BackStage Pass


Joshua Powell

Midwesterner Joshua Powell creates a style of psychedelic indie rock that blends with American folk music. His music has been featured on Spotify’s official “Indie Acoustic” and Starbucks’ official national playlist. His performance includes the songs “Black Lodge (water),” “Bliss is a Flak Jacket,” and more.

AIRED: November 23, 2019 | 0:56:46

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by the MSU Federal Credit Union,

a proud supporter of the arts and culture

in our local community since 1937.

More information on MSUFCU's community involvement

is available at

(upbeat music)

And by donations from viewers like you.

(mellow blues music)

(audience cheering)

(electricity crackling)

(audience applauding)

(audience applauding)

- [Announcer] Ladies and gentlemen,

please welcome to the stage, Joshua Powell.

("Black Lodge")

♪ Beryl

♪ Smudge of spruce

♪ The guardrail grin

♪ Of West Virginia

♪ Hex of a fog on

♪ Davis lawns

♪ Like a

♪ Blossom

♪ You collapsed in

♪ On yourself

♪ But what is the death of

♪ The body to a God without one ♪

♪ Forgiving your hippie daughters ♪

♪ Your pictures of you in uniform ♪

♪ Reciting components of engine parts ♪

♪ Or singing "Kaw-Liga" on the front porch ♪

♪ And Robert's

♪ Mowed the lawn

♪ Like

♪ Like...he did

♪ Says Dora in a rage

♪ Whilst Jacob and I

♪ Build our lexicon

♪ Two young

♪ Brother

♪ Bears

♪ Bound to freeze

♪ In a Christmas tree as one

♪ Running it off

♪ Into coal country

♪ Weekender at Blackwater

♪ Mother is somber on the phone ♪

♪ My cousin tells me how she saw Jesus ♪

♪ And now how he won't leave her alone ♪

(audience applauding)

("Arrowheads or Worse")

♪ New aura

♪ Of sonic flora

♪ And that corrected set

♪ Of gap teeth

♪ That allow me to sing

♪ Less dissonantly

♪ Ooh ooh ooh ooh

♪ Ooh ooh ooh

♪ Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh

♪ And I would swallow arrowheads or worse ♪

♪ I would swallow arrowheads or worse ♪

♪ To demonstrate my empathy

♪ For how it must have felt for you ♪

♪ Watch me at the altar once again ♪

♪ Watch me at the alter once again ♪

♪ Repeating vows through slanted mouths ♪

♪ As all my life, I've alchemized your grief ♪

♪ Ephemera of desert light

♪ I was grown when I was five

♪ Blooming in unqualified defiance of my youth ♪

♪ Seven times of 70

♪ Chariots are deafening

♪ And swinging low as I am thumbing rides ♪

♪ Take the fire I have been prescribed ♪

♪ The spiders

♪ Are in the fallow

♪ My mother's listless

♪ But child me

♪ With sugar cereal

♪ Ignores her warnings

♪ Ooh wee-ooh wee-ooh wee-ooh ooh ooh ah ♪

♪ Ooh wee-ooh hoo hah aha hah aha ah ♪

♪ Why couldn't we with ink the oceans fill ♪

♪ Why couldn't we with ink the oceans fill ♪

♪ The sun rescinds its offer of celestial hallucination ♪

♪ We the prone to melancholy will ♪

♪ We the prone to melancholy will ♪

♪ Hear the rooster crow, we will know ♪

♪ Exactly how we've made you feel ♪

♪ Ephemera of desert light

♪ I was grown when I was five

♪ Blooming in unqualified defiance of my youth ♪

♪ Seven times of 70

♪ Seven times of 70 ♪ Chariot is deafening

♪ Chariot is deafening

♪ Swinging low as I am thumbing rides ♪

♪ You are where I will go when I die ♪

♪ When I die

♪ When I die

(audience applauding)

My name is Joshua Powell,

and I'm an artist from Indianapolis

playing with my rock and roll band right now.

