When Joshua Schwartz started touring across the country with headliners like Zac Brown Band and members of Talking Heads, he thought it was the peak of what it meant to be a professional musician.
Schwartz, who recently started his solo career under the artist name Josch, had already developed a knack for music by the time he was a high schooler in New Jersey in the late '90s and early 2000s. Having grown up on the classics — Elvis Presley, Smokey Robinson, and the like — he found his life revolving around music from a young age.
"I just remember myself kind of naturally harmonizing along with vocals," Schwartz tells New Times. Singing was the first avenue that I had that just felt natural. Then I started playing the saxophone in third grade, and it really just felt right. Then, in high school, I formed a garage band with some friends. We were only 16, but for a band of 16-year-olds, we were pretty serious."
Growing up in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, Schwartz's band played everything from clubs in Greenwich Village to Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where Bruce Springsteen got his start.
"I think it was our first show at Stone Pony, which is right across the street from the ocean, that felt really different," he remembers. "We packed the place out for an awesome show, and afterward, my bandmates and I ran into the water into this perfect high. It was that night when I felt this spark of, Okay, I like this. I think I want to do this more."
After a stint in college for advertising — a good "backup," his father argued, in case "this whole music thing doesn't work out" — Schwartz followed an old bandmate to Boston, embarking on a professional journey that spanned more than a decade as a saxophonist for the funk band Turkuaz. It wasn't long before the Horn Section, another horn-based band Schwartz formed with his collaborators, caught the eye of Zac Brown, who tapped the young brass player and his bandmates for a journey from Fenway Park to Wrigley Field that artists so rarely get to experience from the get-go.
But in 2021, Turkuaz disbanded amid the lockdown, opening the door for Schwartz to explore new personal and professional horizons. He moved to Brooklyn in 2008, quickly becoming accustomed to the struggle of being an artist in New York, until his wife, originally from Hollywood, Florida, convinced him it was just New York that was the struggle.
"The Lululemons and Starbucks kind of moved in more and more to Brooklyn, and it got more expensive," Schwartz explains. "All the artists started getting pushed further, further east. I was on the road so much and paying exorbitant New York prices to not even live there half the time. And I met my now wife, who lived with me there for about five years — stuck it out, did the morning commute thing. We felt trapped in this apartment with the world shut down; going to the grocery store was an Olympic event. All of the crazy, scary stuff you see on the subways and become desensitized to. I had gotten so used to everything being hard just because that was the city. But it took an outsider being like, 'No, this is crazy.'"
Not too long after moving to Coconut Grove and swapping pigeons for peacocks, Schwartz would inevitably pursue his solo career. Soon, he started learning from Miami's Latin-influenced musicians and playing in local venues like ZeyZey. To his surprise, in South Florida, he encountered the funk and jazz sound he was accustomed to playing with his horn-rich band, only now they were coded with rich Latin tones. With support from Chris Brouwers of the Horn Section, he took his Motown and funk-loving passions to the cutting board and began crafting his own sound.
His first-ever solo single as Josch, "Icarus in Motion," proved to be a moody retelling of the Greek mythological god Icarus, who infamously perished flying too close to the sun, with lyrics that glean into the dark side of greed and desire. While the song showed off Schwartz's prowess in storytelling, his second single, "No Beginning, No Conclusion," became a strong introduction to his ear for conducting, beginning with an ethereal sound and essence similar to an early Tame Impala that seamlessly blends into a melody of harmonizing voices and trumpet riffs.
As he began to work on his upcoming album, Ethereality, Schwartz was committed to experimenting with these sounds and defining his new place in the music industry.
"For these songs for this album, I wanted to break away from the jam band scene, which was what my old band Turkuaz was in," Schwartz explains. "I wanted to do something more broadly appealing with high production quality, something that could be on the radio."
Now, Josch's latest release, "Fantasies Don't Cry," melts together a groovy, upbeat swing with darker lyrics that are the definition of a scorned lover: "Did I miss the meeting when you decided to dust me off the shelf?/Your heart is fleeting, your mind will mirror someone else."
Though it's a funky take on breakups and the lovers-to-strangers trope, "Fantasies" is also a masterful testimony of Josch's insightful, poetic skills and conducting capabilities, using real instruments and harmonies that are so often swapped for artificial synths in today's indie scene.
"From time to time, the melody would come back to me, and I found myself just keeping it in my head. It's one of the only songs I've ever written that I've consistently come back to over the course of the years, so I really wanted it to be on my album," Schwartz says. "I know indie music today lacks that real-band sound, and understandably because it's expensive and there are more people that you have to coordinate with and pay. But it's so rewarding when it's real."
Currently, Schwartz is finding an equilibrium, balancing touring with the creation of independent music, notably as part of the band Cool Cool Cool. The group will tour around the East Coast starting in March, a project on which Schwartz is more than ready to embark.
While he and the band are finding new ways of making their presence grow locally and beyond, Schwartz is keen on finding a way to fully realize his solo career.
"The first time I heard the live strings on one of my songs, I cried. It was just such a beautiful, full-circle moment, especially nowadays with most things being digital and most strings you hear aren't real, they sound real, but it's all in the computer on the synthesizer," Schwartz says. "A dream of mine would be getting back up to Zac Brown level with a huge band, strings, and choir. I'm getting chills even thinking about it because it takes me back to the harmonizing that got me into music ever since I was a kid. But I'm ready to see wherever my career takes me."