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🎤The Singer Wears a Lab Coat🥼Joshua Sanford, YouTube Songwriter & Musician...The Interview
He's 26, funny, musically-gifted, engaging, and smart. With a chemistry degree, imagining a Bunsen burner resting on his piano shouldn't have been a stretch. One of his covers got my attention.🎶
He looks so much like 1983-era Field Day Marshall Crenshaw, he could be the pop rocker’s grandson. But, Joshua Sanford plays keyboards and sings; actually he’s a multi-instrumentalist, playing both bass and guitar, as well.
I stumbled upon the 26-year-old Alabaman on YouTube. It seems he’s a singing content creator who performs cover songs on various instruments. It was his abbreviated cover of Mark Eric’s “Where Do the Girls of Summer Go” that caught my attention.
A reason for even doing an article on the late Mark Erickson (as he was known…he passed away in 2009) was that so little is known about his 1969 album. It never dawned on me that someone would’ve actually heard of Mark, much less played three instruments and sung on a recorded cover! Here’s the original Mark Eric article:
Mark Eric’s original audio to “Where Do the Girls of Summer Go”:
Here’s Joshua Sanford’s cover from his YouTube channel:
Along with being an obviously-accomplished musician, Joshua is also a chemist! Or, at least, chemistry is the discipline in which he earned his Bachelor’s! If we’re to believe science and its brain-study, that means Joshua uses his entire brain: The right side for his artistic talents, and the left side (it’s theorized) houses the math/chem part (or is that vice versa?).
“I taught high school chemistry and physical science for a year,” Joshua shared early in our chat. “Which are also inspirations for both my orchestration and arranging in my band work, but also sparse orchestration in solo work. I haven’t found any limitations to where curiosity can take you, as far as music and liking something is concerned.”
From his Twitter account on May 19, 2022: “Today I gave my students their last test. This will be the end of my first and only year of teaching high school. I have cried a few times today. This profession teaches you so much about the public. I carry a complex sadness moving forward. It was a wonderful responsibility.”
Needless to say, this is one well-rounded and infinitely fascinating cat.
Impressed by Joshua’s playing multiple instruments, plus his clear, expressive voice (not to mention his having found Mark Eric and his music!), I reached out to him, and on May 3, 2023, he was kind enough to indulge me in a DM interview on one of the social media platforms.
I started right off asking him about that song cover, and how he found Mark Eric in the first place:
“I have to admit that the song itself is a mystery to me!
“I have always been hunting and collecting new songs. At some point, I found it and have been listening to it since. It goes in line with a lot of my listening, so I may have found it while looking through blogs and Google drives.
“I haven’t even listened to the rest of the [Mark Eric] album! But, I have listened to a ton of the Four Freshmen, for example. Oh wow…I first remember my mom burning me some CDs with homemade paper logos and coverings, stuff like Best of the 70s!”
One of Joshua’s originals, “Move to the Groove,” with a decided ‘70s feel:
In fact, it might be helpful to get a sense of Joshua’s life POV before anything else. From a recent Twitter post of his (4/2/23):
“In high school, I wrote so many bizarre songs that objectively sucked. I knew they sucked, but I felt so much love for those creations. Music has been my father and mother. I learned values in my childhood, but nothing taught me to process emotions like music has.”
Born in August 1997, Joshua grew up in Somerville, in northern Alabama, and now lives in nearby Huntsville. He’s married, and he and his wife are expecting a new little Sanford boy in September.
Until recently, Joshua was working as a software engineer for a company that makes simulation software that trains Air Command Officers for the US Air Force.
“I want to move to a different part of this career field, and I don’t have the experience, Joshua explained. “I have a pretty good business idea, so I decided to leave to pursue it. In doing so, I am gaining job skills and will still be applying for jobs in the area of programming that I am more looking to work in. This is the most practical way for me to make a living and support my family.
“Of course, I would be doing very different programming and music-related projects if I had all my own time on my hands,” he added, practically.
Speaking of those music-related projects, Joshua has his YouTube channel, as well as original music he’s posted onto Spotify, including this recent EP, recorded with his Cotaco musical outlet (“The band is me, Mac McDonald, James Rogers, and Steve—I don’t even know our drummer’s last name off the top of my head!”):
Naturally, I was curious about how he got into music, and when he first realized he had talent to actually make his own:
“My dad liked KISS and AC/DC quite a bit, so we listened to that. I was always affected by music I heard on the television or in movies. I went to the Church of Christ Church until I was about 8. They only sing out-of-shape-note hymnals there, no instruments. That was also a huge impact on me.
“I can remember there being a Boston track (‘More Than a Feeling’) on The Best of the ‘70s CD. I had a really, really bad KISS CD, and I really liked what is probably the worst song on it lol! I would listen to my little CD player on the [school] bus every day. I had long, rural bus rides.”
I had like 4 months of piano lessons as a kid. Not very long it seemed. Maybe 6 months.
“Then I didn’t touch it until the end of 9th grade year going into 10th grade. I fell in love with music then, and my mind opened up so much. I became in love with anything and everything and immediately had diverse taste.
“I call this the sort of ‘switching on’ effect,” Joshua continued. “I try to figure out when it happened to my friends. I find it interesting. For example, it seems as though my band’s guitar player was ‘switched on’ and developing his own taste much much earlier than I was.”
“I got really into watching Art Tatum (above video) and a lot of pianists. I listened to music from all times [and eras] that was available to find on YouTube. I watched how they played, and I really just scientifically researched everything I could find about my questions using the internet.”
