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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[…]

Guitar isn’t “stuck in a canon”: it lets each musician express a unique voice. Succeeding at it means insisting on that voice with absolute confidence.

Question: What advicernwould you give to someone learning guitar?

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Josh Ritter: Well, Irn think one of the great things about rock 'n' roll and guitar and the rnidea of America is that we all have our own unique voices, and I think rnthat that’s something that we have very distinctively since we’ve becomern a country, that each one of us, our own opinions, are just as importantrn as the next guy's down the street. And that’s thernsame as guitar.  Guitar is not, like,rnan instrument that is stuck in a canon, or stuck in a particular form.  Blues is this continually evolvingrnthing.  Blues and jazz and rock and country... andrn to me, I guess coming out of playing violin, where you had to playrnthose things perfectly, you had to play the notes written on the page rnjust asrnthey were written, or you were play wrong.  It wasrn such a freeing thing.  And I’ve always embraced rnthe idea that my own guitar playingrnis very distinctively my own, and whether it’s good or not is beside thernpoint.  It’s just my own playingrnand it evolves, and in some ways it gets better, but it’s always justrnmine.  And I always thought thatrnwas cool. 

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So, I guess my advice in that way is to never—don’trn holdrnyourself to whatever is on the page. rnAnd I feel that way about whenever you are playing someone else’srn songs;rnmake it your own by playing it the way you would.

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Question: What’s thernsecret to successful songwriting?

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Josh Ritter: Irnthink it’s not necessarily like the writing the song part, it’s the rnwillingnessrnto like just survive because it’s like, it’s really—to me I don’t know rnwhat I’drndo if I wasn’t doing this.  And Irnfeel that it’s perseverance and it’s also self-confidence, and it’s likern veryrnfew things in my life I have confidence about like I have aboutrnsongwriting.  And that doesn’t meanrnthat the song is necessarily good, it means that I think it’s good, and Irn feelrnlike I’ve come—and I’m willing to let the songs that aren’t very good gorn by thernwayside because I know I’ll have a song that I do feel that kind of rn"Eureka!"rnfeeling about. 

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And so, from what I’ve seen in 10 years of playing rnmusic,rnit’s a complete mystery to me what somebody else is going to like.  You know, the song that I think is justrna great song, or friends of mine who have like a great song, and never rnget outrnof their bedroom with it.  That hasrnnever made sense to me.  And also,rnyou know, people who come out and are successful that I think, I don’trnunderstand why.  There’s no way to knowrnthose things.  So, I think thatrneverybody starts out playing music because they love it and if you’re rnlucky yournget the chance to keep on doing it because you love it, but I think thatrnthat’s... I have no idea why.  It’s arnmystery.

Recorded April 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin rnAllen


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