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Josh Ritter is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, named one of the "100 Greatest Living Songwriters" by Paste magazine. He started out studying neuroscience at Oberlin College, but later switched[…]

Josh Ritter had an epiphany while studying organic chemistry in college: he was meant to be a musician, not a scientist.

Question: Who were yourrnearly musical influences?rnrn

Josh Ritter:rnWell, I started playing music when I was really little.  Irn started playing violin and I playedrnthat for a really long time, 13 years. rnAnd it never felt like music to me really, until I—I never got rnthatrnfeeling that I was playing music until I was putting on some of my rnparents' oldrnrecords.  They had a record playerrnand they had all kinds of vinyl. rnAnd we lived far out of town, so you’d come home from school and rnnotrnhave anything to do... except throw rocks. rnAnd I uncovered this record player one day and my brother helped rnme plugrnit in and I put on—they had all kinds of records, but the record that rnreallyrnstruck me was “Nashville Skyline,” Bob Dylan record with Johnny Cash.  It was the first song; it was “GirlrnFrom the North Country.”  And Irndidn’t grow up around grunge, or punk, or anything like that, but that rnfeelingrnthat that song gave me really made me—I think that’s the same feeling rnthat Irnhad, was like this was suddenly kind of a door opened and I could go rnthrough itrnmyself.


Question: Why did you quit neuroscience in college to study music?


Josh Ritter: Irnguess it really, both of my parents are scientists and the talk around rntherndinner table was always about science and it was about the brain and it rnwasrnabout whatever they were working on. rnAnd they would talk to each other and my brother and I kind of rngrew uprnin this world where "serotonin" was somebody down the block, you know.  And to me, it was never a question thatrnI would go into science.  I tookrnaptitude tests and it said that I could be an undertaker or a plumber, rnorrnsomebody who worked in the woods. rnAnd that was it, forestry. rnAnd so I thought "That’s ridiculous.  I’m rngoing to be a scientist."


And then my chemistry teacher in high school said, rn“You’rernnot going to be a scientist.”  AndrnI said, that’s totally ridiculous. rnI’m going to be a scientist. rnThat’s—what else is there. rnAnd I went to school for science and about halfway through I rnrealized,rnman, I’m just not going to be a scientist.  I’m rnnot going to—it’s not happening.  I was really in rnlove with scientists.  I was in love with the rnpeople whornstudied science and was in love with the people who came up with the rnideas andrnwith their lives and how they got interested in those things.  And what were their breakthroughrnmoments, you know.  Like how didrnWatson and Crick discover, like, the double helix... or these beautiful rnmoments,rnthey always seem like incredible things.


And as I started to write songs, I started to rnrealize that Irnhad those moments myself.  Andrneverybody who’s an artist, like a scientist is an artist; an artist is rnanybodyrnwho has those moments and realizes them and so that’s how I kind of camern to thatrnrealization.  I was studying for anrnorganic chemistry test and I just—and it was a final and I just knew it rnwasn’trnlooking good.  And I left thernscience library and I called my parents and I said, “I’m not going to bern arnscientist.”  I’m going to be a musician.  And they were great about it.  Theyrn said, you know, we figured yournwere never going to be a scientist.

Recorded April 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin rnAllen