Joshua Radin: An Artistic Turn

When Joshua Radin was a kid in Shaker Heights, he realized something which seemed obvious to him, yet no one his age seemed to register: that none of the current hits of the day compared to the great songs his parents often played. He was born in 1974 into a home always alive with the great music his parents loved: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, and Motown. It shaped his soul.

Videos by American Songwriter

When he started writing songs many years later, he returned to the source. He brought a love of melody and fused it with another beautiful technique: acoustic guitar finger-picking. It came out of folk music and became the sonic texture for Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, John Prine, and even John Lennon on many songs.

It all shaped his musical soul, leading to a career writing the kinds of songs nobody wrote anymore—melodic, tender, usually acoustic-based, and with substantive, meaningful lyrics. 

Radin expanded his mostly personal songs into larger subjects, beautifully tempered so as not to burden a song. His good friend, the actor Zach Braff calls him the “new Paul Simon” for his great gift of bringing these elements together organically. 

Braff launched Radin’s career by bringing his song “Winter” to the producers of TV’s Scrubs. Since then, Radin has had astounding success at writing songs perfect for TV and film, with more than 100 placements.  

Now comes his newest album, The Ghost and The Wall, which expands the lyrical scope even more. The first single “Better Life” is grounded in the intolerance towards immigrants in America as told by the story of his own Eastern European Jewish heritage.  

Remarkably, he didn’t write his first song until he was 30. Before that, he painted, wrote screenplays, and attended Northwestern in Chicago to delve further into both artistries. Yet during those first three decades, he unintentionally deepened his songwriting soul.   

“I would see musicians play and think how cool it would be to play music,” he said, “but I always felt you had to start early, and I didn’t do that. But when I was 30, I went ahead and got a guitar. I learned three chords and right away started writing songs. And I have never stopped.” 

Joshua Radin, Photo by Catie Laffoon

After college, he moved to New York City to become a painter/screenwriter. He then started learning to play guitar and learned how to play songs by Bob Dylan and The Beatles. It was a romantically bohemian existence at first, but that wore off quickly.  After his screenplays were rejected and his girlfriend left him, he did the thing that defined himself as a songwriter. He reached down into that loss and heartbreak and wrote a song.

That song, his first, was “Winter.” There, he fully found his voice as a songwriter. It was the song Braff brought to TV, Joshua’s very first effort, and was immediately heard by millions of people. After waiting 30 years to write this song, he became an overnight success.  

That he was capable of writing a song at the level of “Winter” on his first attempt was not random or lucky, he said, but the outcome of his decades creating art.  

“In painting and screenwriting both,” he said, “I expressed myself in visuals. I always was thinking of how to create a certain mood or feeling with a picture. So when I first started to write a song, I thought of imagery as I always have. But I brought melody to it and expressed it with lyrics. I found it was a really natural, organic transition.” 

Asked what it is about his music that has led to such a wealth of film and TV placements, he ascribed it to the vivid visuals of the lyrics, as well as his measured, tender delivery. “My singing is really soft,” he said, “so it does not get in the way of the dialogue.”

That delicate delivery is the one constant mentioned when his fans speak of his appeal, an aspect of his music that has drawn people to Radin’s songs, which do provide a comforting sense of peace in the midst of all the clamor and chaos of our lives. His signature soft style of singing came, he said, from circumstantial New Yorker influences. He had a neighbor who called the cops on him anytime she could hear his music. 

“I played and sang as softly as possible. I never strummed the guitar even. Just fingerpicking. But that was enough for her to call the cops, which she did many times. She would report this serious disturbance to the peace, and the cops would have to come out and find nothing but me and my acoustic guitar. They’d then call her, and say, ‘We were here. We didn’t find any problem, but we were here.’” 

That everyday mixture of kindness and crazy spoke volumes to him. Upon completing his debut album, which featured “Winter,” he realized the cops had given him the ideal title. He called the album We Were Here.  

Leave a Reply

The Beatles Her Majesty

Paul McCartney Shares Unreleased Beatles Lyrics in New Book