Queensland resident Josh Setterfield has recently appeared on the Australian country music scene, with his debut EP Live it Up. He has since released a single, ‘Hometown’, from an upcoming EP, From Dusk. And while he’s new to country, he’s certainly not new to music – as I discovered when we spoke recently.
Your new single is called ‘Hometown’ and I’m wondering what is your home town?
My home town is a little place south of Newcastle [New South Wales]. It’s called Wangi Wangi. I grew up there. Moved away when I was 11 or 12 to come up to Queensland.
So now you’re a Queenslander?
No, I’m not! [Laughs] I am. In [State of] Origin I’m not a Queenslander. But I’ve lived here the majority of my life.
Where are you now?
Just north of Brisbane.
I was looking at some of your videos and I counted at least five instruments that you play. I saw a bass, a guitar, a banjo, drums and a piano. What is your musical background? When did you start playing, what was your first instrument and what did you grow up listening to?
When I got into music I was listening to a lot of pop punk. My favourite band was Simple Plan. I actually saw them on MTV back in the day and I thought, I want to be like that.I wanted to be a punk kid. I originally learned guitar and then I learnt drums because a band that I wanted to join didn’t need anything but a drummer, and I really wanted to be in that band [laughs]. So that’s how that came about. Everything else just kind of came. I don’t know when I learnt it. I just kind of pick it up and play it. I can’t actually read music at all. If it sounds right, I play it. But I was in a pop punk band for about seven years. We did some pretty cool things – got to tour with The Offspring, play Vans Warped Tour and tour with Simple Plan, my favourite band. I was so stoked. Last year sometime it came to an end and I was going to do the same thing but I kind of didn’t want to – I wanted to try something new, and I’ve always been a massive fan of country music. So I gave it a go, and here I am.
That is not necessarily a straight line from pop punk to country. You said you were already a massive fan of country music – what was the first country music you remember listening to?
My parents – my whole family, really – listened to it when I was growing up. But I’d have to say my biggest influence – and I know it’s really clichéd, being Australian – but Keith Urban was the dude that got me into it. He’s the biggest inspiration I ever had, being a solo artist, just in general.
You started playing guitar – is that your favourite instrument?
It’s my main instrument. I don’t really have a favourite. I think drums are so much fun just to rock out to. But I guess I play guitar more than anything else, so I’d have to say that’s been my main one and probably my favourite.
Your second EP is From Dusk, and as far as I can it’s not out yet – is that correct?
No, not yet.
When’s that coming out?
I’m not allowed to say yet! But it’s definitely coming and it’s a lot sooner than people think.
So you’re not allowed to say because you’ve got a record company that’s telling you that you can’t say?
No, I wish – I wish that was the news. Just my manager saying we need to keep it downlow so we can focus on the single for now.
Were you happy with how the first EP’s process went? Because you have obviously been involved with music for a while but this was your first EP in a new genre.
Surprisingly it went really well. Obviously having punk fans, they came across to it and had a listen. Some were keen on it, some weren’t too keen on it, but the majority were pretty sold on it. A lot of the people I found through the country scene have been really supportive of it as well, which is awesome. It seems there are a lot of people who are either for the new sound of country or the old sound of country, and luckily, for some reason, they like me, so I’m stoked.
You have a great voice, so that always helps. If someone’s sitting on the fence about a genre, a voice is something that humans respond to instinctually, so if the voice is there, the audience is halfway there. Also, country rock a lot of purists might think is kind of raucous, whereas your sound is melodic rock, which I think Australian country artists do really well. That’s more a statement than a question [laughs].
[Laughs] I can’t really answer that but I agree with what you said.
Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I wrote everything myself on my first EP and the second one. I just feel like I have a lot of control that way. For the next EP that I’m looking at I’m going to try to branch out and do some songwriting with other people.
Since you have done it all yourself, do you want to branch out because you think creatively it might be more interesting or you just feel like you should do it?
I’ve just never really tried it. And there’s a lot of collabs within the country scene, and I just want to really do it properly. I want to experience what these people are experiencing and try all the different things. I know I can write a song myself but I’ve never tried to write a song with another main songwriter, so I’m really interested just to try it.
Have you ever in the past, or would you consider in the future, writing songs just for others?
I’ve considered that a couple of times. There’s a couple of songs I’ve come up with that I really like but I feel like they don’t really suit me. I’ve come up with a couple of punk songs as well, so I’m thinking about giving them to those guys because what am I going to do with them now?