I grew up in a small town in South Florida

and simultaneously started playing music in church,

singing next to my brother in pews

and at the same time learning Blink 182 guitar tabs online

and starting a bunch of seminal little bedroom punk bands.

I think I started my first band at age 15,

and I told the guys in the band at age 15,

I was like, "This is what we're doing forever.

"We're gonna play these Blink 182 covers to the top."

You know?

♪ Hands done up in rose gold

It's weird when people ask about singing,

it's so natural to me.

I've never had a lesson or, it so sounds like a brag.

I've never been very intentional about singing,

I just grew up singing.

For guitar, it was actually in that first punk band

that I started but started playing bass

'cause it was real easy.

One of my dad's friend of a friend went to prison

and had this bass, we're just sitting around the house,

and I'd started playing the drums

and taught my friend to play the drums.

He got better than me real fast,

so I'd worked myself out of a job.

So, I picked up the bass

'cause it's one string at a time, right?

And I was like cool, "We can jam.

"We can put together shows."

We had a guitar player, and he left,

he and his family moved to Tennessee,

our guitar player, and I was like, "Well,

"we've been in this band for a year,

"I'm not ready to just be done being in a band,"

but we didn't know anybody else who played the guitar,

so it's like, "I guess I'll go online and figure it out."

♪ Girl I knew how

This band was a folk project,

explicitly for like five-plus years,

before I divorced that narrative from myself.

It was something subversive about it,

it was like quiet is the new loud,

like it's punk now to be quiet.

And the sound that we arrived at for this record,

I decided that, I was like,

folk is really a constraining genre tag,

and by taking the Great Train Robbery

out of the whole name of the band,

formerly Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery,

we're doing away with any expectation of sonic connotation.

I'm dissolving the artificial line

that separates the band from the person.

I have to be a lot more holistically integritous

and vulnerable and stand behind what I say,

both in an interview and on a record 'cause it's like,

now my spirit is the thing that we're selling.

Like, we're selling, "Hey, you like Joshua Powell?

"You like these songs?"

"I don't know.

"They're kinda indie rock dream pop right now."

But by the next record,

I've been listening to a lot of R&B and a lot of doom,

like we'll see how that works into the mix, you know?

(bluesy rock music)

So, my music is psychedelic

'cause we're making guitars sound very unlike guitars

and playing with time constraints and textures,

and then it's rock because we wanna run around and shout

and sweat on people and like turn up and have fun.

When older people ask, I'm like,

"Think about Neil Young songs played by Pink Floyd."

And then when younger people ask, I'm like,

"Think about stoner jams for English majors."

(audience applauding)

("Gunfighter Ballad for the 21st Century")

♪ I saw you with a boy

♪ I saw the crowded real estate beneath his denim ♪

♪ And I was in the right

♪ So I wrote it in a bill

♪ And paid all the right people to plant a seed ♪

♪ I've got the coordinates

♪ That's all they need

♪ While you were holding hands

♪ The backroom wizards loaded more than six into my chamber ♪

♪ As you looked me in the lens

♪ Do what you have to do and do it quickly ♪

♪ I thought you clever to quote our Lord ♪

♪ But there is no Peter in the garden with a sword ♪

♪ Now I know what you are

♪ Droning on, droning on

♪ Love travels far

♪ But modern bullets travel farther ♪

♪ Well Marty had it wrong

♪ I'm safe behind these walls of burnished pedigree ♪

♪ I'll never hang tonight

♪ Already paid the flight

♪ With the tax dollars in my pocket ♪

♪ Honey, there is nothing you can do to stop it ♪

♪ Now I know what you are

♪ Droning on, droning on

♪ Love travels far but

♪ Modern bullets travel farther ♪

♪ Modern bullets travel faster

♪ Modern bullets travel far

Thank you

(audience applauding)

Thank you so much.


