by Brian Baker
15 days ago
Posted In: Local Music
at 11:34 AM | Permalink
Singer/songwriter Josh Eagle takes his leave of Cincinnati for the concrete pastures of New York City, with a bittersweet glance back
I first encountered the phenomenon that is Josh Eagle on a warm August evening four and a half years ago. We were meeting for an interview to discuss his then new album with his band, Harvest City, A Good One is Hard to Find. When I located him at Northside Tavern, he was seated in a corner of the patio, engrossed in a book, something lofty and cool as I recall. Before we'd said a word to each other, my initial impression of him was that he seemed like a homegrown Jack Johnson, a hippie surfer boy that had somehow been incongruously dropped, like David Bowie's man who fell to earth, in the landlocked limbo of Ohio. But as he wove his tale of creating his own unique brand of Americana/Roots/Folk and, by proxy, his life, it struck me — he was no stranger in a strange land. He recounted a boozy evening that spontaneously led to a stint on an organic raspberry farm in Hawaii, and how that experience blossomed into the epiphany that he had merely traded one paradise for another. It was clear his home had given him the inspiration, the brushes and colors with which to work, and his songs became the canvas onto which he could interpret and transfer his feelings about his real life experiences and the ephemeral melancholy and joy that resulted from them. I went into the inteview as a big fan of the music, and left an even bigger fan of the man who made it.Josh and I have subsequently crossed paths innumerable times, at MidPoint, Bunbury, the CEAs, local shows (his own and other bands) and at Class X Radio, where he guested one evening in 2013 to promote his self-titled third album before heading north to play a gig. Every time he and I have found ourselves in the same vicinity, the outcome was always the same — "Great to see you" pleasantries and personal updates, followed by a conversation that typically factored in triumphs, misfortunes, advances and reversals, all discussed with Josh's sublime sense of humor and the irrefutable logic that the bad times would pass and the good times should be savored while they lasted. At his most downcast, Josh has always been optimistic, hopeful and upbeat. Those are the qualities that I will personally miss the most when Josh and his girlfriend Jacqueline Hull leave Cincinnati to begin a new leg on life's grand tour in one of the most adventurous locales on the planet, New York City. Jacqueline's marketing job has made her an offer that makes the relocation incredibly attractive, and Josh will do what he does best, which is make music and find work to fill the gap.Before Josh and Jac's departure on Feb. 5, the pair will be hosts and stars of their own farewell tribute at Newport’s Southgate House Revival this Sunday at 2 p.m.tmp_1453480629691 It promises to be a raucous and emotional event."It's actually going to be in the afternoon, because I wanted kids to be able to come, like a family day," Josh says over lunch at Melt in Northside. "I want people to feel so warm and fuzzy that they're losing their minds, and what better way than to have the kids."The possibility of a New York move came up last year when Josh did a bit of world traveling and he and Jac spent a few days in the environs of New York."I've always wanted to live in a place like that," Josh says. "I went to Paris, Barcelona and Madrid this past year, and you can't just pop into CVG and go straight there, you've got to go to a big hub. So when we got out at JFK, we decided to stop there for five days. We were like, 'Ha ha, we could do this,' joking around a little bit, not really considering it an option. But we knew our time had passed in Cincinnati. We felt like we had made great friendships and done great things here, but what else is out there for us?"The gauzy NYC fantasy became an attainable reality when Jac discussed the idea of a transfer with her employer, and an actual offer turned the joke into a plan."Then it was like, 'What's Josh going to do?,’ ” he says. "I'm going to continue to do what I've always done — write songs, release albums, write stories and try to make it work. And usually I have. It's been great, it's been fun for me. But today I applied for a job at the Brooklyn Brewery, because I've got to have something else besides the arts that pays way too much to the landlord. But we're beyond excited."Josh and Jac recently made an exploratory trip to New York to check out the housing situation and, against all odds, wound up finding an apartment in Brooklyn. With that part of the equation solved, the pair returned to Cincinnati with a rather strange sensation."We feel like that's our home already," Josh says. "We came back and we were a little melancholy. It