Kansas musician Josh Berwanger made a name for himself in the seminal indie rock band The Anniversary, who released a pair of heralded albums, ‘Designing a Nervous Breakdown’ (2000) and ‘Your Majesty’ (2002). After what Berwanger described as “imploding in a breakup of Fleetwood Mac-style proportions while attempting to tour Japan,” he changed gears to form The Only Children. This time around, Berwanger was playing alternative country and issued ‘Change of Living’ (2004) and ‘Keeper of Youth’ (2007).
Like the Anniversary, the band stalled out after just two albums. Disillusioned by the music industry and the breakup of two quality bands, Berwanger changed paths again—this time it was his career path— he went on to coach high school basketball in Lawrence, Kansas.
In between teaching the fundamentals of the “pick and roll” and the “box and one” on the basketball court, Berwanger longed to create music. He missed his guitars, making records and hanging out with the boys in the band. He brought in his buddies Ricky Salthouse, Brian Klien, and Michael Hutcherson to record some music. The writing and recording went so well, they decided to put out an album, ‘Strange Stains’ (2013). But what to call the band? How about the Josh Berwanger Band? Perfect. After all, this was Josh laying it all on the line.
With the Josh Berwanger Band, the leader of the group went back to what he knows best and loves – classic rock & roll with pop sensibilities. ‘Strange Stains’ had such a warm welcome and critical praise that the Josh Berwanger Band released a series of seven-inches to hold fans over until the new full-length.
This is where we caught up with Berwanger – at Element Studios (KCMO) where he and the boys are recording the new album. We asked a few questions, milled around the studio and looked at some inspiring magazines.
Innocent Words: Why did you name the band the Josh Berwanger Band and not a band name?
Josh Berwanger: During the Anniversary I signed a contract with Glurp Records to put out what became The Only Children’s ‘Change of Living’ record. It was originally going to be my name. The Anniversary broke up, and Jim and Janko joined my project, then TK Webb, Spacey Casey Prestwood. It felt like a band, so it went from Josh Berwanger to The Only Children.
Then after a few tours people had their own lives, and the band wasn’t making enough money to support those lives. Mainly The Only Children just became me going under a “band” name. With this new project I knew it was going to be a band where there would always be different musicians coming in and out. By calling the group by my name, the crowd will at least know I will be there.
Innocent Words: Where are you recording this?
Berwanger: A studio in Kansas City, Missouri called Element Studios, owned by a rad dude named Joel Nanos, who does a lot of great work and is really supportive and involved in the local scene
Innocent Words: Tell me a little bit about this studio. There are some gorgeous guitars and gear in this place. Are they all yours?
Berwanger: Element is a rad little studio! A lot of great gear here as well. The guitars we took – a Reverand Volcano, Gibson Flying V, Airline, Gibson non-reverse Firebird, Gibson Moderne, Fender Custom and Antigua Telecasters, and an Epiphone Sheraton. There is a Vox AC15, my Alamo amp collection, ’70s Gibson Falcon, and then the studio had a bunch of excellent vintage amps.
Innocent Words: Who is doing the production work?
Berwanger: Doug Boehm is producing the album. I first worked with Doug in The Anniversary for the ‘Your Majesty’ album. It was a great time and honor to work with him again.
Innocent Words: Tell me about your bandmates.
Berwanger: Ricky Salthouse (guitar/vocals) has been with me the longest, since Only Children days; he owns a really mean Chihuahua that has no teeth named Winston; and we like to pass time on the road listening to ‘Appetite For Destruction,’ isolated tracks.
Brian Klein plays bass and has been doing a lot of synth and keys; he also has a huge sock rag collection; he’s from Aurora, Illinois, zang!
Jonny Phillip (drums) has played in a lot of rad bands (Limbeck, Screeching Weasel, Tommy Stinson, Menudo); he finally just saw the first “Austin Powers” movie, so he has been talking in a really strange accent all the time that sounds more like Miss Piggy, but he claims it’s the best Austin Powers impersonation ever.
Scott Schoenbeck played some bass on this album. Scott use to play in Promise Ring. Scott is really into the band Junkyard and enjoys an ice cold tequila sunrise each morning.
Another cool thing that happened with this recording is Adrianne Verhoeven from the Anniversary sang on two of the songs. It’s the first time we have done something together since the Anniversary days, so that was really special to me and great to work with her again.
Innocent Words: What can fans look forward to on this album that might be different from the debut?
Berwanger: The biggest, most massive sophomore slump ever and one or two different chord progressions.
Innocent Words: I hate to bring it up, but this is your second full-length, and if the past is any indication, the second album seemed to be your breaking point in your first two bands. Do you have any worries?
Berwanger: Ha! I have thought about that. Maybe after this one I’ll quickly put out a third album of animal noises over a bunch of Moog tracks plugged into a grunge pedal mic’d through a didgeridoo and then be ready to move on to the fourth album. Could be cool.
Innocent Words: I kind of feel like I stepped into a Sunset Strip recording studio with the naked pictures of girls hanging all over the place. That’s a lot of bush compared to present day girls. Times have changed, haven’t they?
Berwanger: Yeah, a couple ’70s Playboys exploded in the studio on the first day, as well as some old school Arnold Schwarzenegger pics. I can’t really remember the recording session that well, to be honest; we worked our asses off getting 11 songs done in seven days. Really late nights, really early mornings, and a lot of partying. It’s the way to do it. I’m not sure about the whole Bush thing; are they still a band?
Innocent Words: Does beer, boobs and bush make recording easier?
Berwanger: Oh for sure, minus Bush. I don’t know their music too well. Whiskey mixed with Surge is key. We also played a game with this hard ball, sort of like dodge ball. The ball had to hit off a wall; if you got hit, the guy who threw it got a point; if you caught it you got a point. Needless to say, there was one black eye and numerous bruises on everyone. It helped us stay up at night and is much healthier than other ways of staying up.
Innocent Words: It’s nice to know even Godzilla enjoys the magazines.
Berwanger: I honestly think it was his stash.
Innocent Words: Based on the environment, are you going for a Motley Crue or Ratt sound on this record?
Berwanger: Motley Crue had some good sounding songs. My favorite Ratt record is ‘Dancing Undercover.’ Unfortunately, a lot of those albums from that time period are just kind of not-so-hot sounding. Kind of like Stevie Ray Vaughn studio albums; they just don’t sound good. If you want to listen to a good Stevie Ray Vaughn recording, it has to be a live recording, in my opinion. We just plugged in and did what we did.
Innocent Words: When can we expect the new album? Any album titles yet?
Berwanger: I decided to fund this record myself. So once it’s mixed and mastered, I’m going to send it out to some people. A couple working titles, but nothing solid yet. Maybe we’ll call it ‘Sixteen Stone Part 2.’