Josh Pyke makes his orchestral debut: interview

Performing live with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is a dream come true for Australian indie musician Josh Pyke.

Josh Pyke. Photo: supplied

Josh Pyke. Photo: supplied

“Hearing intimate music that’s been played out in your head in your bedroom, with a vast orchestral sound behind it is something that’s been a dream of mine for a long time – well before I had any reason to think that it might happen.

“I’m extremely excited and very nervous as well. I think it’s going to be a pretty wild experience for me,” says the ARIA Award-winning singer-songwriter.

Pyke selected the songs with input from his fans: “I posted something on Facebook and said, ‘what would you like to hear?’

“We did a poll and I was really pleased to see that some of the most popular ones were actually B-sides and album tracks, they weren’t necessarily the singles. That was kind of what I was hoping. I didn’t want to just do Make You Happy and Middle of the Hill. I love those songs but in an orchestral context I was wanting to push the limits of the audience as well as the songs,” says Pyke.

“There are some singles but there are also some glaring omissions. Make You Happy isn’t there or No One Wants a Lover: those songs, which were more like big pop songs. I’m sure there would have been a way to make them work but I wanted to hear songs like Fill You In, which is one of my favourite tracks, definitely one I feel emotionally connected to.”

The SSO commissioned 10 emerging composers from across Australia to orchestrate the music, with Pyke discussing each song with them but giving them a free rein to interpret the material pretty much as they wanted.

The Lighthouse Song, which is quite a laid-back folk song, has taken on a slightly more Sufjan Stevens, joyous feel, which is interesting. Memories & Dust, which is kind of upbeat on the record, has taken on a more melancholy vibe,” he says.

“I really subscribe to the idea that a recorded version of a song is just a specific moment in time. After years and years of playing the songs live, they take on a different life. And I don’t listen to my records. The version of my own songs that I have in my head is actually pretty different to the recorded version.

“When I play them live with the band they take on a life of their own and when I play them solo they change dramatically so I really wanted the arrangers and composers to take their own kind of attitude towards it. The songs are a framework; not necessarily something rigid.”

Perth-based composer Lachlan Skipworth was excited to be offered the opportunity to orchestrate Leeward Side for the concert.

“I love his music. For me, I wanted to be faithful to the original song,” says Skipworth.

“It’s got this relentless rhythm that keeps driving forward through the whole song. At the same time, it’s a quietly melancholy song. I took a model from Ravel’s Bolero, (which) is kind of the same thing.

“I have underpinned the song with two snare drums – except for one bit where Josh and I decided to make a change from the recorded version and slow it down.”

“It’s been a really interesting process,” says Pyke. “Some of the songs have remained fairly faithful to the original and some of them have diverged pretty dramatically. But I feel like every arrangement has served the song.”

Josh Pyke Live with the SSO, SOH, April 29 & 30. Bookings:www.sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on April 19

 

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