Joshua Radin missed out. He missed out big, and he knows it. When Radin's college buddy Zach asked him to contribute a song to his upcoming movie's soundtrack, Radin turned him down; he didn't have the money to record the track. Little did he know that he had just inadvertently passed on the year's most infectious indie sensation: Garden State.
"Yeah, that was a huge mistake," Joshua says with a sort of exasperated chuckle. He speaks as though he has rehearsed this to himself many times. The matter-of-factness helps to numb the disappointment. "With 20/20 hindsight, I really should have taken out a loan and recorded something, but I had no idea that soundtrack would be, you know, like lightning in a bottle, the juggernaut that it became."
Had Joshua taken out a loan, maybe it would have been his song, "Winter," that prompted Natalie Portman to lend Zach Braff her headphones in the memorable scene of Garden State that would claim credit for propelling the once-underground band the Shins to recent celebrity. Had Joshua recorded in time, he could have joined his college friend Cary Brothers, whose ballad "Blue Eyes" emerged as one of the film's stand-out tracks. It could have been a reunion for three friends. Alas, Zach, Cary and Joshua couldn't quite pull it together. The inseparable trio -- at least for the moment -- had to settle for a twosome.
Joshua's conspicuous absence on the Garden State compilation didn't frustrate his spirit, nor did it alienate him from his two best, Garden State-affiliate friends. Only a few months after his bad break, Joshua raised enough money to record a song for Zach's hit TV show Scrubs. "I didn't really have a fan base at all. I had only played about four shows, five shows total," he remembers. "'Winter' was on Scrubs, and all of a sudden I had this instant fan base. It was pretty amazing. TV is the new radio." For independent musicians like Joshua, video really has killed the radio star: minutes after Joshua debuted on Scrubs, his song "Winter" became the most-downloaded song in the history of the show. The Garden State sting was finally subsiding.
Joshua attributes much of his recent success to his friend's tenacious encouragement. "Zach's been a huge proponent of my music. I've just been fortunate that he's been able to get it out to people to increase my fan base. It's just really cool," he says fondly. This isn't the first time Zach has "pimped" -- as he says -- his talented friend. You wouldn't know it, but Joshua has only been composing music for one year. As a Fine Arts major at Northwestern University, Joshua abandoned his high school musical theater roots for the visual arts. He didn't pick up the guitar until several years after he graduated. "Zach and Cary were the two who were just like, 'You gotta do this!'"
Raised on the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Joshua has always been "a huge fan of melody." "I was always too scared to do it, of failure, of having your most beautiful and true passion and failing at it." Before Joshua came into his own, he played the guitar in his living room for friends as a hobby, covering songs and mimicking his favorite artists. "I have such an eclectic collection of music," he explains. He mentions the Decemberists and Nick Drake. Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, he says, is probably his favorite album. "I love the old-school Motown stuff to Wilson Pickets, Ben Cook," he pauses. "A lot of voices, anyone's voice that sounds passionate and true."
And more than anything, Joshua is a "voice." "I don't stress out about being an amazing guitarist," Joshua admits. "It's more about getting the song across. I listen to a lot of early Dylan, and before he came into his own on the guitar -- you know, it's three chords over and over again. They're all the same. It's just about his lyrics and the passion in his voice."
Cary was so enchanted by Joshua's sound -- what he describes as a hybrid of Elliott Smith and Simon and Garfunkel -- that he co-produced Joshua's first EP, First between 3rd & 4th. The six-track EP resonates with a sweet melancholy, introducing highlights "Winter" and "Closer," both songs hauntingly reminiscent of the ghostly vocals of the late Elliott Smith. The one cover, the Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma," stands out starkly. Joshua nearly reclaims the song for himself, making it difficult to remember Morrissey's own, original rendition.
Joshua laughs when he thinks how he can repay Zach someday. He has already optioned one of his own screenplays and is presently working on a work-for-hire screenwriting project. "I try to keep half of my day writing comedy and half of my day writing, you know, kind of sad, depressing music," he giggles. "It balances me out, I guess." Maybe Zach will redeem his favor by singing on Joshua's upcoming movie's soundtrack.
Joshua Radin will join VH1's House of Blues tour starting in the fall.