Josh Smith Talks to BKP
19th September 2017
You’ve just released a video clip of the new song from your latest album, Mesmer, which is called “Colourwave". It’s a very personal song for you, as it deals with a time in your life where you were struggling with depression. What kind of feedback have you had so far?
The song has touched a lot of people; on this last record we laid a lot of stuff out on the line that was very close to us, which we hadn’t really touched on in the past. Battling through depression and mental illness was one of them, and it’s something that affects a lot of people. For some, it never really goes away, you just have to learn to cope with it. For me, I have my ways of dealing with it, like living a really healthy lifestyle and doing lots of yoga. I wanted to share my story now I’m on the other side of this thing that’s chased me around for a large portion of my young adult life. Depression and mental illness is something that affects quite a large number of us; a lot of people can identify with it, and even a lot of successful people have their own issues that they need to address. The feedback from the video has been really good, it was quite “out there”, we did some crazy things. I put on a Morph suit and had paint thrown at me, played under UV lights and outside in the rain, all kinds of crazy things like that. But it made for a really visually stunning clip that was a great representation of what the lyrics were about, which is really about the key line in the song: “I am what I create”. You are the master of your own destiny and if you’re going through all these things you still have the power to change them inside you. We’re really happy with how it all turned out and definitely pleased with the response to the song.
A lot of this album is incredibly personal and deals with some very intimate subjects, most notably grief (Paragon, the last track on the album, is written about the late Tom Searle from Architects). You mentioned how you want to give people who are going through these things support from the other side; do you find it’s difficult standing up and baring yourself onstage?
I think writing about these issues is a really cathartic release that enables you to deal with whatever you’re going through at the time. When you play it live and you see how much it means to other people it creates this really emotional bond between you and your audience, which is sometimes quite overwhelming, but the key emotion here is happiness and understanding and it’s a really beautiful thing. It’s why I do what I do, for these sorts of moments when you know that the art that you poured your soul out trying to create meant something to someone else. It’s unexplainable, I can’t tell you what it feels like because I don’t even know what to call it.
Euphoria of some kind?
I think so!
You’ve recently launched your own online store, Boutique Sounds. What prompted this?
I’m a person that loves to be busy, and I spotted this gap in the market in Australia. Basically, I saw room for a business, an online retailer that would do a really, really thorough job of breaking the barriers between a brick and mortar shop and an online shop through outstanding customer service. Music equipment is something that I’m extremely passionate about, it’s one of my favourite things in the world. I had the idea for a couple of years, I had a dream of one day owning my own guitar shop. I couldn’t quite figure out a way to make my idea work. One night I was in my old house in Sydney having a few beers with one of my best friends that I grew up with, and we started talking about my idea. We thought between ourselves we could make this online store a reality, serving customers online but in an outstanding way, whilst putting more effort into doing this than anyone else we perceived was doing something similar at the time. I knew that I would only want to to sell things that I could absolutely stand behind. I wanted to bring some of the more obscure things available to the forefront, especially to people that wouldn’t always have direct access to these items, or certain manufacturers that might be a little less well-known; obviously Bare Knuckle is not one of those!
"If it wasn’t for Tim I wouldn’t have been able to start this"
The premise of Boutique Sounds is to introduce people to outstanding boutique equipment, to give it a platform, and I take pride in the way we’ve dressed this store up and all the things that we’re doing at the moment. For example, we’re currently rolling out all these demonstration videos, going through how to use all the pedals we sell, and we’ll do the same for some pickups. I just really want to be able to educate people as much as I can so that they get a kit together that will inspire them to create music, just the way certain things have inspired me in the past.
You mention that Bare Knuckle isn’t one of the smaller companies that you have chosen to work with but was the first one you approached through Boutique Sounds; how have you selected the companies you work with and supply into Australia?
