Josh Xantus Interview
|Label:||M USA Entertainment|
|Next Project:||Can I Live (2009)|
|Twitter:||Josh Xantus on Twitter|
|Website:||Josh Xantus 's Website|
If you’re of school age and reading this site, it’s a fair bet that you do not consider classical pieces by the likes of Mozart and Chopin to be the height of musical excitement. Those with aspirations of pop stardom, however, would do well to heed the story of NYC up-and-comer Josh Xantus; forced by his mother to begin an education in classical piano at age six, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter is currently in the process of parlaying his ivory-tickling expertise into the latest R&B success story. Thus, the next time your parents plop you in front of the baby grand and demand you memorize a piece by one of the classical greats, don’t pout – thank them, and remember them when you score your first chart-smashing single.
In Xantus’s case, the hit single that’s heralding his entry into the game is “Let’s Ride,” an R&B gem with a hip-hop twist courtesy of collaborator Jadakiss. Though “Let’s Ride” may well be the record that makes Xantus’s debut studio album, Can I Live a must-buy for mainstream listeners when it drops in ‘09, the versatile recording artist wants to make it abundantly clear that the LP will offer an array of sounds wide enough to please music-lovers of all stripes.
In an exclusive interview with our very own DJ “Z,” Josh Xantus steps into the DJ Booth to discuss how his classical training has prepared him for a career as a pop star, the surprising origin story of “Let’s Ride,” and why he’s confident that he can craft a lasting legacy during his time in the music business.
Listen to the Interview
Josh Xantus Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a Julliard-trained musician whose skills as a singer/songwriter have industry tastemakers buzzing. Previously featured on our site with his Jadakiss-assisted single, “Let’s Ride,” please welcome Josh Xantus – how you doin’?
Josh Xantus: I’m doin’ good. How’s everybody else doin’ out there?
DJ Booth: I think everybody’s kind of upset because it’s winter now. Bad weather is going to be upon us, so that means two things: A, the holidays, B, the need for good music to cheer us up. You’re gonna provide the latter, correct?
Josh Xantus: Absolutely. I got a lot of good music for you, especially the love songs. You know, it’s that time of the year when everybody wants to get under those sheets and get cuddly. This album comin’ out, Can I Live, it’s got a bunch of love songs for the ladies. It’s gonna be a happy holiday.
DJ Booth: I certainly hope so. Before we get into Can I Live, let’s backtrack a second so that everyone can find out more about you, Josh. I read that your mother is the person who got you hooked on music, when she demanded you pick up an instrument…
Josh Xantus: She was the one that gave me the piano at a very young age, ‘cause it was always her dream to play the piano as a child, but due to her financial situation, her parents couldn’t afford it for her. So, when she had her own kids, she was like, “Look, it’s not the coolest thing to do, but I’m gonna send you to lessons, and you’re going to learn to play Mozart and Chopin and all these pieces.” As a young kid, of course, that was boring to me. I was, like, six, all my friends were playing video games, you know, Nintendo was out, Genesis was out, and my best friend was the piano. But I’m very thankful and very glad for it, because it helped me get to where I am now. So, yes, my mom was the start of the music.
DJ Booth: Well, you’re certainly a smart man for listening to her. I remember, I played the trumpet in middle school for three years, but whenever my folks demanded that I practice, I felt like I was being punished. Did you actually feel like, when you were workin’ at the piano, that it was some sort of punishment – your friends were havin’ fun, and you had to take music classes?
Josh Xantus: Honestly, I felt like my mom was a little crazy. I didn’t understand it. My friends were goin’ out, havin’ fun, playin’ basketball, sports, and all types of little leagues, and I was here sittin’ at the piano for like three hours. My mom was listening upstairs all peacefully, and it was classical music, it wasn’t commercial or pop or jazz; it was stuff that I didn’t understand at a young age. But it was definitely forced in the beginning. As I got older, I was like, “Wow, this is actually cool,” and it helped me get to where I’m at.
DJ Booth: You started playing at age six. At what age did you start to appreciate not only what it was doing for you, but what it could turn into eventually, which is your career?
