Ritter’s Block

3 July 2012 | 6:16 pm | Paul Smith

“I distrust stuff that comes too easily."

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Idaho's Josh Ritter may have been included in respected US publication Paste's list of the 100 greatest living songwriters, but that doesn't mean things always come easily to him, even after six studio albums. In fact, according to Ritter, his most recent release, So Runs The World Away, was actually the hardest to write yet. He recalls that for a while it just seemed like nothing would happen: “It was really hard. I like to be working and writing, but it was a time when the thing that I felt made me who I am had just gone away. It's like standing in the middle of a field but you can't see your shadow.”

Despite his self-confidence being shot, Ritter acknowledges that it was an important experience to go through, and that he has always valued working hard at his craft. “I distrust stuff that comes too easily anyway,” he laughs.

For that reason he has always resisted any temptation to write merely out of reflex or habit, instead always craving a feeling that he's entering a whole new exciting territory. Ritter believes it's the resulting self-belief that provides a common link through all his albums. “The one thing I've always tried to maintain is this feeling that there's a spark from the first record that's come into the next, that's come into the next. That spark is my enthusiasm for the songs. The songs that I don't feel enthusiasm for don't show up on a record. They don't need to be there because they don't have the little bit of fire that came from the first time I wrote a song. It's like carrying this little fire through your life and occasionally getting to a place with enough wood.”

Inspiration and relief finally crept up on him whilst he was sleeping, as he recounts. “It was a song called The Curse. I actually woke up in the middle of the night with that story in my head and then I wrote it down long-hand and sat and played and immediately started working on it. It was just something about how the mind works and how the confidence had gone away. It took a while to feel like it was coming back but when it did, it was like it was spring again and it then just carried through and powered all the rest of songs that come out.”

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His sudden outpouring of new-found confidence was so intense that he not only ended up with a new album, but he wrote a novel as well. The critically-acclaimed Bright's Passage allowed him to expand on the storytelling imagery so prevalent in his lyrics. As Ritter puts it: “Songs are very like a small dish, but with some songs you feel like you want to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet! Writing a novel was so exciting. It was like when you get out of the car and you look at the beach and you see all that expanse and you don't have to walk in a straight line. And when I'm writing I don't have to rhyme!”

Perhaps intensified by his recent experiences, Ritter remains humble about his success and displays a simple motivation for what he does. “I guess I just write to entertain and I want people to be paid back for the effort of listening to a song or of coming to a show,” he reasons. “At a time when it's hard for a lot of people to get to do this job I've been able to do it for a while and it really is a miracle. I even now get to come to Australia and play. That's a long way from the Cat In The Cream coffee house in Ohio where I played open mic nights! It's fantastic.”