Music & My Depression - Josh Leininger

Interview with Josh Leininger by Joshua Stanley

Stanley: “So how did you develop your style?”

Leininger: “I guess i've been listening to music all the time for a long as I can remember. So, it was just kind of like everything I was listening to just kind of like fed into what's been inspiring me. Honestly, the stuff i'm writing always changes depending on what i'm listening to. At the time of the EP I just put out, Echos in the Winter, (I) was listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and a lot of Gungor. So, it just kind of ended up being like very like kinda Sufjan Stevens; just kind of very picky with cool acoustic instruments, but like really weird synths and stuff. I just love music and I love listening to music. (The music that) I’m really enjoying at the time just kind of really impacts (my own music) yeah.”

Stanley: “So are there any other artists that were like super core to you?”

Leininger: “I’d say (there are) two that come to mind; first being John Foreman, I think I grew up on Switchfoot, which is cool because his writing is phenomenal. He just (knows how to) paint a picture with his words. He came out (with)  Darkness, Dawn, Shadows, and Sunlight, just like EP series that he came out with a few years ago on that were, like, deeply inspiring to me. The lyrics (inspired me) and it's just kind of like my vibe as well, just the way he writes really. (In talking about what helped ) change the way that I wrote and, um, the pictures that I try to paint with my words and like, how I use my metaphors, but production wise,(were inspired by) Bon Iver. His album For Emma, Forever Ago (is)  just so incoherent and, kind of insane.  There’s no metrodome, the tempos (are just)  all over the place, like, makes zero sense; um and there's a few moments on the record that I really wanted to, like, pull from that kind of style where I just, like, turn off my metronome. It just kind of played and yeah, just kind of gave it a really authentic, feel that's what I was kind of going for with that.”

Stanley: “Yeah, there's definitely something about having that purely simple stripped down, authentic moment in music.”

Leininger: “For sure, that's what makes it like sweet and good to enjoy. I mean, that's why i'm not a huge fan of top forty stuff sometimes; because it feels so clean and edited down to the tee, and like everything is exact and there's no pitch fluctuation. Like when you're listening to something that really invites you into it and like wants you to sing along. It’s cool.”

Stanley: “So tell me a little bit about your path to get where you are now.”

“Yeah, that is a crazy story. I think early on, music was always something that I kind of ran too. I struggled with mental illness for a lot of my life; depression, anxiety and I listened to like TobyMac all the time and like memorized raps; which is (an) interesting artist to have in the memory banks. I mean, like you grew up in a Christian home; that's just kind of where I came from. So I just started listening and I really found my place in high school on like (the) worship team and stuff. I poured myself into that for like four years, all my energy and time it was just music, music, music. Then I think around like, ah ninth or tenth grade my depression started getting like really bad and around that time is when I started writing. I just kind of like started sitting down with my acoustic, and like actually tried  flushing out some words and (a) hundred songs later, I wrote one good song. I was like alright, maybe this isn't so bad and I can like, just kind of keep rolling. So, it was a lot of me working through my pain to get to my port. It was like hours just kind of digging my heels in and playing all the time. I remember I would sit in my room for like two or three hours at a time just playing my guitar. I had a looper pedal. I wrote actually most of the record; it was just like refs i'd make with my looper.

Around this time last year I actually lost my faith. I went on a missions trip to Costa Rica with YWAM, Youth With A Mission, and it was like such a crazy experience. It just kind of felt like a completely new Christianity that I was just like, wow, there's like a lot of hurting people on this planet. I remember I had this interaction with the homeless dude that, like, changed my life. We were talking to him for a while and he asked us if we could buy him food and my friends were like praying for him (and we were like) ‘really wow this dude could actually like get saved or something,’ Then (he) really cussed us out and ran off and I just had this moment I was like, ‘well that was utter failure.’ Then I just kind of felt like the Holy Spirit in that moment just be like ‘he has food tonight that's what’s important’ and that changed my life. A week later and I definitely wasn't ready for that paradigm shift because I went home and then it was like this looks completely different than what I saw in Costa Rica. Then I just gave up on it altogether and I spent some time camping out more. (I tried) like the agnostic thing but it's like kind of hiding out as a christian like I once church and like was still leading worship and stuff. I was like writing music along that whole way because that was like one of the only places that I could be honest. It was just me and my guitar and it was veiled behind a ton of poetry. All so I could show my friends and yeah it sounds terrible, but and then eventually I was able to process it. Being a full time missionary of this past year has been a really valuable experience.  (It is a) very like intense place to rebuild your faith, when you being a missionary. I wouldn't recommend it for everybody, it was alright for me. It's been a lot of me asking questions and hard questions; the ones that are like in the back your mind that you know are scary to ask because you're afraid of (mixing) everything up. It’s the most difficult thing i've ever done, but I mean, i'm only nineteen, so i'm sure there will be far harder things that i'll do. Honestly (that) like got me to a point and gave me this drive to write my music.”

Stanley: “You mentioned you’re a full-time missionary. You are a Christian, so how does your Christianity sort of tie into the type of music that you make?”