Josh Xantus: I can say I started appreciating it when I started writing music. When I was getting into the whole field of learning that I actually had a voice and I could sing, it was like, “Wow, this is kind of cool.” Being a classically-trained musician, my playing by ear is up to par. I listened to radio, and I was like, “Wow, that’s a cool song,” and I’d go to the piano – like, Brian McKnight was one of my favorite singers – and I’d go to the piano and I’d listen to his music and I’d play it, and I was like, “Wow, this piano stuff isn’t so bad.” I was in junior high school, singing to the ladies, it was getting me girls. I would say my teenage years, 13, 14, was when I started to really appreciate that I had piano skills.
DJ Booth: Once you learned that you could use it to your advantage, that’s when you were like, “This is it, right here.”
Josh Xantus: Exactly – I had to make it work!
DJ Booth: Exactly. You studied, like I mentioned in the opening, at the Julliard School, which is known around the world as one of the most prestigious performing arts schools. Similar to a would-be attorney, let’s say, graduating from Harvard Law, does your track record, based on where you went to school, demand larger-than-life expectations, Josh?
Josh Xantus: Definitely. Bein’ a classical musician is a hard genre of music to be successful in. The practice time is at least, like, eight hours a day. I remember – and this is a true story – havin’ a death in the family, I was disturbed by it, and I had a big classical piece I had to memorize. It was the end of the semester, and I told my professor, I was like, “Look, I didn’t get time to practice,” and she was like, “So? You had a death in the family – so what? This is the classical world, this music is serious, you’re supposed to play this, and now, instead of reading off of your music, play it by memory.” So, pretty much, there’s no room for mistakes in classical. You definitely have to be able to translate what that composer was tryin’ to get across in your piece. It’s definitely a hard genre, and I love the music, I still play it, and I do suggest first-time musicians to start classically, because everybody that learns classically is definitely going to have an easier time making transitions to other genres of music.
DJ Booth: Does the perfection that is demanded out of you in classical music translate to the rest of your world? So, let’s say you’re making eggs in the morning – if they’re not the perfect set of eggs, do you dump them out and start over?
Josh Xantus: No – I’m actually a horrible cook, so if I can eat it and not get sick, I’m with it. [laughs] When it comes to my music, I’m a perfectionist, but in other things I do, I try to do things to the best of my ability, but no, I don’t apply the classical way to everything in life.
DJ Booth: Okay, good, ‘cause that would just be way too hard; I wouldn’t be able to handle that myself, so smart move there.
Josh Xantus: Yeah, that’s too much of a burden.
DJ Booth: Josh, your featured single at DJBooth, as we stated in the open, is the Jadakiss-assisted single “Let’s Ride.” In the song, you ask a girl to take a ride with you. Has it been difficult for you to find your footing in a relationship, when, up to this point, I’m sure your career has taken precedence over anything else?
Josh Xantus: Well, there’s a funny story about “Let’s Ride.” “Let’s Ride” was a song where, the first verse, I wrote it when I was 13 years old. So, I wrote this a very long time ago, and it’s funny that it’s now my first single. The girl that I was dating at the time, you know, my little crush, we were actually walking – I didn’t have a car at 13. Now that I’ve got a single that’s all over radio, my video’s hittin’ the TV, I’m blowin’ up, it’s very easy to ask a girl to come ride with me, but right now I’m focusing on my career – that’s my number one priority. After I settle in and get where I need to be, then definitely I’ll be focusing on that special lady.
DJ Booth: Is that 13-year-old crush calling you back up, asking if you’re single?
Josh Xantus: The funny thing is, I actually got a MySpace message from her. It was like, “Wow, that’s crazy! I remember you singing that to me a long time ago!” and I was like, “Yep – now it’s on the radio, featuring Jadakiss; you should’ve been good to me back then!” [laughs] She’s actually cool, I’m actually friends with her still.
DJ Booth: Well, that’s nice.
Josh Xantus: Yeah, it’s cool.
DJ Booth: Josh, for our listeners who have only heard “Let’s Ride,” is that the sound that they can come to expect from all your material, or does it run the gamut?