was like, 'We just left our home. We just paid the guy a couple grand and we came back here. This feels weird.' But we're pumped, we're excited for the opportunities. To me, it's one of the greatest and definitely most diverse cities in the whole world." Josh has several New York music contacts and plans to get settled and then continue to cultivate those relationships in order to re-launch his career. It's an odd construct for the singer/songwriter, essentially going back to square one with his music."First I've got to make sure that every place I play has a backline, which a lot of them do. I researched this," Josh says with a laugh. "I'm not going to be bringing my PA and my amp everywhere I go. I'll be pretty much guitar and harmonica in hand and I should be good to go. I'm really just reaching out in that way, and then seeing what other people want to play. I feel like I'm really starting from scratch again, but in the way I did when I was 15, 16 and I was figuring all this out. I've got a good amount figured out, and how to do it, it's just making the right contacts, and finding people that I like and that like me. Both sides. And Jacqueline and I have been singing together for the past year so if she'd be into continuing to do that, we'll continue to write songs together." In the nearly three-year gap since his eponymous 2013 album, Josh has compiled somewhere between 20 and 40 new songs, which are in various stages of completion; somehow in the next couple of weeks, he's planning on doing some recording with the Harvest City's Tommy Cappel and The Ready Stance's Wes Pence. Last year, he and Jac assembled a video crew, cooked everyone dinner and the the crew shot the two of them singing their songs at their kitchen table, which they logically titled The Kitchen Sessions. The results are available to view on YouTube.Josh has also devoted time to writing short stories, and has some unique ideas on how to distribute them into the wider world."My original idea was, instead of just doing a record, 10 songs and there it is, to do two songs a month, with a short story," Josh says. "Sadly, with the whole Spotify crap, it seems like people are doing bits of songs. Not that I want to give up on the idea of a full album, but this is just an experiment to see how receptive people would be to do that for six months. Twelve songs, and six stories. Is that the right math? I'm not a calculus professor."To begin, Josh is planning to present the songs and stories independently and gauge the interest level. If it's sufficient, he'll look at the possibility of a publisher."I'll see how I feel about it and how other people feel about it first, before going into vast landscapes," Josh says. "But I'm having fun trying out the short story thing. Might as well do something with them. I'm sick and tired of reading them, that's for damn sure."Josh and Jac's send-off show at the Southgate is shaping up to be a star-studded affair, with former members of the Harvest City and a slate of special guests lined up to bid the couple a fond if somewhat tearful adieu."My pals are coming, and it happens that they're really good," Josh notes. "Mark Becknell, who plays with Queen City Silver Stars and Frontier Folk Nebraska and does his own solo stuff, which is fantastic. Jeremy Smart, original guitar player for Harvest City, will be there and Matt McCormick, who used to play with Shoot Out the Lights and he's with Frontier full-time. That'll be the core. Then Joe Mitchell from the Mitchells will be coming in, David Faul from the David Faul Band, Travis (Talbert) and Michael (Hensley) from Frontier Folk. 2 p.m. is when (openers) The Mitchells will start, they'll do a set, Jacqueline and I will probably do some solo Kitchen Sessions stuff, and some fun covers. It's going to be a bittersweet day, for sure. A lot of 'Hey, haven't seen you in awhile, great to see you, goodbye.’ ”Two weeks later, the pair will head east."I'll put the dog in the front of the cab and the cat on my lap and load our stuff in the U-Haul and bounce," Josh says. "We've been here a long time, but we've got that itch."
And with that, Josh will begin writing a new chapter in his big book of What Next. His time in Cincinnati has been fruitful, to be sure; he's recorded three well-received albums, two with Harvest City, his songs have been placed on Stalker, House and American Pickers, he took home the Singer/Songwriter Cincinnati Entertainment Award in 2012, and he's sitting on a pile of songs that could be the album that breaks him big, in New York and beyond. Not that he's fishing on that side of the boat, mind you. As he has always done, Josh Eagle will take things exactly as they come, he'll ride the crest of any wave the universe challenges him with and he'll ultimately coast safely into shore. Maybe he's a hippie surfer boy after all.