“Well for me, I don't even look at it as something that I would own.  Like the kingdom of heaven is something that's upon us now, so if i'm truly living by it (and) for it, it should be a part of everything that I do. But as far as wrestling with paradigms and stuff; that's a really huge topic in my songs. So there's like this kind of crazy tension, and honestly all i'm able to write about is like my faith and like where i'm at. A lot of my songs kind of have like undertone of wrestling and like I said, asking the questions that I really feel like I need to ask; but also declaring the truth of love and hope. In my own heart, sometimes it feels like none just like declaring that to myself for like anything. Just my views and things in society (are)  based on the way that Jesus calls us to live, loving one another and loving ourselves truly and purely. I’d say it's like honestly one of the only reasons I write. So yeah, it would be a huge part of my art.”

Stanley: “So now you're touring with a bunch of different musicians and artists; so I just want to talk a little bit about collaboration and what role that plays in how you create now how you write.”

Leininger: “Yeah so I guess i'll just give background, what i've been doing this past year (is)  i've been with a group called Circuit Riders.  It's (a) youth missions movement tied in with YWAM. We're based out of California, so a lot of us were living out there from like October to December/January um doing like our first part of our YWAM school together. We had a lot of preachers come through and, we just kind of all lived together. There's a huge artist community there, and I never really collaborated before. I've had people play with me, and I've like played on worship teams and stuff; but i'd never lived with people that were also like doing the same thing I was. It’s kinda cool. It was just like ‘wow there's like a lot of other amazingly talented people here,’ and instead of just being like ‘i'm not talented,’ I was just like “let’s hang out,” you know; ‘let’s write something” and a lot of that was really simple. Honestly, I (had) like never co-written one thing. I have a really hard time writing and I really wanted to at least like try to do none of my solo stuff.  That's my comfort zone and definitely where I write the best. I remember one day in particular, me and my friend Mitch and my other friend Olivia, were writing. We just kind of broke out a guitar and we got in this kind of like bluesy vibe, which is like definitely not typically what I do; but is super fun. We got some like soul going and the song was like really simple and just super fun to play. Creative cooperation is one of I think the most important principles in creating, because the whole point of creating is to share the human experience. It's like why not share it together while writing it in the first place. In particular, i've found some people that I definitely know i'm gonna run with for a while musically. My friend in particular, is just an insanely good producer and engineer and i'm going to have him on everything that I do. We’re on our Carry The Love Tour currently. We're going to two hundred plus college universities across the country and we have like ten teams going right now I believe. My my buddy and I are on this team together and just playing with him like almost every night. Yeah, definitely that's been really meaningful; finding people that I know that I like clique with and can create with when I need to, it's super great; it (has) played a huge role.”

Stanley: “Yeah so switching gears a little bit on your your last EP was there a moment that was unique or special or just something that just changed the way you you create?”

Leininger: “Yeah, that's a really good question. I think two moments come to mind. One moment in particular I remember, I was having like a really down day. I think around like October of last year, I had already like demo-ed, I have this EP demo-ed for like two years; just kind of sitting on it for a long time and I like just kind of finished it up over the course of last winter and summer. I remember one night it was like one of the most down days I was just on my porch like staring at the sky. I just couldn't think or talk, I was just like really exhausted, super depressed, and I remember I put my own song on; I think is This Too Shall Pass, which has the title of the EP in it. I just remember (listening) to that and it's like I started crying. I think I like understood what it meant to me for the first time; because the way I write, I kind of write poetically enough that I don't even get what i'm saying half the time. It’s just kind of like ‘wow this sounds great and I like it. It makes me feel something, so i'm gonna write it down and i'll get it later; you all decide what it means later.’ I think in that moment, that song I really liked caught the meaning of it, and that's when I got really pumped. It like gave me something to get excited about again, and like really helped me kind of dig myself out of that hole. That was a really special moment, because I think I like enjoyed my own music for the first time, It meant something to me way more than just like ‘I need to give this to people.’ I was like, ‘wow, this is enriching to my own experience too.’ So that got me more pumped about writing music and making music. I think we had like a blizzard last January or something. I was like snowed in my house, I was borrowing my friends acoustic guitar which sounds much better than the one that I own. I plugged it in and I was like kind of experimenting with two songs, they're the two acoustic versions at the end of the EP. I did not plan on making those, and I literally just got super inspired to rework a few of them. The one’s not even on that record; it's going to be on the full length that i'm hoping to release next year sometime. I just kind of sat down with both of the songs and made like super chill acoustic versions and I was super happy with them. It only took me like an hour total to do both of them. I was just having fun and it kind of like de-complicated everything for me. I was like alright, i'm just kind of painting this canvas at my speed, so it was just a really nice moment; because I had fun. I was pretty carefree and not too worried about anything for the first time in the whole process, and something really clicked on me there.

Stanley: “As we're wrapping up, and I know you're young, but what is the legacy you want to leave behind?”

Leininger: “Love. I think when people listen to my music, I want them to not want to be alone and stay within themselves. I think one of the most important journeys we all go on, is the journey to authenticity. The journey is the vulnerability with each other, and I think regardless of what anybody's given worldview may be, I'm not trying to convert people for music necessarily. If I leave anything behind, I want people to look at my life and be like ‘that person inspired meaning and inspired authenticity.’ I really, goal-wise wish to accomplishment music through being constantly more authentic and vulnerable and honest myself; never stopping that journey, I think. So if I have any goals, I don't really need to sell much. I don't even care if no one even listens to my music. If it's, just my friends for the rest of my life, like i'm totally good with that. I just want people who know me or know my art (to) really walk away caring about themselves and caring about other people and just wanting to share their heart with the world. Because I think that encouragement comes through simply just being real with each other. And I think the world needs a lot of that right now.”