Everyone has boxes their attic that are never opened, filled with old books, clothes that don’t fit, and memories of the past. Those memories hold more value than the items themselves.
When Joan Osborne got around to opening her boxes, she unearthed a career’s worth of recordings, interviews, and photographs – enough material to release “Radio Waves,” a collection of unreleased recordings spanning her entire career.
Slideandbanjo.com caught up with Osborne, who explained what it took for this unique retrospective to come to fruition.
Joan Osborne: Covid hit and all of our touring plans were cancelled. At first, we thought it would be a couple of months. Then it stretched out. Like a lot of people, I cleaned my house from top to bottom. I went into this one particular closet and started digging through it. I found all these boxes of CDs, cassettes, files, and photographs. It was an archive I forgot was there. It was sealed up from when I moved in the 90’s. You know, you move from one place to another and never open “that” box. I had a bunch of boxes like that. Since I had the time, I was able to sit and listen to a lot of these things.
Slide & Banjo: That must have been an amazing realization once the lightbulb went off and you saw what was in front of you?
Osborne: When you’re a recording artist and you go on tour, you’re always visiting the local radio station in town. A lot of times, you’ll do a live performance on the radio of some of the songs on your record. I’ve done that dozens of times. Sometimes, the radio engineer would hand me the cd of the radio performance I just did. Most times, I’d put it in a bag and forget I had it. It was really cool to look back at that archive and go back so many years.
S&B: I’d assume these were high quality recordings and didn’t need much work to make them album ready?
Osborne: Exactly. A lot of the stuff from the radio stations was very high quality audio. They were recorded with great microphones in silent rooms. They sounded really good. So, I decided if I can’t go out and be with my fans, maybe I can compile something for them to listen to.
S&B: There seems to be two distinct ways musicians deal with the stuff they amass over a long period of time. They’re either very organized or just throw it in a box and forget it. I think it’s clear where you fall.
Osborne: I’m definitely in the camp of, I didn’t have any plans whatsoever to do anything with this stuff. I’ve been collecting this stuff all this time. I’m sure I’ve thrown plenty of stuff like this away over the years. I was happy to listen to what I’ve kept.
I’m my own worst critic. I don’t love going back and listening to something I recorded live. I tend to only hear the stuff I don’t like about it. The quality of these recordings was so good, I was able to mellow a bit from my self-criticism.
It’s like looking back at pictures of yourself from high school. At the time you thought you were awkward, ugly, and this and that. When you look back decades later, you’re like “I was so cute. What was my problem? Why didn’t I realize how beautiful I was?”
S&B: You mentioned the massive collection you had to choose from for this album. The opener, “Saint Teresa,” dates back to a radio performance in 1995. How did you narrow down which version was the best fit for this release?
Osborne: In some cases, we had dozens of versions of a song. It became a process of figuring out not what the best version is, but how we can put together a collection that can work as a whole. It’s the same as any album. You want it to make sense from the beginning to the end. It’s not, here’s everything I’ve thrown together. It’s how can this feel like it’s all one piece.
Especially when you’re choosing from things decades apart. If the performance was in front of a live audience, it gave a certain flavor. If it was in the recording studio, it had a different vibe. We had to mix everything individually but make sure it worked as a whole.
S&B: You added “Dream A Little Dream” to this album. While it’s easily in your wheelhouse, I don’t recall you covering that song over the years.
Osborne: It’s interesting you bring that song up. I’ve never performed that at my live shows. I used to sing it to my daughter when she was a little, little, baby. I love that song and thought I should record it or at least do something with it. I got together with friends and recorded it. We put it aside and forgot about it. It was so lovely to find this gem of a song. It brought me back to those nights singing my daughter to sleep.
S&B: We discussed the high quality recordings of the songs on the album. There still had to be a couple of times where you were listening to a particular version thinking it was destined for the album, only to come across a glitch that made it unusable?
Osborne: There were a few like that. These are not things I could go back and fix. Most of the songs were mix-downs of a bunch of different tracks. So, I couldn’t separate the vocals or fix something small. There were several times I was listening and thinking how great this version is, and then, oops. Not so much. That’s just how it is.
S&B: As the world settles into the new normal, you’ve had a chance to take this album out on the road. What’s it like out there from your perspective?
Osborne: It’s funny. It’s like people have forgotten how to act. Everyone is looking around at each other and is like “Is this, ok?” The ritualistic aspect of how an audience responds, it’s like people have forgotten how to do that.
It’s great for people’s souls to get back out and hear live music. There was a pent up need for it. We need these spaces in our community where people can come together. Just to see one another as fellow human beings. It’s hard to find those places where you can sit in person with others in your community and enjoy a wonderful experience.
S&B: Since you had so much music to choose from for this release, it would seem to make sense there will be other archival releases in the future?
Osborne: There’s so much in this archive, I could put out a lot more records like this. I may at some point. It was so great to back and listen to all of this. There are rehearsal tapes from the 80’s to the most recent stuff I’ve done.
Eventually, I’m not going to want to let it sit in a box. I’ll want it to get out in the world. Right now, I’m focused on writing some original songs. I’m not going to dip in the archive yet.