By Felicia Naoum
I’ve always been an Ohio boy.” -Joshua Surgeon
David Bean Photography / Marz Collins
is journey began listening to Billy Joel tunes and continued at a TV sales job with customers as the audience, all the way to performing throughout the Midwest, recording albums, and finally winning the local Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park competition. Joshua Surgeon’s approach to his passion – music – is incredibly bold – just the way his father taught him. This homegrown man loves his Midwest roots but appreciates his inner country and rock soul. He listens to his dad’s advice and always strives for more.
Joshua Surgeon is the winner of the 2017 Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands Competition at Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park. Nordonia Hills News caught up with Joshua to get to know this hometown winner better. He also shared advice for those who wish to battle for their dreams – a battle Joshua Surgeon already won.
Meet Joshua Surgeon
FN: Tell folks who Joshua Surgeon is. Touch on your background and how it is related to your music.
JS: I’ve been attempting to sing since my parents introduced me to the Billy Joel Innocent Man album.
Since then, I found Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Poison, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Nirvana, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Incubus, Red Wanting Blue, John Mayer, Foo Fighters, Breaking Benjamin, Eric Church, Sturgill Simpson…the list goes on and on.
It wasn’t until I started selling TVs at Best Buy that I really started singing in front of people. There was a video loop of The Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” playing in my department on about 50 different TVs. Eight to 10 hours a day, five-six days a week for a month.
So, I bought the CD. And not much later, I found Songs About Jane on the shelves at work, too.
I started learning acoustic guitar in 2002, using a borrowed guitar and online web tutorials.
Took one lesson. The instructor showed me I was resting the guitar on the wrong leg. Things ended there. Good lesson, though. Best 20 dollars I ever spent.
Songwriting started shortly after that. A few months in, I started building up the confidence to play in front of family, friends’ parties and small bars. I’m also guilty of the occasional female swoon.
Around 2005, I was introduced to a local metal band that was looking for a lead singer. And over the course of seven years’, I was exposed to recording demos, group songwriting, rehearsals, studio sessions, touring, mixing/mastering, band marketing, and merchandising. I’m hoping to take all that experience and combine it with the release of my new album, and hopefully hit the road soon.
FN: Your sound feels like rock meets country. Is that safe to say?
JS: When I first started this solo project, I knew I wanted to take my seven years’ of experience with hard rock and combine it with my new appreciation for country music. I viewed it as an opportunity to make music I would love to listen to and maybe find a fanbase in the process all while bringing something fresh to the acoustic/country genre.
The most recent Let the Bold Die Old album is a culmination of songs, stories, and experiences from the past decade. It’s more of an overview of finding myself as a musician. It’s also the beginning of me exploring blues riffs and drop-D tuning on guitar.
Ultimately, it’s the entire direction of the new record coming out later this year – combined with rockabilly acoustics, chugging electrics, funky bass lines, and a few surprises.
Vocally, I’ve found a path to push my vocals to a broader audience, while still keeping the grit of the rock days. Lyrically, I’ve put more work into this album than all of my previous records combined. A little bit of sassy, sexy, silly, and soul.
This is a start-to-finish album. Just turn it on and let it go.
FN: Does the song ‘Midwest Cowboy’ reflect who Joshua Surgeon is?
JS: I’ve always been an Ohio boy. I’ve lived here all my life, but there’s something special about the whole Midwest that I didn’t totally appreciate until touring the region with the rock band. There are so many genuinely nice people that just love music, supporting musicians, being around other like-minded people and having a good time.
Ask anyone that knows me well, I define the term “night owl.” It’s also my favorite time to write and record. There are very few distractions. No traffic outside. No emails. No phone calls. It’s definitely when I’m at my most creative point of the day.
Self-taught. Since 2006, I’ve been a freelance graphic and multimedia designer, creative director and video producer. This usually involved me working at my home studio, with my acoustic guitar sitting right next to my workstation. You’d be shocked at how much writing takes place during those “take a break” moments.
I’m obsessed with cars and four-by-fours. I’ve had my share of muscle cars and Jeeps. Most of the bad decisions I’ve made have been behind the wheel. My lifetime count of speeding tickets is impressively into the double-digits. I once had a prosecutor refuse to even a have plea bargain conversation with me because of my driving record. Never hit a car that didn’t have it comin’ though.