♪ Ah ah ah ah

♪ Ah ah ah

♪ Ah ah ah ah

♪ Ah ah ah

♪ Bravery at Backbone

♪ Drawing Xs on my hands

♪ Dreaming of big summer tour plans ♪

♪ History of Monsters

♪ With their hooks deep in a scene ♪

♪ Acting like we weren't all 16 ♪

♪ And we'd take

♪ The Econoline your dad provided ♪

♪ Provided we make sure

♪ To bring it back full

♪ And be respectful

♪ And all those things our fathers say ♪

♪ At some Catholic Church

♪ There was glory in our sweat for that 15-minute set ♪

♪ Opening for Oceana

♪ You tried to talk me off the ledge ♪

♪ Of going off to college

♪ And you'd make it

♪ Another few months

♪ I promised you once that I was sure ♪

♪ That Indy wouldn't take

♪ But the shows in Delray

♪ Are the ones that I still play back ♪

♪ When someone shouts a breakdown call ♪

♪ Ah ah

♪ Ah ah ah

♪ Eh eh eh oh

♪ Brought out, ah ah ah out

♪ From, oh oh

♪ Oh oh oh

♪ Ah ah oh

♪ Ooh ooh oh

♪ Time falling, unwinding

♪ Little, little flowers fly

(electronic vocalizing)

♪ Staring

♪ Through the daylight

(audience applauding)

Thank you very much.

(mellow music)

I have this philosophy

that if there's music that I don't think I like,

I'm probably wrong, like it's probably not bad.

I just haven't learned to listen to it on its own terms yet

or to find in it the things that other people

find attractive about there those genres.

♪ I'm gonna tell them that

I've always been a pretty sensitive boy, like poet,

and I love that music has always given me

this more commercial outlet

to write about meaningful things in ornamental language,

but I loved that folk was like distilled focusing on lyrics,

that it was intimate, that it was vulnerable,

that it was raw, that it was blue collar,

but those were some of the same things

that attracted me to punk music in the first place.

And so, becoming basically like really myopic about genre

through most of my formative years,

thinking, "No, I don't like punk anymore.

"Now, I like folk, now I like this."

Whereas today, I'm like,

"I like this broad swath of things."

So like, I spent a lot of time

listening Medieval choral music,

which I know sounds pretentious and weird,

but I love the natural reverb of those cathedrals.

I love the way that music makes me feel.

I love that it was like pre-Western scaler concrete,

like they weren't worrying about the tonalities

that we think about when we hear Western music.

And then at the same time,

I got really into dub reggae this year.

And then, the guys that I'm working with right now,

Colin has this huge background in world music

and jazz music and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Josh is a really prolific jazz player.

Adam comes from the world of AC/DC, Kiss type rock and roll.

(mellow music)

My parents listened to pretty good music,

like I grew up on the Beatles and James Taylor

and Carole King and Earth, Wind & Fire,

and my dad loved smooth jazz,

and we played classical in the house,

while I was listening to all that punk

and hardcore metal stuff.

They've been really supportive.

I know they hate a lot of my lifestyle choices

and political beliefs

and, you know, that I'll paint my nails

or something like that, things like that

that just like grate against their sensibilities.

I know there was one time

we played this show in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

My parents were on a road trip,

my band was on tour, we intersected,

and they came to see us play.

There was a cabaret group that opened for us,

so it was a very strange show.

And my parents, who are ministers, were there,

and seeing us in this club

with all these naked people carousing,

very Dionysian scene, and they're like,

"What is that you do every weekend?"

And I was like, "Weekdays too." (laughs)

But they have consistently been supportive,

and I make it a point when we speak to be like,

"Hey, we got on a TV show," you know.

"Hey, we're on the radio.

"This is a real thing that I'm doing, it's not," you know.

I think they're convinced.

This song is called "Bliss is a Flak Jacket,"

and it goes like this.

