Josh Pyke – Best Of Biography
The oldest track on Josh Pyke’s Best Of is Note to Self, a song he wrote in 2004 as a literal reminder to himself to keep pushing and never rest on his laurels.
Fast forward to 2017, and Pyke has well-and-truly taken heed of his own advice. With five acclaimed top 10 albums, four ARIA Awards and countless sold out tours to his name, he has firmly established himself as one of Australia’s most respected and beloved artists. Longevity in music is a rare beast, but Pyke has proved that timeless songwriting trumps all.
His Best Of arrives 10 years after the release of his first solo album, Memories & Dust, and features singles, personal picks and rare tracks along with two brand new songs.
When woven together, it’s easy to hear what sets Pyke apart from the pack. Evocative, intelligent lyrics are his calling card, and his canny melodies are as accessible as they are intricate. Pyke has become a master at balancing both joy and melancholy, and his reflections on the ebb and flow of time manage to evoke nostalgia without being overly sentimental.
“When I look back, I can see similar threads across my albums,” he says. “There’s a really strong theme about the passing of time, and how past experiences manifest themselves at different points in your life.”
His 2005 breakthrough hit, Middle of the Hill, struck a chord with its quirky take on suburban childhood, while much-loved track The Summer resonated with its musings on the freedom of holidays. It’s the familiarity of these Australian experiences, and Pyke’s honest songwriting, that has endeared him to a legion of fans – many who have been there from the very beginning. In 2006, when MySpace was still a thing, two dedicated fans established an online group for like-minded fans to come together. Friends of Josh Pyke ended up running for 10 years, helmed by co-founder Sabi, and saw thousands of fans around the country build a community around a love of Pyke’s music.
“I’ve always been completely blown away by the time and effort Sabi put into FOJP. A proper community has grown up around my music, and that’s something I could only have dreamed of when I was first starting out.” Over the years, Pyke has also heard countless stories of his music being used at weddings and funerals, and seen his lyrics and artwork turned into tattoos.
“You can’t take that for granted,” he says. “That’s when you’re really becoming part of someone’s life. People have taken ownership of my songs for themselves, and given them their own meaning. It’s that level of connection with fans that has helped me sustain a career in music.”
For Pyke himself, performing songs from his early albums affords him the opportunity to travel back in time and remember the context in which they were written. “When I play my older songs live, I’m not just going through the motions. I’m actually reconnecting with those points in time,” he says.
Pyke’s work in 2015 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which he calls a career highlight, was another opportunity to explore his music in a different light. He collaborated with 10 emerging composers to rearrange his songs and perform them at the Sydney Opera House – to rave reviews. The subsequent recording snagged an ARIA Award for Best Original Soundtrack / Cast / Show Album and topped the Crossover/Classical chart. “Performing with the SSO was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects of my career,” he says. “Hearing my own songs in such a different context was like discovering them all over again for me, which is a rare thing after 10 years.”
Pyke is no stranger to artistic collaboration, and his Best Of album sees him reunite with illustrator James Hancock, the artist responsible for much of Pyke’s early album art. “As soon as I decided to do the Best Of, it felt natural to get James to do the art. We went to high school together, and have witnessed each other forge successful careers in the arts, so it was lovely to take that full circle for this album.”
Along with keeping his fans fed and watered on a steady diet of wolves, whales and birds over the years, Pyke has also raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation through his Busking for Change initiative, and supported rising talents like Alex Lahey and Gordi through the Josh Pyke Partnership. He says it’s a no brainer to get involved in projects that can have a lasting impact. “It was really as simple as realising I had somewhat of a platform from which I could help out in areas I was passionate about, and then feeling a strong sense of obligation to use that platform. I just kind of feel like if you can help out, you should,” he says.
For Pyke, the time is finally right to release his Best Of album. For him, this record is a celebration of longevity, and a nod to the fans that have supported him from day dot. He doesn’t take his career for granted, and knows what a privileged position he’s in to be able to do what he loves, day in, day out.
The newest track on Pyke’s Best Of is Into the Wind, a stunning song written at his home studio with Dustin Tebbutt, and co-produced by John Castle. As if taking him right back to the beginning of his career, the track serves as another note to himself to keep at it and never stand still.
“You keep doing it because you’re compelled to,” says Pyke of making music.
“It’s more than just loving it, it’s needing to do it. I can’t see a time when music, and creativity in general, aren’t a vital part of my life. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to take a break, and then I look around and I have another 20 songs that I want to sing to people. I thank my lucky stars every day that there are people who want to sing them with me.”