I’m not sure if any of the jazz pianists Joshua saw ever laid his head on the keyboard cover while playing, but Joshua’s managed to perfect this peculiar piano anomaly:
“I used to love the [online] Piano Forums.” Joshua was eager to discuss his early influences: “There was some incredible instruction and information from generous users on those forums. I truly don’t exactly know how some of the things happened. It is almost a sad aspect of the internet’s speedy availability—the forums were important though.”
I am a pretty dynamic and spread-thin individual, truthfully.
What a crystal-clear mirror he must have to arrive at such a refreshingly self-aware observation! I’ll take his “spread-thin” word for it, but it’s hard to ignore this young man’s personal dynamism and musicality!
Digging deeper into his keyboard lessons: “Piano was from the simple mechanical lessons I was given, I suppose. Very basic, awfully boring method books that I really didn’t get through—from the local church gospel old-lady pianist. I was able to get real lessons in college that changed my life, with Hui Tin Yang at Troy University (in Alabama’s southeast corner).
“But we never once talked about technique, only sound, even when I complained to her about feeling inept, technically. And that has been somewhat of a blessing for me.”
That technical aspect interested me to the point where I pressed him to explain, as well as give us a peek into his vocal training:
“Because my life is so spread out into multiple directions that it is more healthy for me to just focus on sound rather than my shredding abilities.
“I sang with absolutely no fear of the soul when I was a young boy in church. I was absolutely fervent that I could sing different parts. My bass player was in those church sessions with me, and we conspired to prove that we could do it, even when the Sunday School teacher doubted us.
“I have no clue how successful we were or what the quality was, because I was not a reflective child. But we sing now! When I stopped [attending] church, I really didn't sing much. I hit puberty and then when I was interested in music again I found my voice didn't work!! And my ear was not that good. (And even worse, I would discover later that my rhythm is awful)!”
New Joel State of Mind (and Other Influences)
“I fell in love with Billy Joel. I learned basically everything available about his career. That sparked my interest in songwriters and bands and music culture and learning more about history…although I had already been doing that with jazz and classical a bit.
“Joel just blew my mind and was relatable. [He was] never trying to be cool and really wasn’t. Probably had to be careful if you were a 13-year-old-boy who liked Billy Joel in 1979. Might get picked on. But, Joel’s music was so sturdy for such a good span. I still think it rivals almost any career of any artist or band out there.
“I wish his early career could have been produced better. There is some good stuff that has its energy sucked out [see Cold Spring Harbor, above]. Anyways, I learned a lot of his music. And, I was still dumb and unconscious of a lot of music-making and production elements. In 10th grade, I had already done ‘New York State of Mind’ (which TERRIFIED me), and my first ever composition at that year’s talent show.”
“I just focused on piano and one-voice singing. And, my voice seemed to eventually creep its way back, and my ear and rhythm have slowly but steadily improved.
“I remember there was one point, in my junior year of high school, that all of a sudden the existence of vocal harmonies dawned on me. So you can see, my mind was only dedicated on piano and voice for about 2 straight years!”
I find it important that as soon as I was in love with piano and music, I was already trying to write things…even if I didn’t really know what was going on!
“Then, I started hearing production and orchestration elements, and that became my obsession. I guess I learned to have a relationship to listening to sounds, and developed a hunger and drive to produce sounds and find new sounds to hear.
“I would use computer programming to become more prolific at producing music and multimedia content. And maybe other things, too. As it is, we are just going to keep working at our regular pace on the new project, which is 2 years in the making now. We wrote most of the music the summer before last.
“Since we all are functioning adults, we have to go slow. But this new project is by far our best and most interesting recorded work. Sounds the best as far as recording quality, that is for sure. And, we have all the great reward of being responsible for every step of the process. A lot of those small videos came from an explosion of ‘I gotta make something! Anything!’”
“I love Lou Reed, and all sorts of homemade music, too: Stuff where I can keep it simple and get things done. I also love The Beach Boys’ lofi era. I have a lot of inspiration that could get me going for a 4-track cassette tape project. I just have not been able to ever succeed at it yet, although who knows what music might end up on such a project if i ever figured out the approach?”
Expounding on his Reed appreciation, Joshua cites the former Velvet Underground-er’s overall relatability: “I just love Lou Reed’s songs, textures and ideas! I like how he makes everything seem like I should be able to do it! He plays it cool, and makes things easy or sometimes just has an anxiety attack while still getting the words out. Plus, The Velvet Underground also has pretty songs!
“But, I love a lot of voices that don’t sing right on the pitch. I like how Lou gets his lyrics out of his mouth…he is an example of music that inspires me to make music on my own.
“I got into Sunshine Pop [a sub-genre loosely tied to the late ‘60s folkie scene, noted for its melodically breezy, harmony-rich songs] which I am sure is how I arrived at Mark Eric, but I was always on that baroque pop bent. Oh, yeah, I listened to Left Banke!”
That gives us a chance to direct Joshua and our readers to our recent dive into the remarkable Michael Brown, and his work with not only Left Banke, but the Beckies:
“I also tore up Carole King for a bit—her really good albums. I liked ornate chamber arrangements and such in my pop music. I like old songs from the ‘50s and before.”
The Wrap-Up (A Look Ahead)
“I will be very excited for you to hear the new album. I want it to be finished by August [a month before his first child is born]. 14 songs, many of decent length. All the backing tracks were finished, and we only had half the vocals and some overdubs left.
“But, then we suffered a hard-drive failure and lost 2 months of recording work. we have just finished about 1/4 of the vocals we lost and about 1/2 of the overdubs we lost. But, I am just taking it as an excuse to do it better this time! This is a rock’n’roll album, I tell ya, and it is pretty sarcastic and cynical too!”
I’m not sure we’d have it any other way, Joshua!
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