- - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thanks to luck, randomness and unexpected (and unasked for) help from a famous friend, Joshua Radin has released six well-received, top-selling albums, and his songs have appeared in a hundred-plus TV shows, films and commercials. Not bad for a guy who started his music career at age 30.

Mr. Radin discussed his late-in-life career, how he became Ellen DeGeneres‘ favorite singer (he played her wedding) and his first-ever acoustic tour, which stops at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Question: Why is run of shows your first-ever solo tour?

Answer: I wanted to see if I could do it solo — entertain people for an hour and a half by myself. I’ve never tried it. At first I was going to do just three cities:Alexandria, New York and Chicago. Two nights in each. Little clubs. Then they sold so well my manager called and said, “Do you mind if we add a few more shows?”

Q: Is it daunting to go out there without a band?

A: I’m so nervous. I’ve never been nervous to tour. This is the first time. Normally, when I play, even if it is as a duo or a trio, I have someone on stage with me to joke around with. If something comes into my head that I don’t want to say to everyone, I can turn to my buddy onstage and talk to him like he is the Ed McMahon to my Johnny Carson. Without that you’re kind of really naked.

Q: When did you first start writing songs?

A: Eleven years ago.

Q: What was the first song you wrote?

A: It’s called “Winter.” I think maybe it was a culmination of years and years of thoughts that came out as the first song. I started so late in life.

Q: Why did you start your music career at 30?

A: Fear.

Q: Of what?

A: I was creative behind the scenes. Writing and painting. I turned 30 and said, “You know what, I’m just gonna try this thing because I don’t wanna be on my deathbed wishing I had.” My biggest fear [was] being 100 old and thinking, “Why didn’t I ever try that? I love music so much.” You get one life. So I learned a few chords. Six months later I wrote my first song. I felt like I had expressed myself honestly for the first time in my life. Three weeks after that the demo was on a TV show.

Q: How did you song end up on “Scrubs”?

A: Zach [Braff] was in my apartment and he saw a guitar. He asked, “Do you play guitar?” I said, “Not really. I learned some chords. I wrote a song.” He said, “Well, play it for me.” I made him turn around. I couldn’t even face him. I couldn’t open my eyes at all while playing. I put the song up on MySpace after that, and all these people started writing me.

I had tried so many things creatively before looking for an audience. My musical career came out of demand. This was the first time the audience was coming to me. The feedback was so overwhelming, I thought, “Why wouldn’t I do this?” My hobby became a career naturally, organically.

Q: How did you end up playing Ellen DeGeneres‘ wedding?

A: It came about very organically. I was sitting at the same table as her at a charity event. Ryan Seacrest was at the table. “American Idol” had used a bunch of my songs. He said, “I really like your music.” Ellen said, “Who are you? What’s your music?” I said, “Oh you wouldn’t know it.”

I think the humility caught her off guard. I said, “OK, I’m Josh Radin.” Someone else at the table said, “I love your music.” And at the exact same time, as if on cue, one of my songs came on the speaker. Totally random.

Ellen said, “I have to have you on my show.” The next day I got a call from my manager, who said, “The Ellen show called, and they had a cancellation. Can you get there in 10 minutes?” I grabbed my guitar. I played my song “Today” [on the show].

During the sound check Ellen and Portia [de Rossi] were sitting there. They both start crying. After sound check they came up and said, “We’re gonna get married. When we do, we want to get married to that song.” I thought they were gonna play the CD. Three months later they ask me to sing at their wedding. It was them in their living room with 20 guests and Ryan Seacrest.

Q: You have this quiet power to your voice. Do you find power in the silence?

A: I think so. The artists that hit me hard were the artists that almost whispered. They were more confident about their lyrics that they could whisper. Artists like Elliot Smith, Paul Simon. Guys that, because of the volume of their delivery, they forced the audience to pay attention. That just seemed so powerful to me. I tried to emulate that.

Q: Do you sit down to specifically write a song?

A: I don’t at all. I think because I started so late and I had so many day jobs — jobs just to pay the bills. When I started doing this, I said, “I’m never gonna do anything to corrupt this. Never try to “sell it.” Never gonna do anything to make this a job.” I can go five months without writing a song. Then something will happen and I’ll write six songs in a week.

Q: Do you have freedom now that you’re not on a major label?

A: I do now. Ironically, I have been putting out more new music since I left the label. When all the cooks are removed from the kitchen, all of a sudden you just want to cook all the time. There is this really great freedom in having an organic fan base that you built that loves what you do and supports you no matter what. I’m never gonna be superrich. But I’m never gonna be broke either.

Mr. Radin plays The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, Virginia, 22305, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with Anya Marina. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased by visiting Birchmere.com.

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