mxdwn sat down with instrumental artist Joshua Crumbly, who has just released his second album, ForEver. Crumbly calls this album a more intimate experience when compared to the first one, with emotional influences from COVID-19 and the George Floyd situation. With a passion for bass, he invites some friends along to help him create this emotional masterpiece.
mxdwn: The first question I have is: so there’s a lot of your music that you have that has videos that go with it. You just released the rest of them; of course, not all of them do, but of the songs that you do have music videos for, are the songs best enjoyed through watching the videos?
Joshua Crumbly: You know what, I have developed a strong passion of linking the sonic experience with the visual, and I think that it could be either or because a lot of friends have reached out and told me that even when they’re just listening to the music, that they’re kinda taken to places to think about different visuals which is probably one of the biggest compliments that I can get. But what I’ve enjoyed as an artist is, like, having these small visions of how to bring to life the visual aspect of a song then collaborating with a visual artist and they kind of take my ideas and do something I think magical in a way. So I’d definitely like to explore that more so with other future projects, with the visual aspects, and just continue to try to do things that I haven’t done before. But I do also think that it could be one experience just visually that hopefully brings your own visuals to it because of maybe what the sentiments behind the music are and also could be enjoyed together.
mxdwn: That’s awesome. I like that a lot. I don’t listen to too much instrumental music myself, but it’s always nice when you get something that actually doesn’t feel super background, and it makes you feel, it makes you imagine.
JC: Oh, that’s awesome! Yeah, that’s what I love to hear. Cause you know, the music is definitely coming from somewhere. But I just also want it to be open for people to have their own feelings and thoughts and be taken to other places that I wouldn’t have even imagined myself.
mxdwn: Yeah, I totally get that. I do a lot of drawing, like, I like abstract drawing a lot. And it’s always interesting to see the conclusions that other people that are not in your mind grab from. You know, the art that isn’t meant to be taken somewhere literal.
JC: Right, yeah, it’s a beautiful thing, and you know what I’ve been realizing is like sometimes I feel like other people outside of myself understand my music more so than me. And I’m cool with that; I’m really cool with that.
mxdwn: And then a lot of interpretation can start from the titles, and I know a lot of lyrical music it’s like eventually gets to where you’re like, oh, okay, I see the connection there, or maybe they repeat the name a jillion times, but this is definitely up for more interpretation. So, where do you find those titles for yourself?
JC: Wow, you know what? It seems like with this last record, it started out open, very open, and the first song that I recorded for it was “Three,” which is probably the most playful song and playful video with the animation, the animated robots. But then, I had all this time over the pandemic to finish it and, you know there was so much going on in the world and then so much kinda unexpected time for myself because I have been on tour pretty much since I was 18 with different artists, just constantly moving and going. So, I had a lot of time to just reflect on my life and my past and all these different things going on in the world. It seemed like a lot of times when I would write a song, for instance, like “Reflection” happened during the George Floyd situation and that coincided with the coronavirus, and so there was the news would go back and forth speaking on the George Floyd case, and then the rising numbers in coronavirus and I just started a company, the Muse. For whatever reason, that progression from “Reflection” came to me, and it seemed to summarize the feeling at the time, and it just seemed like a lot of the songs came during either happenings in the world or something I was going through or family. It was just all this culmination of a moment in time in the world that we all never would have imagined happening to every single one of us.
mxdwn: So in a way, it’s almost like your musical diary then.
JC: It totally is, yeah. And that, you know, speaking more to that is, I feel like, while I only have two records out, this one is definitely my most intimate, I think, intimate, where am I going with this? Yeah, my most intimate album for sure.
mxdwn: Yeah, that kinda connects to something else I wanted to ask. I noticed on your last album you kinda had a lot more fast-paced songs that feel a little more upbeat. Do you feel like that intimacy has to do with how things have kinda slowed down this time around? With that reflection on the world?
