The singer-songwriter is firmly rooted in the Midwest, yet his music is a mix of surf-infused folk, Afro-Caribbean hip-hop, and Southern spirituals. He is a mystic Christian who believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but who isn’t totally at home in the modern evangelical church.
Josh Garrels, who grew up in a creative, musical family, said he has been “recording little snippets of things” since he was 12 years old. He made music as a teenager, but didn’t start working seriously on solo material until after he had an intense spiritual awakening.
Stonetree, his first collection of songs, was recorded in 2001 in the quiet room of a house shared by interns of a nontraditional church in Muncie. At its height, it was 14 seekers living, working and learning together, Garrels said. “It was a safe place to live out our ideas.”
One of those ideas was to distribute the income made from roasting coffee beans — the group’s method of supporting itself — based on the needs of the members.
That experience spawned a small community of support for Josh Garrels’ music. He followed Stonetree with 2003’s Underquiet. The mostly live recording was released by Bellywater Press, a small collective of artists that included his older sister, Gala, and his future wife, Michelle.
In 2004, he and Michelle relocated to Indianapolis.
While in Indy, the couple began work on the album Over Oceans. Michelle produces the art for Josh’s records and often contributes her voice or poems to his work as well. Released in 2006, the record generated a lot of interest and several of Garrels’ songs were used in “Walking on Water,” a surf documentary produced by a Christian outreach group.
In 2008, he returned with Jacaranda.
Josh Garrels had this to say about it: "(The album) was written and recorded in the solitude of an old mansion, at the end of a gravel road, on the banks of the Mississinewa River in Indiana. Many years ago the same house was in the underground railroad as a place of refuge for escaping slaves, and later, in the 1920's, infamous bank robbers such as John Dillinger used the mansion as a safe-house in between their criminal exploits. In the tradition of using the home as a place of safe harbor for those on the move, the current owners Bill and Robin Lett invited me and my wife Michelle to live on the estate (which Bill affectionately calls "the pig farm") while recording this album. We took them up on their offer, and moved into the secluded manor as the summer months were drawing to an end.
As we watched the seasons change from summer to fall, winter to spring, we wrote, created and sang, all the while stalking the majestic Great Blue Heron along the banks of the river. The most recent season brought the death of a father, David Ramsdale, and the birth of our first child, Heron Selah Garrels.
Jacaranda is the name of a tropical tree, native to the jungle of Peru where my wife grew up. When Michelle moved to Indiana to marry me, she knew she would be "a jacaranda tree in Indiana, green-housed but sung to". This tree has become a strong symbol in this album, and in our family as well, of welcoming displacement as we wander the earth."
In 2009, Josh Garrels released a ten song EP entitled Lost Animals, which was a collection of B-sides, rarities, and songs recorded for compilations and soundtracks.
Josh Garrels is comfortable with the decisions he’s made thus far, but the prospect of trying to turn greater profits with his intensely personal, intensely spiritual music gives him pause.
“I put a voice to those things in song that stir emotions and understanding. The tension of selling that … I don’t know,” Garrels said.
It’s a tricky proposition, but the singer’s audience responds to his attempt to live according to spiritual principles without disassociating himself from the rest of humanity.
“There’s a huge growing energy and longing for that,”
Listen to Josh Garrels Here
|Over Oceans||2006||Small Voice|
|Lost Animals||2009||Small Voice|
|Love & War & The Sea In Between||2011||Small Voice|