("Bliss is a Flack Jacket")

♪ Hands done up in rose gold

♪ You were a vision with a baby on your hip ♪

♪ Prone to meddle with crystals ♪

♪ As though you missed all other spiritual conduits ♪

♪ As I'm hacking at a novel somewhere ♪

♪ Trying to comb the sparrows out of my hair ♪

♪ I'm thinking back about the time you read my palm ♪

♪ And God, I hope you did it wrong ♪

♪ Woo ooh ooh ooh

♪ Ah ooh

♪ Woo ooh ooh ooh

♪ Bliss

♪ Bliss is a flak jacket

♪ Guilt is the shrapnel

♪ Coat rack I've since sought to expel ♪

♪ But I fear that I'm not a shaman ♪

♪ So I'll keep my cosmic revelations to myself ♪

♪ I watched a revolution choke and sputter ♪

♪ I saw depression try to kill my brother ♪

♪ I heard Leviathan was living in a lake ♪

♪ Up near the border states

♪ And back, back off the back porch ♪

♪ There was a demon in the bonfire we made ♪

♪ So we formed an assembly line ♪

♪ To cart back buckets we had summoned from the lake ♪

♪ And even when all of the kindling had flattened ♪

♪ We were never certain anything happened ♪

♪ Besides the vestiges of smoke getting in my shirt ♪

♪ And smelling of the earth

Thank you.

(audience applauding)

("Spirit of the Trailer Park")

♪ I was workin' for the county

♪ When I saw her standing there ♪

♪ With a ribcage like a washboard ♪

♪ And with briars in her hair

♪ Alabama is a furnace

♪ And the summer is a dog

♪ And she was naked in the creek bed ♪

♪ In the image of her god

♪ On the Dia de los Muertos

♪ I was sitting in a bar

♪ With tequila as my mistress

♪ When my thoughts all turned to dark ♪

♪ So I gave up heavy drinking

♪ And stitched up my broken mouth ♪

♪ And I felt that old conviction ♪

♪ So I started driving south

♪ In the clay of Mason-Dixon

♪ In the absence of all snow

♪ Where the button buck is rutting ♪

♪ For the white tail of the doe ♪

♪ She is toddling in the tall grass ♪

♪ Just as timeless as the trees ♪

♪ Just as grungy as Seattle

♪ Just as holy as a priest

♪ I was climbin' up to Babel

♪ She was tugging at my jeans

♪ You can't ever get to heaven

♪ If you don't know what heaven means ♪

♪ It's not peeling like a paint job ♪

♪ It's not brushed under the rug ♪

♪ It's much deeper beneath the floorboards ♪

♪ In these trenches that we've dug ♪

♪ Oh, emaciated legs

♪ She took all my constitution

♪ And faded back into the dregs ♪

♪ As the sun set on the trailers ♪

♪ Of my past and future lives

♪ The magnolias are pregnant

♪ The cicadas

(audience applauding)

Thank you!

Music is, of course, the avenue

that I've sold my entire soul and life to.

If you look at my day, like hour to hour,

yes, my life is fully committed to music

because being in this band

is my primary vocation and occupation

and the bulk of the hours of most of my days,

but it's really, for me,

it's like such a compartmentalized function of art,

which is just like a much more intoxicating concept to me.

Music is like the coolest way

for me to be able to talk about and sell art, I guess,

because it's something

that has pretty low threshold as cultural barrier.

Like, it's a lot harder to sell paintings

and poems and things like that 'cause everyone,

even if you don't particularly love me

or what I have to say or the sound of our band,

if you sit through the set, at some point,

there's gonna be an innocuous toe-tapper,

like it's gonna get, you know, music is super universal.

So, it seems like for me just the most viable way

to build my life around art.