JC: For sure, yeah. And I also feel like this record, because I’m fascinated with you know, always striving for stillness as a person, and I don’t know how profound still moments can be both musically and as a person. And so, I think this record captures that a bit more, you know to go along with as you just said like what was happening in the world at the time. I just feel like it captures my musical and my personal sentiments, my values, in the most intimate way as far as anything I’ve released so far.
mxdwn: That’s really cool. I never thought about how much in something that doesn’t have words musically can really go into what you’re feeling about everything, and it really gives a nice perspective. It makes me want to think more about, okay, what is this person thinking when these are things they’re producing? What is going on in our world when this was released? And, I think taking a step back and realizing that is, you can probably see a lot of how people are feeling about the world if that makes any sense.
JC: Yeah, no totally. I’m so happy to hear you say that; that was something that I experimented with on the last record to see if I could convey a story without words, and I’m so happy to hear a bunch of people who are like, you know, were you coming from this place? Or were you thinking about this? So yeah, I’m so grateful that that something is being conveyed.
mxdwn: Yeah, and then do you think, as far as telling a story goes, is each song its own story to be considered individually? Or do you think they’re all kind of chapters in your album, with the album being the overall story?
JC: I think this one is probably like an overall story; they all help tell each other. I think maybe a little bit more so than my first record. But again, I think what I also like about it is, like everybody, or different people, relate to different songs and then I also have heard someone saying you know, ‘oh, this one was speaking to me today then I revisited it the next day and I was liking this one.’ So I think with this one, that another goal was like, just a very….an experience for any occasion. Like a very malleable kind experience upon listening to it. I just wanted you to be able to throw it on to whatever’s going on, even though it’s coming from, you know, specific places in making it.
mxdwn: Yeah, it’s like depending on what you’re feeling, you can always pull something a little different away from it. And maybe it’ll pull something different out of you every time.
mxdwn: How much do you think you have learned and grown between the last two albums?
JC: I think a lot, actually. The first song, I mean the first album, I had some concepts and ended up with nine songs, and after writing those nine songs, I said, ‘I think I’m ready to record an album and put something out there under my own name.’ But, I feel like this one flowed in a more magical way. It just seemed to align with everything in the world so much. And also, it started out just as a solo-based record, and I crafted every single sound more than the last. The last one was a lot more people, you know, maybe five-six people on each song; I wanted everybody to have freedom in expressing themselves and sounds that resonated with them knowing the backstory to some of the songs, but I just feel like now, with ForEver, I’m on an artistic path that I can infinitely explore under my own name, so I’m very grateful for that.
mxdwn: That must feel so freeing.
JC: It does, and like I said, I’m just extremely grateful because I’ve been a side man since I was 18 touring with different artists, and it’s a really beautiful thing to be able to have a platform now to share my visions that might have been behind the scenes. You know, some of these values I was implementing with other artists, but now to be able to share that under my own name is a dream come true.
mxdwn: That’s awesome. And then the artists that you do have on your track, it sounds like it’s definitely a lot of teamwork. I saw that there were other artists in your songs, what’s the team dynamic like, and how do you choose the other people that you kinda wanna let, I guess, let into your soul like this, really?
JC: That’s a cool way to put it. With this one, so Shahzad Ismaily, whose record label I’m on, he actually, I’ll never forget this day, I had just finished Rise, my first album, and I was on tour in Florida. I was literally about to post on Instagram: ‘ just finished mixing my record Rise and it’s going to be coming soon,’ and I get this call from this number I didn’t even have; it was Shahzad, and he’s like, ‘Hey Josh, this is Shahzad, you need to record a solo-based album.’ And I was like, you know, that was kinda like a buzzkill cause I was so excited about finally kinda finishing up the first one. But, it was a beautiful moment because there’s always more to do. So I started on it; it started as a solo-based album, but then, I just got to a point where I started playing piano, percussion, the drums on different things, and I was like, you know what? I’m hearing this person very, very strongly on this, and then this other friend on this. So essentially, the album is like either just me or a set of duos. So I only reached out to friends whose voices I was strongly hearing, and I think they brought a really beautiful sound to it in addition to my sound.
mxdwn: That would be such a compliment to have someone be like, ‘Hey, I have this sound I’m making, and it’s coming from a really cool part of my brain, but it’s also making me think of you, come join me!’