Pretty much all of them started out as relationships I already had as an endorsee, and as you say, Bare Knuckle was actually the very first one. In fact, if Tim hadn’t agreed to support me in doing this it would have been very hard for me to get the credibility I needed to approach other brands. It is an uphill battle for someone who is starting out, especially when their business model is breaking the mould. There were a lot of people who wouldn’t sell to us purely because we are an online business, even though we do absolutely everything we possibly can to do the most outstanding job of serving the customer, right up to the point of loaning pedals out to people so they can try them at home.
" Bare Knuckle was a no-brainer"
If it wasn’t for Tim I wouldn’t have been able to start this and I definitely owe him a lot of gratitude for that. Bare Knuckle was a no-brainer, I knew that I had to have them. There wasn’t going to be any other pickup manufacturer I’d bother selling and I wanted to be able to share some really interesting stuff with people, which is why in our first couple of orders we got some really “out there” covers and interesting looking things. We have a lot of customers ordering this kind of stuff too, as they’re all about standing out from the crowd.
"I want us to all feel like a family that’s continually inspiring each other"
Being an online business these days you do need to be able to have plenty of online support behind you, and Boutique Sounds are really hot on social media. We consider SM to be integral to BKP, have you found that social media has been essential to building the business?
Absolutely, I run the social media for Boutique Sounds, and I had to use my profile as an artist to boost it to begin with, but now Boutique Sounds has its own team that is totally independent from what I do with Northlane. Our socials are a really great way to connect with the players out there, but they’re also a really great way to educate people as to what’s in stock and give them the product demos, and also to get talking about the reasons why a certain pickup might be great for them. I think social media definitely brings people together in a really unique way and it enables you to have many different formats to communicate with people. Some of these are conducted in a more polished fashion, like the things we do on YouTube, but sometimes in a more raw fashion, where we might shoot a live video for demoing products so that people can see the process of doing it. It’s been an integral way for my band, Northlane, to promote itself, and I’ve learned a lot through doing that. It’s been key for us to get our company name out there, showing people what we do, but also creating a culture surrounding our store. A quarter of our customers are repeat customers, they come back because they love the community we’ve been able to create around what we do. If someone gets a pedal or a pickup in their guitar and sends a photo to us I’ll be the first to share it. I want us to all feel like a family that’s continually inspiring each other.
It must be quite strange, but amazing, to be selling your own signature pickup, the Impulse, through a company that you have created and run.
Yeah! (laughs). I never thought I’d have a signature pickup, let alone my own guitar shop, I guess it makes sense. We sell a lot of Impulses, they’re a very popular pickup for our demographic. I have to be impartial though, if people are enquiring about what might work best in their guitars it would be easy for me to say “get the Impulse, it’s great!” but your range is so varied and fantastic that sometimes that’s not the case. It’s been interesting for me to put my preferences aside and not push what I would go for, and I have to ask myself well, what’s the right thing for this guy or this girl, what’s going to work best for them.
So to round things, off, I feel I should ask this considering where you’re at with your career, with Northlane and the business: what do you see in the future for Boutique Sounds?
We just want to expand what we do for people, and create a larger community of players. We’re going to be introducing a lot of really interesting lines soon, but they won’t be the same things because we’re really big on not cannibalising what we already have. We’re going to be doing a lot more product demos, like the ones we’ve recently released, also we’re going to be offering some really interesting things like installing Evertune bridges for people and bringing those into Australia, because they’re quite hard to get here. We’ve always got our ear to the ground looking for what’s the most interesting thing out there that’s breaking the rules and breaking boundaries as far as equipment goes. We’re looking to expand slowly but surely and keep building our reputation off the back of all the hard work that we’re doing.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us Josh, and we look forward to seeing what the future hold for you and Boutique Sounds!
Visit https://boutiquesounds.com.au/ to find out more about Boutique Sounds. You can watch the product demo videos on their YouTube channel, where content is regularly uploaded. Listen to Josh's signature pickup by visiting the Impulse product page.