Interview: Joshua Burnside explains debut Ephrata

Joshua BurnsideYou may have noticed that we've recently developed an obsession with Joshua Burnside's music. Or make that, we're in the middle of revisiting an obsession. When we first caught wind of the Northern Irish singer-songwriter in 2013, it was thanks to standout single "Desert Wine", a double A-side release with "Platonia". Now Burnside has returned with his debut album Ephrata in hand, and his ascent in our admiration book continues.

Calling from Galway, he settles into a conversation that promptly confirms the "bulk" of Ephrata was written in Columbia, but that Glasgow and his home city of Belfast have played an equally important role in his music: "I was living in Glasgow for a bit and then I went through a breakup and quit my job. I had a cousin who was living in Columbia and he invited me over to stay, just to look after me or whatever... I was like yeah, that’d be grand, it’d be an opportunity to see a different culture [and] a different part of the world. It was amazing - an amazing place, amazing people."

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You can clearly hear the influence that Columbia has had on Joshua Burnside's full length, as the appearance of instruments and techniques often used in Latin music gives away its international beginnings. Joshua agrees: "A lot of the rhythms on the album were inspired by Columbia - music that comes from the Caribbean coast; songs like “Ephrata” [where] there’s a particular beat [that] we used, and a similar rhythm in the post-chorus section of "26 St”. Then in “Fightorfight” I used a South American style guitar strumming technique, almost like a samba or flamenco kind of nylon string guitar sound that you hear quite a lot. I adopted it for that tune which worked quite well in the end."

Burnside is incredibly invested in every angle of his music, right down to selecting instruments that play into a song's themes. He also occasionally undertakes the role of sound engineer himself, something he wants to commit to next time he enters the studio ("I really love mixing and I’ve mixed stuff for other people, so I’d probably like to do it for the next release"). With all that energy invested elsewhere, how does he find the time to explore such diverse influences? The answer isn't clear, and neither is Burnside's description of Ephrata: "It’s somewhere from Belfast to Chicago via Bogota," he laughs. "[There's] a little bit of Eastern European stuff thrown in there as well."

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The range of genres on display hasn't always been so varied. Previous work demonstrates a love of Irish folk music and Americana by way of an acoustic guitar and open mic style vocal. That was until 2013 EP If You're Goin' That Way - including the attention grabbing song "Desert Wine" - which turned the tables for good: "On the last EP there was a lot of electronic stuff," he agrees, before promising "there are going to be even more electronic elements [on the next album], due to the fact that it’s actually easier to tour! On Ephrata, on every track, there are at least 5 instruments going on at the same time."

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This problematic setup will be put to the test when Burnside plays in Glasgow and London on 9th and 11th May respectively. The thought has already occurred to him: "For the next album, I think I’m going to strip it down so that when we perform it, it’ll just be me and my brother who plays the drums."

Fans of the experimental needn't fear, as Burnside proposes to use "a laptop, guitar, a drum sample pad, [and] maybe a keyboard" to layer his music. It's not like he can't do it. With the except of some clearly talented backing musicians, he recorded much of Ephrata himself.

Read our full review of Ephrata here and follow Joshua Burnside on Facebook to show your support.

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