JC: Yeah! And they were excited, and I actually had some new collaborations. I had never recorded with Shahzad before this. Another friend of mine, a long-time friend, Sam Gendel, we hadn’t played together since high school, so it was new collaborations but all friends that really brought something beautiful to the album.
mxdwn: What do you think is your favorite instrument to save for yourself? Knowing that this is where my sound is always kinda gonna come from, this will always be me.
JC: Definitely the bass!
mxdwn: I kinda thought you might say that.
JC: A big shocker! In getting back to this album, I’m so grateful because I feel like the bass is unlimited with the textures and sort of cordal things that I don’t think a lot of people would expect the bass to be able to do. This whole experience with recording it has definitely opened everything up for me to create any types of sounds, textures and feelings on an instrument that I think hasn’t been known to do that a lot.
mxdwn: I definitely always love a good bass. I feel like a good bass makes good music a lot of the time. The first people that come to my mind are like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The White Stripes. It is a unique sound, and it’s a fun sound to play with. It brings more depth than I think a lot of people realize.
JC: Yeah, and what I’m interested in tapping into more is, it can do a lot of things that the guitar can, and even textures that the keyboard can, depending on the effects that you put it through. So, it was an unbelievable journey with the instrument that I first wanted to play since I was, I think, three years old. I told my dad that I wanted to play bass and he sort of tricked me into playing the piano. So another reason why I’m so grateful for this record is I kinda feel like I’m on a path.
mxdwn: Do you know what path you would have gone down if, for some reason, you didn’t get to do this amazing thing?
JC: I’m not sure. I’m imagining something creative. I make up songs like every day, so it would have to be something creative. But I was also really good at basketball when I was young and super competitive at that. But I didn’t get as tall as I would’ve liked.
mxdwn: Yeah, I’m 5’2, so I get that.
JC: I made it to like 6’1 and some change, maybe? But I wanted to be 6’7. But I was also weirdly interested in robots, like robotic engineering as a kid, so that video for “Three” kinda brought back like a childhood fascination for me.
mxdwn: That’s awesome. That was definitely my favorite video that I watched of the ones you have posted. Probably my favorite song on [the album] too.
JC: Oh, cool! That’s awesome to hear. That was the first song I started on the project, and Renata Zeiguer did the animation. She’s a brilliant singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist in the New York area.
mxdwn: Did you give her much direction for that? Like, were you thinking robots at all, or did you just have her take it and run with it?
JC: You know what, so I wanna say that my dad said, ‘oh, robots would be cool.’ And then I found this video on YouTube of these random vintage robots, and I just had the song playing along with the video; I was like, ‘oh man!’ So then a few other concepts kinda came to mind; I told Renata some of my thoughts, and I was wanting the robots to have beating hearts. And she was like, ‘oh man, yeah, that’ll be awesome!’ And then she just like, put it all together!
mxdwn: That’s really cool when someone can match up your vision.
JC: Yeah, and ‘Three’ is a special number for me because I’m an only child. I’m super tight with my parents, and there’s, strangely enough, all these musical bars within the song that just like lead to the number three. It’s just like a full circle kinda present in sound, you know?
mxdwn: Yeah, would you say it’s the song that means the most to you on the album, or does another song take that spot?
JC: It’s definitely up there, yeah, with the kind of sentiment behind it and it being the first song recorded. It’s up there, “ForEver” as well, like right after I recorded that song, the title came to me really fast. And I was just seeing it, in the way that I wrote it with the capital ‘E’ in ever. And then, I also was just like, ‘I’m gonna call the album that as well.’ So that’s a special one that it felt like it solidified the album name and what the meaning behind all of the songs collectively might be.
mxdwn: Awesome. That’s definitely something. I like to write a lot of poetry, and sometimes people don’t pay attention to the little things. Like I have very specific punctuation, capitalization that go into words.
JC: Yeah, it’s important. Because forever is a fairly common word, but I feel like, you know, this is different. Even though it was just one capital letter.
mxdwn: Yeah, it’s like your own spin on it.
