HomeInterviewsSXSW Artist Spotlight: The Juniper Berries

SXSW Artist Spotlight: The Juniper Berries

For this installment of 360°Sound’s SXSW Artist Spotlight series, we sat down with Josh Stirm, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and lead singer of the Austin-based indie rock band the Juniper Berries. The Juniper Berries’ album Death and Texas is due out April 19 on the Earth Libraries label. In this exclusive interview, Stirm discusses the new single “Walk Home,” effects pedals, gin cocktails, and more.

As of this posting, Josh and the Juniper Berries have pulled out of performing at SXSW 2024 in solidarity with those protesting the high-profile military sponsorship of the SXSW festival.

Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Find the full video interview at the end of the article.

360°Sound: You’re originally from the Pacific Northwest? What brought you to Austin? How do you like Austin?

Josh Stirm: I grew up in a town called Rogue River in Oregon. Initially, I came here because I was working at a studio in El Paso called Sonic Ranch. It was an internship and had an end date. I knew I wanted to move somewhere else other than the Northwest. I just wanted to spread my wings a little bit. I met some people at the studio who said, “You should visit Austin.” I visited, fell in love with it, then moved here shortly after.

Tell us about the origin of the Juniper Berries. How long have you been making music with this project?

It’s been a while now. We started playing shows as Juniper Berries in like 2017. It’s gone through a lot of iterations. Initially, it was just me recording acoustic songs on a four-track. It was kind of a side project from this punk band I had when I was in college. Then we started gigging and there was drums and bass and all kinds of things. I really think of it as like a shelf for my songwriting. I might have other forays into other projects and writing different things with different people, but Juniper Berries is, first and foremost, my safe space to experiment and try new stuff out.

What instruments do you play?

The classic rock ones – bass, guitar, keyboard. I play a lot of weird, random things on recordings. I wouldn’t call myself a cellist. But if there’s some little part and there’s a cello around, I can figure it out.

How do you describe your sound to people?

Usually, it’s in a live context when I’m telling people what we sound like. Some of the songs are pretty soft, but there’s a lot of energy generally, and it’s pretty loud. I think of myself as a lyrics-forward songwriter. Lyrics are a big part of it. Melodically, I’m really influenced by stuff from the 60s, classic pop like the Beach Boys and the Beatles. For the instrumentation, I lean more toward ‘90s rock – classic indie stuff like Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and Pavement.

Also, ‘60s garage stuff, and ‘70s power pop has been really big to me lately. I’ve been listening to bands like the Raspberries a lot. It’s a smattering of different rock stuff with some noise stuff in there. Thurston Moore was kind of my gateway to the electric guitar. Sonic Youth really blew my mind wide open when I was a kid.

Your listed under power pop on the SXSW site. Are you OK with the power pop label?

Yeah, totally. I feel like I didn’t really know what power pop was for a long time. But in the last couple of years, I’ve been listening to it more and more. I was listening to that band the Glands. They’re sort of like Pavement crossed with Big Star. I always knew Big Star was power pop, but then I was really into the Glands. I’m also into Teenage Fanclub. That’s my favorite stuff, the ‘90s indie rock stuff that’s trying to sound like Big Star.

Your Instagram bio reads, “Townes Van Zandt with a fuzz pedal,” which is high praise if you ask me. Was that something someone wrote or said?

I can’t remember who it was. I was emailing with some publicists dealing with our new record coming out a few months ago. I was talking to different people about if they wanted to represent the band, and somebody said that. He was like, “The guitar playing kind of reminds me of George Harrison.” Which is just crazy, I mean, such high praise. And he was like, “It kind of sounds like Townes Van Zandt with a fuzz pedal.” I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s great. That’s going in the bio.”

The writing of your forthcoming album Death and Texas came after you lost some loved ones. Tell us a little about how this album explores grief and loss. 

There had been a lot of loss in my family, and I had just moved to Austin. I feel like I had this period of trying to sift through all that stuff. I just wrote a million songs. I was writing a song every day, which I write a lot, but not usually that much for several months. I was piecing it together, after it just all flowed out. It was all very quickly written.

It’s sort of like when work is really hard for you, or you’re going through something stressful, and in the moment, you’re like, “Yeah, there’s no way this is impacting the rest of my life.” But then, in hindsight, I was listening to all the songs I’d written around that time and I was like, “Oh man, yeah, obviously there was a lot of grieving going on and that seeped its way into the material.” I don’t want to say too much. But it was written during that time as a way to deal with everything.

“Walk Home,” the latest single from Death and Texas, has some cool guitar distortion, feedback, and delay. Give us some insight into the pedals you’re using as well as the production involved with that song.

I’m so glad you asked. I figured out this weird kind of experimental thing to do for the guitar on that song that I would love to talk about. It’s my Music Man 210, 130-watt amp, and I was using my Jazzmaster guitar. Pretty much all my fuzz tone that I get is from Way Huge’s Swollen Pickle. I did one take of the guitar solo through the fuzz pedal, like right up on the amp, getting it to feedback and everything. Then we got a DI [direct input] signal of that guitar, and we saved that on a computer, after the pedal but before the amp. Then we flipped the phase and re-amped it again, and put both of those takes in the song. It just creates this super wide, crazy guitar thing. It was kind of an experiment. We didn’t know if it was going to work, but it ended up sounding great.

What can SXSW attendees expect from your live shows?

The live shows are much more wild than this record. [Death and Texas] is very somber. There’s some crazy moments in it, too. But it’s a little more introspective. Live we get a lot noisier and louder. It’s a lot crazier. There’s only the one guitar live. On the recording, I do two guitars a lot of the time. We changed the arrangements a little bit, too. It’s interesting. I like changing the songs a little bit live and leaving room for a little improvisation, but the melody and the lyrics are obviously the same in the structure. I just little embellishments and stuff to kick it up a notch or two.

When I saw the band name Juniper Berries, the first thing I thought of was gin. Are you a gin drinker? If so, do you have a favorite gin cocktail?

I don’t really drink gin very much, but we did design a Juniper Berries cocktail once for a show. My goal is to at some point get with a booking agent and try to get bars to agree to serve it at our shows. You do a shot of gin, a shot of the mint-flavored Guayaki Yerba Mate, two shots of juniper-flavored dry soda, ice, and a lime.

That sounds great.

Follow the Juniper Berries on Instagram @thejuniperberries


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