Bryan Josh is the guitarist and frontman of Yorkshire prog-rockers Mostly Autumn. Since the band formed in ’96, they have gained a great deal of notoriety within the British prog-rock scene. Drawing on a huge variety of influences, the seven-piece band have drawn comment from musicians of Pink Floyd and Genesis fame. Josh himself has been with the band since its formation, and is commonly recognized as the UK’s greatest prog-rock writer. James Harle caught up with him during a recent visit to York.
Bryan, you’re one of the UK’s leading prog-rock writers. Is that a label you apply to yourself, to Mostly Autumn?
When I’m asked what kind of music we do, what genre, I always find it impossible to describe. It’s a difficult question to answer- I guess the only answer is, come to a gig and find out. It’s just music about life and my experience of nature, because that’s what inspires me. I think nature is where it all started, before the band was even a serious thing. About ten years before the band formed, I’d been up in the mountains in the snow, under the sky, and I just wanted to put it to music. It blew my mind, and the seasons have always inspired me in that sense. Christmas of 1989, for example, I was up around Rochdale, and the stars were so bright it was almost blinding. That’s when I first put pen to paper, and started writing the song ‘Night Sky’, which is on the first album. That was the start of the dream, the start of the band really- as far as Mostly Autumn was concerned. It wasn’t like I wanted to do it, it was like I had no choice. It was in the blood, it was firing the system, and that was it.
But you’re also inspired by other things- the works of Tolkien, for example. Wasn’t one of your earlier albums inspired by The Lord of the Rings?
Yes, yes, it was those books- those great books. I think I first read the trilogy when I was eleven, and they were also on the radio at the time. The album came a few years back, and the guy from the record company at that time had been doing DVDs about Tolkien. He suggested it as a project. We just thought it’d be really nice- but then, we only had nine days to write it, which was a bit of a challenge. It was a tight deadline, but it was something we’re really interested in- and again, it ties in with nature. Thinking about the Shire, the Misty Mountains- and it all connects, really, and I think the album reflects that: it’s very organic. Because we only had so much time, we just used select passages for inspiration. I personally was really interested in the sinister side: Mordor and Sauron, and that ended up inspiring one of the first songs on the album. It was a side project, essentially, but I could have spent years working on it.
I think, in general, Mostly Autumn is a very hard-working band. You’ve more or less released one album per year since you were formed- and you produce them all yourselves, which must be very freeing. Is there an instalment for this year?
We’ve got a new album being released… at some point in 2012. Probably April, May- but there’re no guarantees. Our last one was a live album, Still Beautiful, but this one’ll be a studio piece, and they’re more difficult to predict. As for producing ourselves, it is very freeing; it’s great, actually. We got the rights back in 2005 from our last record company, and created our own label then, basically. We studied the distribution network and everything, but we decided to manufacture ourselves, so I get to make all the decisions on what we do and when we do it. Selling the special edition albums is a great way of paying for all that to be done, really: the studio and the publicity, that sort of thing. We send the singles out to…wherever, and it’s a nice way of working. In fact, it’s a great way of working. It’s our music, as we want to do it, and there’s no outside influence on that. I guess there must be other bands that do it too… but no one’s ever mentioned it. It fits us particularly well because we’ve always done special editions for people close to the band anyway.
In the last few years you’ve seen that hard work pay off. Mostly Autumn have a huge following- and I hear tell that you’ve even been complimented by the likes of Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright. Was that an easy thing to accept, seeing as Floyd had such a huge influence on the band?
[laughs] It’s a crazy thing to get your head around. It wasn’t just Richard, it’s been loads of my heroes- John Law, Richard Blackmore (I actually worked with him), and Steve Hackett from Genesis as well. They’re all really into it, and quite a few more, actually. It’s really strange when the artists you grew up with, who’re responsible in a way for what you’re doing… well… for them to even know you exist is fabulous, but to compliment your work? Awesome. It’s strange, but very very lovely at the same time.
And a lot of pressure to be under, I would think. More generally, how do you deal with the pressure of the stage? How do you prepare for a show?
A lot of the time, it’s just listening to some nice music. Something provocative, having a drink or two, getting vibed up for it- that’s what it’s like in the hour before we go on. Anything from classical music to Pink Floyd, Coldplay… whether we’re backstage, or down at the pub, wherever. It’s not about routine and rituals, it’s all about atmosphere- as a performer, you’ve got to create that atmosphere before you come onstage. Bring it with you, and it’ll last for the whole gig. But you’ve got to be in that place, it doesn’t matter whether you’re settling your mind or provoking it. When it comes to music I’m into anything that does well, I enjoy all sorts. You’ve got to be open-minded, every time you listen- and every time you perform, for that matter.
I think that’s especially true of a band the size of Mostly Autumn- there must be a lot of communication going on with eight people on stage. Most bands call it quits at four or five- why so greedy?
There’re only seven of us at the moment. We were an eight piece before Heather Findlay left in 2010-but we’ve been a seven-piece for a while now. There is a core to the band, but I think when it’s live you’ve got to extend it outwards, because you need different people to do different things. Sometimes you need more people to work up an even better sound, and that’s just what you’ve got to do. I don’t care how many people we’ve got onstage- a band starts at five, I think, and just gets better from there.