Joshua McCormack’s live performances encourage you to appreciate chaos along with beauty. “There’s a time for precision,’ he states, “and there’s a time for madness.” A technically-skilled musician and vocalist, McCormack’s songs and live performances feature strategic moments of unpredictability.
Joshua McCormack started playing with his parents’ keyboard around the age of 10. His keyboard experiments were also his earliest recording sessions, and he’d sit and listen to his own creations for hours, splicing bits and pieces of melodies together. He started playing guitar at age 11, practicing from the time he got home from school until he went to bed at night. The riffs of the axe gods of hair metal eventually led him to join his first metal band as a teenager.
He says his real music education began when he was about 25. He spent countless nights at Chicago-area open mics mingling with a cast of characters who played sets that read like a music history lesson, ranging from Sam Cooke to Joao Gilberto to traditional gospel songs. McCormack would cover Bjork songs on an acoustic, mimic Helen Merrill on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” and test out his original songs on a live crowd. During this time, he studied the teachings of Seth Riggs, vocal coach to Michael Jackson and Prince. He bought a Riggs course online, and practiced vocal exercises every day as he drove in his car.
In 2005, he recorded his first album inside his friend’s basement studio, entitled Joshua McCormack Presents Holiday Girl. After that album, he started to take things seriously, recruiting local musicians to form a backing band to play live shows. Describing that time period, McCormack says, “I was attempting to be a character in an early Tom Waits song, all cigarette haze and whiskey breath. I wasn’t very healthy, and didn’t sleep much. I’d stay out all night playing and go to work in the morning. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Then, he met his wife, who he credits greatly for strengthening him as a musician. She exposed him to her own diverse musical influences and helped him to focus on refining his craft and expanding his audience. With a new wife and the birth of his son, McCormack’s songs began to shift in tone, becoming less moody and more reverent. His 2008 release, The Funeral of the Siren, showcases this evolution.
Joshua McCormack’s new album,The Phantom King, is mainly influenced by getting married and having a child. Stylistically, The Phantom King ranges a broad spectrum with seamless precision. McCormack is joined on certain songs by the highly-skilled trio of Edd Merkel (drums), Paul Cullen (bass) and Johnny Prestipino (guitar). Together, they shred boundaries between Smashing Pumpkins-inspired thunder, Funkadelic grooves, Queen-esque melodrama, and drum and bass rhythms. Joshua McCormack’s voice is equal parts John Lennon, Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits, and his new album, The Phantom King, is a tour de force of songwriting versatility, with some whimsical accordion waltzes tossed in for good measure.
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