Born and raised in Toronto, living, writing and recording in Nashville these past three years and complementing his U.S. tours with frequent performances in the UK, indie singer-songwriter Josh Taerk considers himself a musical citizen of the world.
Breaking through in 2017 on the Hot AC Commercial Radio charts with “Anywhere Love Took Us,” the first single from his latest EP Stages, Josh and his band have opened for famed blues guitarist Robin Trower, Kevin Costner & Modern West, John McLaughlin and Austin Jones while headlining their own shows throughout the Midwest, South and as far West as Midland TX, Salt Lake City and Denver.
His high energy performances led acclaimed music journalist Jason Richie to name him one of the “Top 5 Live Acts” of 2015, and in May of that year, the title track from his full-length album was playlisted on over 40 radio stations throughout the UK, where he toured in support of The Soldiers in 2012-2013 and headlined two UK university tours in 2013 and 2015. Josh was chosen to play Indie Week Canada’s 2014 Band Competition and made it to the semi-final round, Indie Week Europe 2015 where he and his band played 5 shows, and Canada’s Walk of Fame Festival at Nathan Phillips Square in 2011.
Making all of this even more remarkable is that Josh has built his career completely DIY, including managing himself, booking his own gigs, self-publishing his own songs and, with a group of investors, launching his own label, Misty Creek Records. “I recommend to any young artist starting out, do as much as you can on your own because no one will fight for what you believe in more than you will,” he says.
“By doing it yourself and understanding the process, you’ll have a better understanding of how things work when the time comes for you to hire someone to do it for you. These days, with streaming and social media platforms, indie artists have so many avenues to get our music out there and ways to build a fan base in the genre we want to play in. At a recent music conference, I heard a quote that stuck with me: ‘You get praised in public for what you practice in private.’ That’s how I have viewed the process of building my career so far. Everything starts with a passion, and putting your heart and soul into it. Life is too short not to.”
Taerk, a one-time business major at the University of Western Ontario who started gigging in Toronto in 2009, is also a firm believer in what he terms “the hustle” – so firmly committed to the choices he makes that fresh opportunities will naturally present themselves, and he will always be in the position to take those moments of grace and fly with them because of the work he does in preparation.
The first of these serendipitous connections came when a friend of a friend heard a rough demo and hooked Josh up with Juno Award Winning producer Terry Brown (Rush, Cutting Crew), who loved what he heard and helped the singer record his first full length album, which was remastered a few years later and released as his 2013 album JOSH.
Just a year or two into his building up his gigging schedule, key encounters with rock legends Max Weinberg and John Oates, helped Josh take his career to the next level. Their words about Josh’s music ring like evergreen praise on Josh’s website bio. The quote from Weinberg, drummer for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, is especially meaningful because Josh’s dad, who raised him on a steady diet of classic rock, played drums in a Springsteen tribute band for years. Weinberg said, “Josh Taerk is the most exciting new talent I have come across in years. He blew me away with his presentation and songwriting abilities. I’ve known and played with a few singer/songwriters in my time and I can tell you – Josh Taerk has what it takes.”
When a family friend told Josh that Weinberg was hosting a charity event in Toronto, the singer immediately knew he would be there and take his dad. At the reception after the famed drummer played a few songs and spoke about his career, Josh noticed Weinberg by the bar, wrapping up a conversation. “I knew if I didn’t go over there in the next five seconds, I would blow my big opportunity,” Josh says. “I introduced myself and he was the nicest guy ever. We talked about music and he asked me about my career. I boldly gave him a copy of my first album. Whether he listened to it or not, I was just happy he took the CD. A few weeks later, I got an email from him saying he loved what he heard. He mentioned he was doing a gig at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in his hometown in New Jersey, and invited me to open with an acoustic set.”
The experience of sharing the stage with Weinberg changed Josh’s life. “It was an incredible experience, watching him perform and knowing he thought highly enough of me to kick off the night,” the singer says. “It was my first time playing in a sold out theatre and it was an honor to stand up there with Max and give 150 percent. Seeing how my music resonated with the crowd helped me understand myself better as an artist.” To top off the evening, Max’s mom told me I reminded her of a young Bruce! As a huge fan of The Boss, that is more than praise.” Weinberg kept in touch, and a few years later, invited Josh to join him and his band onstage at Summerfest in Milwaukee to pay tribute to Springsteen’s late saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Josh’s opportunity to meet Oates happened at the famed singer-songwriter’s 7908 John Oates Aspen Songwriter Festival. Chosen to be included in the prestigious gathering and showcase, Josh booked two shows there. He struck up a conversation with Oates at the event’s big after-party. Oates mentioned he was performing in Toronto soon, and told Josh to call him a couple days prior to the show so they could catch up. Josh was very grateful for the gesture but didn’t take his invite to hang out too seriously until Oates quickly responded to his text and invited him to hang backstage before the show. Oates asked what he was working on, Josh told him he was thinking about recording his second album and do everything old school, to tape, with all the musicians recording and playing off of each other in the same room. .
After returning from his UK tour with The Soldiers, Josh talked to Oates again and told him he had been having challenges hooking up with producers in Toronto that had the space and tech for the kind of album he was envisioning. Oates called his friend and collaborator, Nashville based songwriter and producer Teddy Morgan, and hooked them up. Morgan’s studio of choice, The Friendly Forest, had the perfect 24 track analog system. Josh soon moved his home base to Nashville, and he and Teddy have been great friends and collaborators ever since, recording Josh’s 2015 album Here’s To Change and the follow up EP Stages. In addition to being part of Kevin Costner & Modern West, Morgan sings harmonies and plays lead guitar in Josh’s touring band.
As Oates said in the quote about Here’s To Change: “I’ve enjoyed getting to know Josh Taerk and his music over the last few years, and knew that Nashville would be the place where he could make this album really come alive. I think it’s Josh’s best work to date.”
Josh finds it amusing when people remark about the difference between his chill persona offstage and his energetic approach to performing onstage. “It’s a whole other side of me,” he says. “I love performing live, and the more I dug into the emotions of the songs I was playing, the more they affected me physically. That’s one of the reasons I titled my latest EP Stages. It’s about the different stages of my writing, the different stages of my career, the many stages of my life so far, and the stages I get to play on night after night. All these different stages have contributed to who I am as an artist and have shaped the songs I write.”
Wherever he’s performing, Josh most enjoys the effect that his music has on other people – and the ability of a single word of encouragement, whether in a song or after the show, to change the course of a person’s life. “The only thing we take with us into the next life is the way we have made other people feel,” he says. “It’s our contribution to the world and other people’s lives. This hit home on my first tour in the UK. I was talking to fans after a show when these two sisters came up to me. We were talking about music and they mentioned how my song ‘Start Again’ had touched and affected them. One of the sisters said she always wanted to be a singer but was afraid to go after her dream. I looked up from the CD I was signing for them and said, ‘You know, there are a lot of moments in life that are scary, but the scariest is getting to the end with regrets.’ I told her, ‘If you have a passion for something and the drive to do it, you have to go after it. As (hockey great) Wayne Gretzky once said, ‘You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take!”
“A year later,” Josh adds, ”I was playing the same theatre with The Soldiers and the younger of the sisters approached me and told me that her older sister took my advice and enrolled in a vocal program at the university to pursue music full time. That was the most emotional for me. My whole outlook on music is that it’s all about communication, putting my feelings out there and letting people know they’re not alone, that others have gone through similar things and understand their goals, ambitions and dreams and the good and bad times we all go through. Music is about starting conversations, and I’m glad to lend my voice.”
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