JC: I had to do it. And I have to shout out one more song. Although, you know, I feel like this album as opposed to the last one, every note on this album I’m proud of. There are things with the first one—and it was my first one, so I was just like, ‘ah man, if I could do it again I would do this’—but I’m proud of that one too, but another song that’s special to me I think is “To Morrow.” Because I feel like whenever you can reflect upon a piece of art and feel better about tomorrow and more optimistic that tomorrow is gonna be better than whatever it is one might be going through, that’s a special experience to have. And that’s kind of the thought behind that song. Oh, and I spelled that one weirdly too.
mxdwn: I like that spin on it because you have the musical Annie, and in their “Tomorrow,” they talk about how basically the idea is tomorrow will never come, and it’s a bummer to think about it that way. But I definitely like the other side of it that you’re looking at where it’s like hey, we always have tomorrow, things can always be better.
JC: Yeah, and it was like I’m writing this today, but it’s for tomorrow because I know it’s going to be different than what it is right now.
mxdwn: What has touring been like, especially now that you’re touring for your own art?
JC: You know what, so I was out on tour with this R&B singer Leon Bridges, and it was different. We had a COVID compliance officer with us, testing us daily and jumping out from behind trees making sure we had our masks on. Like literally, at first, I love, shout out to Daniel Latzic, but yeah, it was a different experience, but it was great to be all over the country sharing experiences of music again with people.
mxdwn: Are there any songs on the album that you feel were kind of specifically, I guess, written by COVID or you were really having feelings about COVID while writing it?
JC: So the “Reflection” one was between George Floyd and the coronavirus numbers rising. And then “To Morrow” was just like, alright, we’re gonna make it to tomorrow. And probably we’ll be good too; it’s just like finding that happiness within a murky time and just finding that optimism.
mxdwn: It’s always good to have something you can kinda fall back on when you feel like things around you have been pretty shaken up.
JC: Yeah, but it’s ironic. I think of the times when maybe I’ve caught a cold or something like that, the important things kinda come to the forefront. And I feel like that the whole pandemic, the important things were revealed in terms of like, family, blood and the important people that have your back and you have their backs; the importance of that true friendship and just putting good out in the world in whatever way you can, I think really came to the forefront. And also losing a bunch of heroes during that time, like, what it is that you’re putting out, it can last forever, you know. If you put good out in the world, the legacy lives on through others; it lives on through what you’ve left behind. So there was so much to draw from this crazy unprecedented time. And I’m sort of really blessed to have gone through that and blessed to have been found with inspiration to reflect upon that and release this album.
mxdwn: Yeah, I think a lot of people are kinda finding our silver linings with the insanity that’s been this world the last almost two years. Outside of your music, is there anything else that you like to do to help you get through all the insanity or something that maybe if all this touring and recording and running around is making you feel exhausted, what do you go to at that time?
JC: You know what, I’m in this place of finding a routine. I’ve never been a routine type of person, it’s just been like, on these different schedules, but I will say journaling during the pandemic I got into that for the first time; that seemed to be really beneficial with just clearing the air, so to speak, and just getting the thoughts out of your head and on to paper. It’s just therapeutic in a way. And exercising, I got into boxing recently, that’s been cool. And getting back into basketball a little bit. But I think most importantly is just making sure to take a little bit of time away from the phone, which I’m kind of a hypocrite right now saying that, but I wrote this thought down in the journal: the most enlightened moments are the stillest. And that’s what I’ve found during the pandemic, is when you’re away from the phone, there’s so much you can realize, so many magical things within yourself and maybe just during the day.
mxdwn: I definitely relate to that. For the first time in years, I’ve been doing a lot more writing and a lot more drawing, so I totally get that. And I imagine, have there been times you’ve been journaling when you’re like, shoot, I feel like this is a song now, I feel like I’m gonna make a song out of this!
JC: Totally! This is top secret, I might have some. I’ve been writing some lyrics as well now, so that might be coming soon.
mxdwn: Oh wow! Yeah, it’s your music; you can explore where you want.
JC: Yeah, I feel like that’s the next thing, the next progression at some point. I don’t know how far down the line.
mxdwn: Of course, you can take your time and do what makes you happy, definitely. It’s been really nice talking to you and getting a lot of the feeling and a look behind what you’re putting out. Especially when it doesn’t have lyrics to tell you exactly what’s going on. Is there anything else that you wanna make sure to get out of your soul real quick?
JC: No, just be on the lookout for tour dates for this project. I’m looking forward to sharing the ForEver live experience.