Indianapolis-based folk collective Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery dropped their best and most ambitious record to date, Alyosha, in October. Now Powell is bringing his handcrafted, psychedelically-tinged brand of avant-garde folk back to Cincinnati for the first time in a long time. Powell will be performing at Southgate House Revival on Thursday, January 14th with support from Nashville singer-songwriter Ira Wolf, My Brother's Keeper, and Lamps & Voids.
We sat down with Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery prior to the show!
Give us some background on Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery…
“Joshua Powell” is the half of the band my mom named. We tacked on “the Great Train Robbery” in 2011 when we put out our first little homespun record. We were more or less a college band until 2013 when I graduated and opted to buy a van instead of getting a traditional job, and that’s been the story ever since. After almost two straight years of touring, we put some roots down back in central Indiana, tightened our focus down to the Midwest, released our latest record “Alyosha,” and have been keeping our collective nose to the indie grindstone. Within the last year or so, we’ve opened for The Soil & the Sun and Mike Mains & the Branches, played Lincoln Calling and Starry Night, taped at Daytrotter, and had our music placed on an ABC show. We recently rebuilt a new full-band lineup and are planning a huge national tour for the summer and writing weird new psychedelic folk songs.
When did you decide to make music your career?
I was a senior in college in small-town Indiana. I got offered a beautiful job out of the blue as a worship pastor in Michigan with good pay and creative leeway. I had a mentor named Matt who has kind of always been a Yoda to me, and he told me really firmly not to take it. Nashville was the first alternative idea I had, but I was worried about reports of its absolute over-saturation, so I planned three months to see the West, got carried away with the adventure of the Kerouacian road life, and didn’t stop for a long, long time. Ended up a lot less stable and a lot more fulfilled. After moving back to IN, I worked in coffee to try to keep up with bills. I got let go because I couldn’t cut the early morning hours, but when I realized I could reappropriate those 30 weekly hours into booking, writing, and PR, I figured I’d make a go of it doing just music. That was about a year ago.
What inspires your lyrics?
I draw a lot from what I read. I’m definitely a literature nerd, wannabe English major. Transcendentalists, surrealists, and beats. I’m hopelessly in love with topography. My brother makes fun of me by saying that I namedrop different flora and fauna in essentially every song, but it’s impossible not to be inspired by the biodiversity and beauty of the earth. And then I end up writing a lot about God too, because I grew up in a very religious community with parents in ministry. I went off to college and got all liberal and pierced up and grew my hair out and whatever. I diverged in some ways from my upbringing. But I still subscribe to the Christian faith very seriously, so the questions I have about faith and doubt make up a big part of my thought life and thusly show up in a lot of songs. Songwriting is a spiritual discipline for me.
What can one expect from a live Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery show?
Usually I’d say it depends on which incarnation you catch—in the last year we’ve toured as a four-piece rock band, a harmony-driven duo, and then just ol’ me with a guitar and a kick drum. But we’re working now with a solid new lineup of handsome and talented dudes, so the whole show as it was intended to be seen is back in operation. It’s very dynamic. We like the fluidity of living in the folk-rock hyphen. There’s a little whispering and a little screaming, but it’s definitely a lot more energetic throughout out than your typical folk band. Maybe sweatier. There’s a lot of storytelling and a few jokes for which I probably work too hard. Every night we play we’re blown away that people make it possible for us to do this for a living—we never don’t have fun. But there’s a very real depth that is there to engage if you’re open to it as well.
What is next for Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery?
We’re shooting a video for a song from Alyosha in January. January is when our songs hit the national Starbucks playlist. We have a whole slew of new tour dates on our website and we’re adding more to the calendar every week. And you might catch a new song or two if you see us live this season. Those songs are being carefully collected for an EP. But it’s a little early to talk about it.