When it came time to select songs for the EPs, did you have a big reservoir of material to draw from or were you writing specifically with the EPs in mind?
There was a couple of songs that didn’t make the cut, but it was only a very few. I had the kind of sound that I wanted to go for when I started, so I just went with it and that’s how it happened. And with this new EP, I wrote it as I was feeling it, and I just tried to piece it all together as the way it was, so I just picked the best songs I had at the time.
Given your musical background before you came to country music, have you found you’ve had to approach songwriting almost from a different angle because it’s a different audience, or do the same rules apply?
I pretty much use the exact same thing. People that I’ve spoken to have said that I’m kind of something different in the country scene. I’m not trying to change the country scene at all – I love it as it is – but I guess I’m just putting my own spin on it and the knowledge that I have so far, I’m bringing it over.
One of the things about punk is that the song construction needs to be really tight, because you have to deliver a short, sharp message, and you might have developed a certain discipline that really helps you, moving into a new genre.
So you love Keith – are there any other Australian artists whose careers you’re hoping to emulate or who you just love as performers?
Massive fan of the Wolfe Brothers at the moment – those guys are just killing it. Troy Kemp also – his music’s awesome. Viper Creek Band, they’re really cool. There’s a lot of bands that I’d heard of – and I’d listened to them – but once you come into the scene you start to find new artists. I’ve played with Rachel Fahim, who was the Star Maker winner, in Tamworth – she’s really cool. I just love meeting all these new artists and finding out their music and their styles. There are a couple of artists in the industry who are a lot closer to what I am than I thought I was going to have coming into country music. I thought it was going to be all John Williamson and Lee Kernaghan – and I love that sort of stuff. But there’s heaps of bands here that I didn’t even really look into until I got I into the scene.
The Wolfe Brothers have really opened up a younger audience for country rock who perhaps wouldn’t have considered country music as something they would like.
Definitely. Everyone I’ve shown their music to so far have said, ‘Oh – is this country now?’
You’re heading for the Deni Ute Muster in September – is this your first time?
Yes, I’ve never been before and I’ve heard so many awesome stories. I cannot wait to have my own.
Will you have your own ute?
I don’t know if I’m taking it down yet, because I’m going to have to drive from Brisbane. I kind of want to do the road trip but I have to bring the band as well, so band and ute and all the gear, I’m struggling to figure out how that’s going to work.
You’ve played the Gympie Muster in the past. What do you like about a big festival audience compared with a smaller crowd?
I find that with the festivals, it seems like more people come together. Being that most country artists will play three hours’ worth of show at pubs and stuff like that you can go to a festival and everyone goes there to hear the original music and a couple of covers, whereas at smaller shows it’s the other way around. And the vibe from everyone there – they just want to go there and have a good time. And that’s all there is to it.
Beyond Deni – are you heading to the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2018?
I will definitely be back in Tamworth.
So you played there this year?
Yes, that’s where I played with Rachel. It was before she won [Star Maker] – I teed up some shows and I was playing in her breaks. Then she won it and the crowds just tripled and I was, like, ‘Awesome’. She’s really cool.
Do you have a venue that you’re very keen on playing in?
I really like the Albert [Hotel]. It is an awesome little venue.
They get a lot of loud shows there.
That’s my kind of music [laughs].
And before that there is your EP. EPs have become popular for emerging artists – and in this genre you are emerging. They’re a way for people to get a taste of your music. But are you looking ahead to an album?
I’ve been thinking about it. But I feel with today’s music – just the experience of what fans who follow me are into – I feel like EPs are the way to go at the moment. They’re shorter. People’s attention doesn’t really span across a whole album any more, just from what I’ve seen. There’s still a lot of people out there who listen to albums – I still do – but if it’s a shorter album that’s better, with all the top songs instead of the filler tracks, then it just grabs people’s attention way more.
I guess in the age of streaming it makes sense. For artists these days there’s a lot to think about: social media, for one thing. You have to think about your music going on to streaming and how it’s going to sound. Do you like that side of things or is it easier to concentrate on the creative part of your job?
Honestly, I’m interested in all of it and any way to get it out there.
Do you find that you get responses from people on social media so you feel like you can interact with fans?
Definitely. I feel like it’s one of the main parts of today. You still have to go out and do your own thing in person, but with a musician now, it’s crucial to be on social media. That’s where everyone’s eyes are now – they walk around on their phones all day. Facebook is awesome to get music out there.