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He now has his first rarities/b-sides compilation, he’s touring a bit of a history tour, so let’s dip into some Josh Pyke history. This was his first interview with the SMH in 2007 and it wasn’t something he was going do lightly.


Josh Pyke does laugh, does smile behind that reddish-brown beard of his.

And if you've heard his fluidly biographical song about growing up in Sydney, Middle Of The Hill, you would know he has a nice line in wry observation too. But you only need to talk to Pyke for a few minutes to you realise that this 29-year-old is borderline very intense.

Semi seriously I tell him I have some issues with the presentation of lyrics in the sleeve of his debut album, Memories & Dust (specifically the way they're like a forest of words and images) but before I can explain he jumps in.

"You found spelling mistakes?," he says with a resigned certainty which turns into a rush of words. "The guy who does the artwork is an old friend of mine. We went back and forth and back and forth correcting all the spelling and then when it was all pressed up and everything, I had been overseas, I was looking at it and thinking wow that's amazing. Then I thought hang on, there's still spelling mistakes in it. Somehow the file that was printed was one from before everything had been corrected. So the first 15,000 have spelling mistakes."

For someone who casually, but correctly, uses mendacity in a lyric and whose marvellously melodic songs show he knows his way around a sentence as much as a chord change, that must have been annoying.

"It was annoying but also my parents are really into spelling and stuff. Mum teaches English to adult migrants and dad's like full on about words and stuff. All my life they have always picked through stuff, corrected spelling mistakes.

“But my mother just let it go this time, once I told her it was going to cost a lot of money to get it reprinted."

So is this where his obvious love of language derives?

"I guess, yes. With my parents, it's like their special bond. All my life I can remember them watching and correcting newsreaders' grammar. I used to think it was so so annoying, lame, but I learnt a lot from it.

“When we were kids around the table, Dad liked to ask us what words meant and when we were on holidays we played this game called Dictionary where you pick out a word from the dictionary and then make up fake definitions for it and one person has the real definition and you have to guess which one."

Pyke looks up and laughs sheepishly. "It was pretty nerdy stuff."

While staying "under the radar" during his years at Fort Street High, one of the oldest and most famous selective schools in Sydney, Pyke read everything he could get his hands on, playing in a band on the side, but says he always felt "that I was just biding my time, that I was half asleep and knew I wasn't really trying but I was getting by."

He was, he's not ashamed to say, a fan of the less than intellectually driven hard rock of Guns'n'Roses and Aerosmith but in his early 20s connected with something deeper when he discovered Melbourne's fine Augie March.

"I was just blown away by what [Augie March songwriter, and English Lit graduate] Glenn Richards was doing," Pyke says. "And I thought I can relate to that, I can try and do something a bit more."

He is hardly a mimic though. As is obvious across his early EPs and the recently released Memories & Dust, one of Pyke's real talents is being able to write in language whose cleverness is subtle rather than demanding of attention.

"There's no need to [be showily clever]," he says. "I think my songs sound like me. I've been around the block a few times, I've seen some things, so I write about that."

And then the intensity returns in force as Pyke winds up.

"You're always told that there are conventional song structures and that's going to be a hit but it's not true. If you think about some of the biggest hits in the world, like Stairway To Heaven for instance, it doesn't fit into any structures. There are some songs that fit into the structures and they go straight to number one and then they disappear forever. I just think that's underestimating the intelligence of the general public. It's just censorship.

"Like, Middle Of The Hill doesn't have a chorus, it's just stream of consciousness and specifically about my upbringing and yet that's the song that most people have struck upon and that got on the radio.

“As far as I'm concerned it's my proof that you don't have to worry."

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