By Michelle Trauring
The first few seconds of Joshua Radin’s 36-minute debut album was all it took. His tenderness, raw honesty and unabashed emotion put him on the map fast, impressing critics and capturing hearts nationwide.
Nearly a decade later, his sixth album stole one heart in particular—that of the Swedish woman he wrote it for, primarily from the bed of their hotel room in Stockholm. She was his muse. His inspiration.
Every song he pens is born from a real experience, he explained during a recent interview, likening the lyrics to journal entries, or “things I need to get off my chest.”
When the 41-year-old musician returns home to Los Angeles after weeks on the road, he will head straight for the recording studio to work on his seventh effort. Perhaps he’ll give the East End a sneak peek when he plays an acoustic show on Friday night at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“I don’t do set lists. I take requests and I keep it very informal. I’ll just play whatever I feel at that moment,” Mr. Radin said. “They should expect a very intimate evening with me. They’ll know me a lot better than before they came.”
The Ohio native remembers his childhood fondly, growing up within a wholesome family in the Midwest. He always loved music and acted in a couple plays when he was younger, but he never craved the spotlight.
He had already been living in Manhattan for seven years—“It was incredible. I felt like I could do anything there,” he said—when he picked up a guitar for the first time. He was 30 years old.
Playing acoustic reminded him of his favorite songwriters from the 1960s and 1970s, a generation of musicians he greatly admired for both their talent and their message. In a way, he was envious they could draw from the social and political unrest of that time.
So, he wrote what he knew about: love, and its ups and downs—the fodder for his debut album, “We Were Here,” which dropped in 2006, four years after he had learned how to play guitar, and two years after one of its tracks, “Winter,” was featured on the long-running medical comedy-drama “Scrubs.”
It was the first song Mr. Radin had ever written. Suddenly, people knew his name, and wanted more.
“It was completely surreal,” he said. “A bedroom demo album was in Rolling Stone magazine and all of a sudden I had to learn how to play music. It was terrifying and beautiful and life changing and humbling and probably the time in my life thus far that’s been my favorite.”
But by industry standards, he was late on the scene. And to say that made him self-conscious is an understatement.
“Yes, I was terribly insecure about it. I still am,” he said. “But what I’ve grown to understand is that when I embrace my insecurities rather than hide from them, I am able to express myself more honestly, and that’s the music people want to hear from me.”
In the years since, he has shared stages with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, Imogen Heap and The Script, and his songs have appeared on a whole host of television shows, yet the artist said he has never felt like he had his “big break.”
“Everything has built so slowly, organically, and over the span of these 11 years or so—fan by fan,” he said. “The longer it takes to build something up, the longer it takes to tear it down.”
A few years back, Mr. Radin found himself needing a break from music and swooning over a Swedish woman he had met sometime around 2009. They started dating long-distance—as fate would have it, she had just gotten out of a relationship—until he hopped on a plane to be with her, solving his two problems at once.
But he couldn’t get away from the music, and when she left for work every day, his writing would begin.
“It took a bit of time. But I would lay in my hotel bed, guitar in my lap, and stare out the window looking out at Stockholm, Sweden. And I’d just pour my heart out, hoping that when she got home from work I’d have something meaningful to play her,” he said. “That’s the best motivation: trying to make someone you love fall back in love with you.”
Long story short, it worked—and, yes, he’s still dating the girl—and the musician has his sights set on only good things ahead.
“I am just about to begin recording my new album in a couple weeks when I get home to LA,” he said. “I’m producing this album myself, which I’ve never done, so I’m excited but so stressed out and scared. But usually when I’m stressed and scared, I do my best work. So hopefully that’s what will happen.
“I never thought I’d be a musician when I was young,” he continued. “I never thought I could do something like this. But it just goes to show you what you can do if you try something later in life and you give it your best shot. That’s the take away here I believe for anyone reading this. It’s never too late to follow a dream.”
Joshua Radin will play an acoustic concert on Friday, May 6, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $35 to $45. For more information, call (631) 288-1500, or visit whbpac.org.