, obviously,” Rouse said. “I wrote the song when I was on tour with the first record, ‘Dressed Up Like Nebraska,’ and we were listening to ‘What’s Going On?’ and I’ve heard that a million times, but I realized there’s a line in there that says ‘Who really cares?’ There’s a line in my song that says ‘Who really cares?’ I sat down that night when we got off the bus and I looked at the words and I was like, ‘This kind of outlines his life almost.’ It could have something to do with him.
“Then I saw E!’s ‘True Hollywood Story’ on Marvin Gaye. His life was a series of becoming successful, money problems, then success and failures. That’s what the song had to deal with, so I thought, ‘I’ll just title it ‘Marvin Gaye.’ He was a huge star. It was obvious he had something that few people ever have, an aura about him. Of course, he was an amazing singer, he was someone who was really special. He had that sex vibe going on.”
The album’s standout track, “Directions,” is for restless souls who “stay home all night with the TV and wife; comfortable life’s not all it’s cracked up to be, don’t like the direction you have come to.”
“It’s a subtle record,” Rouse said. “That’s the kind of records I make and I like. I did what I wanted to do on the record. I produced it pretty much myself. They’re catchy songs, but in a subtle way; it’s something you need to listen to a couple of times. It’s not an obvious, huge pop record.”
Rouse is tired of the “whole sensitive singer-songwriter thing” and enjoys shaking things up.
“I think I make more of a ‘band’ record,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a guy on an acoustic guitar whining. That kind of stuff is old. Not all my songs are about love or some girl breaking my heart. A lot of the stuff I like is probably what you consider more indie pop; I’m into people like Eric Matthews, that orchestral pop. I consider people like him my peers, people like Lampchop, who are friends of mine. We don’t sound a lot alike, but we’re still using different instruments instead of just rock guitars for everything. We’re substituting things with strings and stuff like that.
“I knew what songs I wanted to put on the record, and I knew what instruments I wanted to use. I pretty much had it all in my head when I went into the studio, and I came pretty close. I don’t know if anybody ever really gets there. God, I was reading an interview of somebody the other day, maybe it was Eric Clapton, he said there’s something he hears in his head and he’s just trying to get there, he still hasn’t done it. I guess that’s the way I feel, too.”
Rouse has been signed to appear sometime this spring on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” and the album’s opening track, “Laughter,” will surface in the March 28 episode of Fox’s “Party of Five” series. Meanwhile, Triple A radio stations have latched on to “Marvin Gaye” and “Directions,” which Slow River will service to modern-rock stations in April.
Maybe he won’t have a mainstream pop hit, but Rouse hopes he will gain more fans, enough to allow him to quit the valet job and focus on his music full-time.
“How the album will do is such a mystery,” he said. “You never know, but I’m ready for it to come out and see for the first couple of months how it’s doing. I hope it does well. It’s a real good record, and with the first record, I built up a decent fan base, enough to where there’s a building start there. This is still a building process.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Carole King’s ‘Tapestry.’ My mom had it, and I can remember I was somewhere and I saw it on 8-track and I had to have it. It’s funny, because last Christmas I bought it on CD for her and she was like, ‘Oh, I remember this was the first record you bought.’ “
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Until I was 13, I lived in Nebraska and not a lot of groups came through there. It might have been something like the Marshall Tucker Band.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “The (self-titled) ‘Chappaquiddick Skyline’ album, which is by a guy named Joe Pernice (of the Pernice Brothers). It’s pretty good. The one I bought before that, a guy named Sam Prekop, he’s from a band called Seeing Cake; that record is amazing. A friend had it and I knew I just had to have it.”
BWF (before we forget): Josh Rouse is home on the Web @ www.joshrouse.com.
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