Music

Josh Kroehn unpacks his incredible debut album ‘State of Devotion’

Josh Kroehn is a master at writing deeply complex songs that rattle with relatability. We caught up with the artist to break down his latest release State of Devotion. 

We’ve been fans of Josh Kroehn for a while now and we are always blown away by everything he releases. From the painfully honest to the insanely beautiful, he knows just how to lift the pages of your deepest insecurities into stunning poems.

We were able to catch up with the artist to unpack his latest release State Of Devotion, diving into the complexities behind what we hear.

josh kroehn

Never Found

I wanted to open the album with a song that would set the context for the tracks that follow. Never Found is about learning to accept and understand myself. I’ve found that the more I stay true to myself, the less involved I feel in certain relationships and friendships. I feel like, in the past, I’ve tried to be something I’m not in order to keep people happy, which took its toll on my own happiness. Never Found is just me and my old 1972 Maton nylon string guitar and I think that lends itself well to the storytelling/confessional nature of the song.

Welcome Bare

This was one of the hardest to write. I had a loved one go through a cancer battle for the second time and I went to visit them during chemotherapy treatment. I was shocked to find that nurses were handing outpatients cans of coke and, as someone who is very health focussed after having to overcome my own health issues, I lost it in the car on the way home and wrote this song. The voice sample towards the end is voiced by a cancer survivor, and it is a poem that I wrote to express my opinion, quite sternly.

Turning Clocks

I wanted to detail the attempted indoctrination by certain ideologies when I was growing up and how I managed to stay open-minded. To me, this is the most positive track on the record, as it lays out how my perceivably nihilistic attitude to life has allowed me to keep hold of my own sanity and move forward. The drumbeat feels quite tribal and the delayed guitar riff fills the gaps menacingly. The instrumentation makes me feel like there’s an impending sense of doom, which the aforementioned ideologies use as leverage to take control of people.

High Tides (Interlude)

High Tides acts as a bridging piece of music between the loud explosion of the floor tom at the end of Turning Clocks and the unsettling nature of Don’t Mind Me. It is quite a dark and sinister composition that I came up with messing around with reverse delay and playing in the tuning for Don’t Mind Me. For me, it is the perfect lead into Don’t Mind Me from a compositional viewpoint.

Don’t Mind Me

The droning bass drum sound is to recreate the feeling of being in a club with the constant thud that has always plagued my experiences going out. It’s safe to say that I am not a big fan of the sort of music that is played in many nightclubs, and I never really fit in and would lean against the wall at the back. I wanted to contrast the angst-driven guitar riffs and sounds with the club-like beat and try to recreate how, in certain social situations, I felt like I was weird and different because I didn’t like the music. The instrumental at the end comes about abruptly and this was to recreate what would happen after each time I’d come home from clubs or parties. I would usually sit at the end of my bed under immense stress and anxiety with very dark thoughts about myself, due to not feeling like I was who I was supposed to be. The song also features the title lyric of the album, and I feel it is summative of the record.

Numb Legs

The opening instrumental was, for the most part, improvised. The first layer that is introduced and the bass line was all I had coming into the studio, and I was initially thinking that Numb Legs would begin from where the vocals enter. However, I decided to improvise layer upon layer over the existing guitar and bass lines I had hashed out, and I am glad I did. I feel it follows from the instrumental at the end of Don’t Mind Me and sets the scene for the lyrical content of Numb Legs. The wailing guitar parts in the opening instrumental were inspired by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their use of screwdrivers to bow guitar strings. As an alternative, I used a drum stick. Lyrically, the song is about the breakdown of a relationship and growing apart.

As Clear As Day

As Clear As Day started out as an instrumental ambient track, which features a steel-string guitar with a load of reverb through a valve amp. This gives it the overdriven sound with a slight level of feedback coming through. To me the effect created by this set-up has such a unique timbre and was inspired by Ben Howard’s guitar playing on his 2014 album I Forget Where We Were. The song details the loss of a loved one and was another one that was very difficult for me to write. In the end, I’m glad I put words to it and, to pay further homage to Ben Howard, the closing line of “welcome home” is me yelling into my soundhole pickup, just as Ben did in his performance of End Of The Affair on Jools Holland – always leaves me speechless when I watch it back.

Undergrowth

Through my teen years, I was a metalhead first and foremost. These days, I listen to a very broad spectrum of genres and think more about whether its just good music. All of the tracks prior to Undergrowth essentially foreshadow the outburst of rage that happens at 4:10. I never planned on writing a song this heavy for my solo project, but it just kind of happened. All of the guitar parts came about on an acoustic, sitting on the end of my bed at the end of the day taking out my frustration. In terms of the lyrics and meaning, it is essentially about feeling like I’m a waste of a lifeform and wishing I could be at peace in the wilderness. When I was in the darkest place mentally in my life, there was nothing more comforting than thinking of being one with the undergrowth.

After All

After All returns to some of the prettier guitar tones from earlier in the record to move on from the gritty dirge of Undergrowth. After All comes from a defeated mindset, and a mindset that came about from feeling alone despite never being able to escape people’s company. Many people can relate to the feeling of having no-one to open up to or relate to at times, despite there being plenty of people who obviously care and are trying to help. The track is also a self-critique of the fact that I wasn’t really willing to help myself in order for others to be able to help me.

Back In Time

Back In Time was written years ago, when I was reflecting on how simple life used to be and how nice it would be to be back there again. The original version of this song is on my debut EP Something I’ve Found (2019), and it is almost 30bpm faster than the version on State Of Devotion. Afterall was written around the same time as Back In Time, and the two songs are like a part one and part two, seamlessly flowing from one to the other. I felt that the slower tempo not only fell in line with After All, but contributed better to the record as a collective. The track features another hit of distorted guitar which is more euphoric and always feels overwhelming emotively to me for some reason. The repeated last line of “never know” is a personal message to someone I cared about.