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Josh Ritter Plays with Passion
By Mark Graham


Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter enjoys the support he's had at Oberlin. .


MAY 10, 1999--"Neuroscience flows through my veins," says Josh Ritter, a senior from Moscow, Idaho.

Ritter's parents are neuroscientists. He wanted to study neuroscience, so chose to attend Oberlin College, which provided him the opportunity to study neuroscience as an undergraduate.

While studying for a developmental biology exam in his sophomore year, Josh found what he thinks will be his life's passion: folk music. Since hearing old Johnny Cash and Leadbelly records as a teenager, Josh had loved folk music. He had played violin since he was a small child, but had been finding in folk-music performance a creative outlet.

"When you find something you really love doing," Josh says, "you do it without realizing it." That night, Josh realized that his creative outlet would be his career.

He called his parents to break the news. Their reaction?

"They're okay with it," Josh says. "They are a little worried because sometimes being self-employed can be another word for being unemployed. But they've been very supportive."

During his sophomore year Josh followed his passion by creating an independent major: narrative folk music and folklore of the US. He has been using music and folklore to study cultural trends through American history. His final research project addresses anxieties about technology in cowboy and railroad songs.

Another project that Josh has been working on is recording his first CD. He has found help from Darius Zelkha, a senior from Palo Alto, California, who has been Josh's friend since their first year at Oberlin. Besides producing Josh's new CD, Darius plays drums and percussion on many tracks and created a web site to promote the disc.

"When I met Josh, he was into the stuff my parents listened to," Darius says. "Instead, I was into indie rock. Whenever we get together, it works well because our approaches are so similar."

They say that their approach stems from the desire to "create songs that have a sense of history but are not steeped in nostalgia." Within that mold, Josh has been prolific.

"I've written about 150 songs," Josh says. "Twelve are on the album. Most of the rest, well . . . I best not play."

Josh and Darius say that they tried to choose songs that the Oberlin audiences liked best. Samples of the recording can be found on Josh's web site.

"Being able to use the Con's TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) studio was a great plus," Josh says. Since they didn't have to pay for studio time, they could record the album in a relaxed style.

One song, "Paint Your Picture" is a product of that style. Zack Williamson, a senior from Charlotte, Vermont, had set up the TIMARA studio to record. Inside the studio, Josh and Darius were gearing up to play.

"We were just fooling around and Zack turned on the studio mike," Josh says. "It's one of the best sounding songs on the CD."

How do they like the result of the recording?

"It's one of the best folk albums to come out this year," Josh says.

"It's the best thing we could have done," Darius says.

"It's something I've wanted to do since I was 17. I was lucky to find people to help out. Without them there wouldn't have been an album," says Josh.

"He's not giving himself enough credit," his friend says. "The CD really highlights Josh's talents. The rest of us are peripheral. It's like we all had steering wheels to drive the car, but it was Josh's car on Josh's road and we were going to Josh's house."

For Darius, producing Josh's CD, directing a music video for Josh, and designing a web site are practice for the future. He plans to move to Providence, Rhode Island, and work in the music-promotion business.

What's in the future for Josh after graduation?

"I'll put out another CD and try to make back the money it takes to record it and use it for promotion. I'll be touring and trying to get on a record label. It will be a lot of driving."

"A lot of Denny's," Darius adds.

"I'll get one of those big 44-ounce mugs and some James Michener books on tape."





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