Some of the most exciting moments of my life have been on a motorcycle. I’ve always had a thing for speed and the adrenaline bug. Had my share of wrecks – one involving a turkey vulture. Long story.
I guess the “cowboy” is more in reference to my “multiple incidences” of reckless living, but it’s not to say I don’t love the outdoors, country living and nature. Long-distance backpacking is my favorite activity next to music. However, both involve bourbon and herbals.
The best and most beautiful places in this country are accessible only by trail. I’m ashamed to say I still don’t own a backpacking guitar. Need to do something about that.
In the end, my favorite aspect of Midwest Cowboy is the guitar playing. I like to think it shows my influence and appreciation for living life to its fullest, 90s grunge and my love for Alice in Chains. RIP Layne.
FN: Are you truly ‘Nashville Bound’? Will we see there you there soon?
JS: First time I ever visited Nashville was in June 2007. I was down there getting the first Drenalin album mastered, but it wasn’t until I went back in 2011 where things really changed. I went down to audition for NBC’s The Voice and truly fell in love with the city. I went down with my girlfriend at the time. She was a wanna-be cowgirl, which might have rubbed off on me a bit. Then I experienced Jamboree in the Hills for the first time the following summer, and I instantly realized I needed to revitalize my acoustic roots. I was missing out on a genre of music that was in the midst of a rebirth.
I’ve been down to Nashville a handful of times since then – played a few open mics, went to some songwriting workshops and got the album photography shot there. I even rented a condo downtown for a week to build the website and put the finishing touches on the album artwork. Worked during the day, experienced the city at night. Won an Akron Addy Award for the entire campaign. Pretty proud of that one.
Nashville’s an amazing place, full of extremely talented people. I really feel like I could make some progress there, simply by surrounding myself with musicians on that level of skill and experience. It’s simply a music hub, full of the best-of-the-best. And they’re always looking for the next big song, voice, player, or face.
Nashville “Bound” always had a double-meaning to it. I’m always looking to go back, but I constantly feel like I’m being anchored to it and pulled back.
It just seems like the next step at this point. With the new record coming out later this year, I feel like I’m ready to bring what I got to the masses. This record is all me. This is where my life is now. This is where my guitar playing is at now. This is where my songwriting is at now. It’s been an incredible journey up to this point. I look forward to sharing it.
FN: On your website, you share a quote from your father, “There are two types of riders in this world. There are old riders and there are bold riders, but there are never any old, bold riders.” You respond with, “I say let the bold die old.” What does that mean and is it related to your music?
JS: All the big names in music – young and old – are big names because they were bold. They brought something new to the table. It’s unfortunately common to lose these same types of people at a very young age. The recent death of Chris Cornell has hit me harder than most.
My father’s quote was about riding motorcycles on the road. Risky riding makes for an early retirement.
But that’s just it, no one gets out alive. The only way to get better at anything is by pushing your limits. Pushing the status quo. Trying new ways of writing music, playing guitar or discussing subject matter that’s never been approached before.
It’s harder than ever to write something “original.” The genres of music have crossed over so much, I feel like the only option at this point is to be bold and honest. You can live bold, just be smart about it. It’s important to push your limits, but you also need experience to know your limitations.
I couldn’t be any more excited to release this new record. It truly defines who and what I want to be as a musician. If people are able to relate and connect with that, I can only see my music getting better. So I say…let the bold die old.
FN: Speaking of your music, how much of it is written by you and what goes into the creation of your songs?
JS: Typically, the songs, arrangements, and lyrics are all written by me.
I’ll usually write the bones of the song on an acoustic guitar and use that as a reference for when I start tracking a demo. The song could come from a single hook line, some late-night guitar riff or chord progression it could come from a chat with a friend. Usually, the best stuff comes from random conversations or experiences.
Then, I’ll write and record a demo with MIDI drums/instrumentals, real guitars and record my vocal ideas.
I’ll send the track to my mix engineer for feedback or let close friends hear my idea, take that feedback, refine the song, and then hopefully start recording the final version.
