“A little bit,” says Josh Oudendijk, whose stage name is Josh Island.
A little bit nervous, that is, for his upcoming tour, the biggest of his career. It will hit some 20 cities across Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands before culminating in a homecoming Luxembourg show on 11 November to celebrate the release of his new album, In My Head (which is actually out already).
Oudendijk’s career is on the up: besides the tour and album--and a €25,000 Kultur | LX grant he secured last year--he has also signed recently with record label Dox Amsterdam. At the time of writing, his newest music video (posted one month ago) has about 8,500 views on YouTube, and he will also be tossing his hat into the ring for Eurovision 2024, having already registered with a song for Luxembourg’s return to the song contest for the first time since 1993.
In all these ways and more, Oudendijk sounds like a rockstar. He even arrived late to our interview at a coffee shop in Luxembourg City--potentially a rockstar move--except not without (very apologetically) warning me that he had to clear some stuff out of his garden ahead of predicted thunderstorms before driving to the city and finding parking.
Because, indeed, the singer/guitarist is anything but glib or cocky. He’s just a really nice, genuine guy. And when you listen to the album, that’s what comes through: his music is refined and soulfully rendered, but with a down-to-earth and almost neighbourly disposition. “Make It” stands out in particular, with harmonies that feel unassuming but possess tremendous depth.
Being in touch with the audience is, by Oudendijk’s own admission, central to his method. “It’s my favourite way of communicating,” he says of writing and playing music, specifying that it’s storytelling that he’s interested in. “Within the three or four minutes in which you’re telling a story, you have to share that emotion, bring it across to the listener.”
His songs therefore aren’t about note-shredding or falling down compositional rabbit holes, but about relating to other human beings. He even worked with Nelson Canoa, producer on the album, to shape overtly personal songs into forms that were “a bit more global” or simply to avoid them altogether.
So of course he would admit to being a little nervous to headline a huge tour. Who wouldn’t be nervous to headline a huge tour?
“Like running a small business”
To clarify, the nerves are less about the crowds and more about the logistics of the whole thing. A musician at this rising level, Oudendijk explains, must fire on several cylinders, including paramusical ones.
“It’s still a bit of a one-man show… in terms of production, promotion,” he explains. Despite having a team of people around him--a PR agent, for instance--the administrative buck still, to an extent at least, stops with him. He compares it to running a small business, where you need to coordinate and troubleshoot constantly.
“As a musician, I just want to focus on the show. But, unfortunately, at this stage of my career, sometimes I’m confronted with issues like: ‘Hey, Josh, we’ve got bad ticket sales in Hamburg… we’re considering cancelling the show unless you help us promote it.’”
Which he is glad to do, he says, but which nevertheless generates a “subconscious pressure.”
The recording process
On the recording front, the buck also--this time less surprisingly--stops with Oudendijk, though that is a negotiation of a different kind. He talks about deciding when to assert musical direction and when to cede that role to somebody exterior--i.e., producer Nelson Canoa--in order to get a final product that captures his artistic vision while retaining a broader coherence.
“He helped me find my sound,” says Oudendijk of Canoa. “That’s a difficult process.” One, he explains, that goes beyond recording each instrument on the track. And one that requires mutual trust.
“I could say to the drummer: ‘OK, here’s a song, please play your part on this.’ And I’m sure something good would come together. But that’s not the same as when you really, meticulously go into each section and say: ‘Here we want a bit of this; here we want a bit of spice, here a bit of salt and pepper.’” For the post-recording mixing process, he talks about editing the dryness of the drums in one section versus another. “For [the sound] to come together, you need someone with a little of an outside perspective but who still understands what you’re trying to do.”
Asked if Canoa is that person, Oudendijk says: “Definitely.”
In My Head
Oudendijk has two EPs to his name, making In My Head his first album. Asked to introduce it, he talks about its title, themes and messages.
“The concept behind the title is that… our ideas and the thoughts that we have, the fears, the dreams--they start in our heads,” he explains.
“There are various themes that come and go in the album,” he continues. “There are definitely themes of not giving up, taking a step back. If you think that you’re feeling stuck, taking a deep breath, and then continuing moving forward.” These themes chime, he says, with his own story, i.e., his career as an artist who hopes--and isn’t quite there but is “close”--to one day live off his music.
“I sometimes feel that the industry can be very difficult to artists, to independent musicians. So this idea of… just keep doing what you do and you’ll get there at some point, you know?”
Illustrative of this focus on headspace are the lyrics of title track “In My Head,” which begin as follows:
There’s a fire raging / These charcoaled walls are in my head now / In my head now / But when the sun is shining / It fills me up… in my head now / In my head now
Other themes the album touches are identity and love.