Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman has been busy. A producer, co-writer, and sideman to the likes of Bob Weir, Hiss Golden Messenger, The Hold Steady, and more, he’s been showing up in all my favorite music lately. Josh and I have collaborated a lot over the years, and it’s been inspiring to cheer on his recent successes. In 2020, his band Bonny Light Horseman (with Anaïs Mitchell and Eric D. Johnson) scored two Grammy nominations. Additionally, he also contributed to both recent Taylor Swift releases, one of which, folklore, won an Album of the Year Grammy as well. To top that off, Josh and his wife, Annie Nero, recently became parents to twin boys.

Where were you when the pandemic hit?

Let’s see. I was in L.A. with Annie and our daughter, Clarabelle. We had gone there to start working on the new Fruit Bats record [The Pet Parade]. Fruit Bats is essentially a rotating cast of musicians, but mostly it’s Eric D. Johnson who’s become a close friend and a bandmate [Bonny Light Horseman]. We were supposed to be there for a week. Then we got there, and a day into it, it felt really uncomfortable. We cut the trip short and came home.

Did you guys get to record at all?

We have some funny voice memos on our phones. We didn’t do any proper recording, but we did a lot of playing guitars and working on songs.

Were you co-writing for that album?

Only on one song did we formally co-write. We were originally going to have Eric come upstate [New York] where I usually make records, and have this almost Van Morrison Moondance-style record, where it’s a fun, grooving band. Eric’s such a beautiful singer; I wanted to focus on that. That didn’t end up happening because he wasn’t able to come out. It wasn’t safe to do it. So, we decided to make what now would be a “classic pandemic album.” I played most of the instruments at home, sent them back, and Eric sang over it. Or Eric would send a vocal, a guitar, and a click track, and then I would play to that and send it back. We worked that way, for the most part. We had some collaborators; a couple of friends played drums on a few songs. Annie, my wife and collaborator, who was super pregnant at the time, would come down and play bass or sing some harmonies. Clarabelle, our 6-year-old, played tambourine on “Gullwing Doors.” It was a family zone.

Josh Kaufman

That’s great. What’s your home studio setup like? You relocated from Brooklyn to upstate New York after being in Brooklyn for a very long time.

Are we lifting the veil here, Dawn? Are we saying that we’re friends and used to play together all the time?

Yeah, we’re lifting the veil, totally. Lift it. [laughter]

Okay. Where you and I used to record all the time, Saltlands [Tape Op #80], I had a place upstairs from that for a few years. I worked there a lot in an overdub or a pre-mix capacity, or a place to come hang and write. Then I moved everything from there up to Kingston, New York, in June of 2020. We rented a house that had two living rooms, so we set up one as a studio. It was pretty rad. It was this very old house from the 1800s, kind of crumbling in a lot of ways, but it had plaster walls and hardwood floors. The ceilings were 11 feet high. I had no neighbor on that side of the house, and there was a little piano in there already. It was pretty good to go. I set up all my gear, and I guess I had a home studio.

The beauty of not being in Brooklyn. Here you can have silence around you.

Yeah, totally.

Or just birds.

They can sing in any key, on top of any song, and it still sounds good! We’ve moved again since then, and now we’re in a place and have a studio in the basement. That’s working great so far. We have two pianos, a few organs. It was 25 guitar cases, seven bass cases, and tons of amps, preamps, modest mics, some speakers, my Wurlitzer, and Conrad Doucette’s drums.

It must have been so cool to see it all together, and in a different space.

You look at a place with nothing in it, even with our personal stuff, and it’s this exciting blank canvas. “Oh, we’re going to become these kind of people who live in this new space.” Then we put all our shit in there and we’re like, “Wait, it looks like our old place!” We’d been in a one-bedroom apartment with our kid; we were on top of each other,...

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