Depending on the song, I’ll track drums with my mix engineer in-person in NYC. He’s also a phenomenal drummer and bass player, which is really convenient. Once that’s done, I’ll lay down acoustics, he plays bass, and then I record everything else back at my studio in Ohio.
Some of the new songs have electronic drums and more simplified percussion. During mix, we’ll play around with different MIDI samples to really find the sound and impact we’re looking for. The capability and accuracy of MIDI percussion now is incredible.
Most of the tracking is done via-Internet. We do a lot production via-shared server, which is awesome, convenient, and cost-effective. When it’s time to mix the record, I’ll usually drive to New York, and we’ll do that together, in-person. It’s considerably faster that way.
That’s how the new record was recorded, and I couldn’t be any happier with what we’ve been able to produce. The “Let the Bold Die Old” was recorded in multiple locations, in multiple states and mixed in a cabin, so that production was more chaotic. This new record, even the production process was considerably more organized, which I think translates into the final product.
FN: Are you now a solo artist or are you still in a band?
JS: Both, I guess? I think there are two different aspects of my music now. I’m starting to incorporate my looping pedal into the live shows now. The acoustic guitar is probably the most dynamic of all the instruments. You can create rhythms, percussion, bass, ambiance, and ripping solos all with the same instrument, all at the same time. It’s fun being a musician in 2017, simply because of all the technology that’s available to experiment with.
On the other end of it, there’s nothing better than jamming live with a full band, especially playing original music to a crowd of people singing lyrics back. Does it really get any better than that?
So, when you meet talented musicians that you work well with musically and professionally, you all sorta stick together. If the opportunity arises, I have a solid group of people that I know I can call, at any given time, to hit the road and put on one hell of a show for many days in a row.
FN: Tell us about the Hard Rock Rocksino competition. How did it come about for you?
JS: I submitted the band to perform in the competition last year and we got selected to play. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a cool experience to just be invited. I’ve performed at and seen many shows at the Hard Rock over the years, and it’s been a great experience every time.
I submitted to play the competition again this year, but due to scheduling, the full band couldn’t pull it off. Rocksino said they were okay with me performing solo, so it was time to step up to the plate.
I knew I was going to be competing against three full bands, all different genres, so I knew I needed to come with something unique and memorable. All of the bands were solid. Totally diverse. Sound techs and house engineers were spot-on, as usual. The 20-minute set utilizing the looping pedal worked flawlessly. Once again, just a great experience.
FN: Take us to the winning moment. What went through your mind?
JS: Definitely a surreal moment. Feedback from the judges was incredibly positive, so I was already feelin’ good from the set.
I was the last person to perform during the contest this year. During my set, I mentioned that I had a stack of CDs that I was looking to give away. When my set was over, the judges said they were taking a 15-minute break to tally points. Out of nowhere, there was a rush of people coming up wanting CDs, photos, and to chat. I felt like the set went really well, but this kicked it into overdrive. And then the judges came back out to announce the winner maybe five minutes later?
I gotta be honest, I thought the metal band had won. They put on a phenomenal set. They brought the biggest crowd. So much energy. I can really appreciate the amount of work and effort that goes into that style of music. Either way, I still owe those guys a round of beers.
Really happy for Erin Stoll and her second place win. She’s a class-act with a gorgeous voice. We need to do a show together soon!
FN: Do you envision yourself performing in Miami as a national winner one day?
JS: I haven’t been selected this year, but that would’ve been an experience of a lifetime. It’s unfortunate that the Hard Rock doesn’t allow the bands to battle it out at the national and global level. Either way, really enjoyed being a part of the contest this year.
$50k would definitely make a move to Nashville easier, but it could also be spent making a badass music video go viral and launch an artist, song, and album to the masses. Or both? I like both.
Either way, who doesn’t love Miami?!
FN: What is Joshua Surgeon’s advice for folks with a dream?
JS: Ask yourself: What do you want?
Then, surround yourself with people that are smarter, more experienced and more talented than you are in that given field. And then dedicate 10,000 hours to it.
After that, if you still want to do it. If it still brings out the best in you. If you’re still improving, then you’ve found your passion. Then follow your dream because now it’s reality.
For more on Joshua Surgeon, visit his official website