("Mandala in Reverse")

♪ Well I've been down on the lathe ♪

♪ Carved myself in frame

♪ And I memorized clever things ♪

♪ To say

♪ From a tarot deck

♪ And your reading list

♪ I was so impressed

♪ And I asked about your cats

♪ As I'm enraptured by your cheekbones ♪

♪ And the way you

♪ Are so self-possessed

♪ I

♪ I'm no good at this

♪ But in your Sanskrit eyes

♪ I am wrapped in white

♪ And I laid in the earth

♪ With a rosary in my hands

♪ What are these yokes even worth ♪

♪ When I'm shouldering half with a ghost ♪

♪ Well, I am a crow in mourning ♪

♪ Broke down, stiff

♪ And taking

♪ The winter drugs

♪ I take

♪ To not hate myself

♪ It isn't going well

♪ But you, you're something else ♪

♪ You are sand in my fist

♪ You are snow in my mouth

♪ But religion's a

♪ My mother prays with instant results ♪

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thing walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thing walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ I don't want to wake up the neighbors ♪

♪ Through these thin walls

♪ Whoa whoa

Thank you.

(audience applauding)

Thank you so much.

("Chakra #6")

♪ In your screaming

♪ Ultraviolet brain

♪ The messenger of

♪ The bad moon

♪ Comes down

♪ Says, little babe

♪ You're in retrograde

♪ What happened to you

♪ When did you

♪ Get so

♪ Old

♪ In your young bride's face

♪ You memorize her soul

♪ Like no one should

♪ Have to

♪ While you know

♪ It starts snowing soon

♪ And the Series is won

♪ But you won't

♪ See the score

♪ Twisted up like wraiths

♪ In the throat of the morning

♪ The redolence of gloom

♪ In unfamiliar rooms

♪ My brother rests off the factory line ♪

♪ In the pre-dawn fires

♪ Of middle age

♪ Rituals

♪ Of solipsistic doom

♪ I wish I were a faith

♪ Healer

♪ Blisteringly paced

♪ Without any warning

♪ Astral tripping slow

♪ I wonder if you know

♪ Do vultures sing

♪ What color is God

♪ I've forgotten

♪ But brother, rest your blood

♪ Your wars are won

(audience applauding)

(upbeat rock music)

I feel very lucky to have the band that I have right now

because in making this record,

made a very intentional decision to allow the focus

to be on me a little more narrower.

(upbeat rock music)

But the chemical exchange and the energy

of the live performance with the band

combined with the unspoken vibe

that gets curated of comradery

of this like brothers in arms,

of this we're in this together,

both in the Taco Bell gutters

and in the stage of the coolest venue or whatever.

It's like having the shared experience with other people

who are cultivating similar values.

(mellow rock music)

But when I'm on tour with the band,

not only are we able to like turn up

and get those lights pulsating

and create an experience that feels

holier and bigger for everybody else,

but also at the end of the night,

there's four dudes that walk off stage with me,

and we're all slapping each other on the back

and being like, "Yo, we killed it again," you know?

("59 Tomahawk")

♪ The way that Montauk

♪ Feels in your mouth

♪ To conjure white sands and moto jeans ♪

♪ As though we all somehow got grayer-eyed ♪

♪ On Halloween

♪ Oh

♪ The all-white quiet

♪ Of Meadowlark Woods

♪ Split clean open by Mossberg report ♪

♪ Downy barn owls, palmetto vexed ♪

♪ Become a sport

♪ Lavender in a wreath

♪ Around your head

♪ Safely hidden in the monolith ♪

♪ Sacred horror sleeps it off in fits ♪

♪ There are islands of lucidity ♪

♪ But we've been proven irresponsible ♪

♪ And I am hardly jettisoning gold ♪

♪ With no excuse

♪ Lavender in a wreath around your head ♪

♪ Safely hidden in the monolith ♪

♪ Sacred horror sleeps it off in fits ♪

♪ Twisting slowly from the black lagoon ♪

♪ Smoking flower in an azure plume ♪

♪ Having finally found our quiet room ♪

I'm Joshua Powell.

(audience applauding)

Thank you.

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] For more about Backstage Pass,

including full episodes to watch anywhere,

visit the series website at

BackStage Pass is made possible in part

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a proud supporter of the arts and culture

in our local community since 1937.

More information on MSUFCU's community involvement

is available at,

and by donations from viewers like you.

(dramatic music)


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