Josh Xantus: Absolutely not. That sound from “Let’s Ride” is the opposite of what my album is about. You know, bein’ a different artist, I’m a musician, a singer-songwriter, and I like to come to this music business with real music. Unfortunately, the state of the business that we’re in, people don’t draw quick to liking things that are different. You know, “He’s weird! Why does he play music like that?” or, “What are you talkin’ about?” “Let’s Ride” is pretty much to grab everyone’s attention. I got my homie Jadakiss on it, he’s got a dope fanbase, people love him, got a real cool hip hop beat, a sample that everybody knows, that Black Moon used, it was a hit record, and it’s just for the majority of people, to get their ears. But once you come in and I can have you as fans, and everyone gets to know who I am, you’re gonna really start to realize that that’s so not where my music is going. I’m completely left-field with everything, and you can expect to hear a lot of different sounds, and a lot of me put into this album.
DJ Booth: What’s amazing is, people always want music that’s different, ‘cause they’re sick of what they’re hearing, but then when they get something different they’re completely unprepared for it, and all they do is complain about how it’s not what they want to hear – isn’t that ironic?
Josh Xantus: It’s crazy. We’re gonna do it the right way on this record, and we’re gonna bring a lot of good music, and I’m very confident in my music, and I know my fans are gonna love “Let’s Ride” and the Can I Live album and everything that it brings.
DJ Booth: You mentioned the music industry a second ago. It’s obviously in a state of flux. Last week, Foerster Research released a study, it’s entitled “US Music Forecast: 2008 to 2013,” stating that the US music market is expected to shrink in the next five years from earnings around 10.2 to 9.8 billion. Josh, when I give you those figures, what is your initial reaction, knowing that you have a future in this industry?
Josh Xantus: I’m not worried. I feel honestly – and this is a very honest statement – I feel a lot of artists are not getting with the program and not realizing how to really generate income for themselves and get their music out in ways that they can be fine. The digital world is a great world – I embrace it. Most labels, if they knew, when Napster came out, instead of goin’ against Napster and realizing people wanted to go online and download music, they should have embraced it and become partners with them, instead of takin’ it down, ‘cause now there’s a bunch of sites [where] you can do that. So I’m not worried. I feel like my music is really, really good, and I’m gonna keep relevant, I’m gonna keep givin’ people what they want to hear, and as long as you remain real and true to yourself, and you bring 100 percent of your craft to the table, I feel like I’m gonna be okay.
DJ Booth: Josh, in your bio, it says that a personal goal of yours is to live out, quote, “the soulful dream of creating a legacy.” ‘Legacy’s a big word; I’ve heard variations on that line from lots of artists I’ve spoken with. Deep down inside, what makes you believe that you are capable of achieving what it takes to create a legacy?
Josh Xantus: The reason why I feel like I can create a legacy is because my label, M USA, we’re definitely different from what’s out there. We’re not the standard label, and we don’t see things the way everybody sees them. And bein’ involved with my team, I feel like we’re gonna be the first ones, the trendsetters, to make things different in this business, and really see new talent, and develop new talent, and bring talent to where it needs to be, in order to get to where they’re tryin’ to go.
DJ Booth: Well, it sounds like a plan. It sounds to me, actually, like you might be interested in writing a book about how this industry works; you might make some money off of that, too.
Josh Xantus: Yeah, absolutely. I’m looking to do books, movies, clothes, everything. We’re gonna capitalize on every form possible.
DJ Booth: If you need a little extra cash after that, I need piano lessons, Josh, so I’m willing to pay you by the hour.
Josh Xantus: [laughs] I got you, no problem!
DJ Booth: I appreciate it. Obviously, as we mentioned throughout, Can I Live, your debut album, is gonna be dropping 2009. Give everybody a website or a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about you and the upcoming release.
Josh Xantus: It’s your boy Josh Xantus, you can come and check me out at myspace.com/joshxantus, or you can log on to my dot-com, which is x-an-tus.com. The website is crazy, we just loaded it up, it’s full of fun things to do. Come check me out.
DJ Booth: Josh, thank you so much for joining me inside the DJ Booth, and, as always, the best of luck to you, my friend.
Josh Xantus: Thank you very much.