Josh Flagg
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Josh Flagg

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
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"Josh Flagg “Devastate Me”"

My first impression of Josh is a distinct one. If someone did this to John Mayer or Darius Rucker, and told him to grow a pair, I expect he’d sound more like Josh Flagg. The charging chords and bar room shout “Seeing Red” sets the stage for this energetic guitar pop album. Flagg adds the right amount of snarl to “Bring Me Back To Life” and the dueling guitar leads make it an effective single about a love-lorn zombie.

The album pulls no punches and sounds more like Dave Grohl on the title track, with its fast tempo and layered guitars. The clever hooks in the arena ready “256? draw the listener in and can make even a non-power-pop fan take notice, with its rock riffs building to an echoing chorus. Lots to like here without filler and even the slower tunes like “Don’t Wake Me” recall Paul Westerberg’s lonely guitar ballads. And if you’d like some extra power in your pop – it’s there in “Whatever Turns You On.” Josh lists The Posies and Superdrag as main influences here and I can say fans of those bands would be pretty pleased with this album. Multiple listens are also recommended to really appreciate the subtleties on each track. It’s a great debut for your weekend. - powerpopaholic.com


"Josh Flagg & the Obligations "Devastate Me""

This is a simple review: Buy this album. This is easily the cleverest, smartest and most fun album heard in The Swerve office this year. Flagg is ahead of the curve with songwriting.


Not content or happy with songs about love, breaking up, heartache or “the guy gets the girl,” Flagg has written songs that will put your mind on its own spin cycle. And that is on first listen.


But upon second and third listens, those catchy choruses aren’t attached to the normal verses your brain thought you’d be hearing at the start.


“Bring Me Back to Life” isn’t about a dead relationship or love. No, it is literally about the undead. Written from a zombie’s point of view, the song has the undead in search of the love from before his death.


Stop! Before you even think it, the song is not hokey in a Weird Al way. It is a powerful blast of three minutes and 22 seconds Replacements-like rock that is witty without being coy.


Take The Joker’s “You complete me” reference in “The Dark Knight” and you have a very good idea of what “Come Back to Me” is about.


It is a love song to the elusive superhero that has escaped the supervillian’s evil clutches.


Songs written from the point of view of a cancer cell to songs about viruses are there for your ears to pick up. Chances are you will miss it on first listen as the album is designed to be traditional with the hooks and bombastic choruses. That is where its wit and charm lie; Flagg has turned the idea of songwriting on its head right in front of you and is playing to the real music lovers to get the songs.


Clocking in just under 40 minutes, the album is straight and to the point; no lingering guitar solos, just music and lyrics that would make a young Westerberg smile.


Songs not to miss:

Buy, buy, buy the album. - The Swerve Magazine


"Josh Flagg - Devastate Me"

Josh Flagg - 'Devastate Me'

A relative unknown outside the NY club circuits he regularly gigs around, but for how much longer? Albums of this quality inevitably catch the attentions of mainstream movers and shakers, up to and including the lucrative advertising and game soundtrack contractors, and Josh Flagg has produced an album that's as power driven and intermittently glossy as any of the FM rock antecedents he knowingly takes influence from. Fortunately for every one else, his music also contains very real skill and posesses a thunderous, Springsteenian heart at its core, right where an album of this kind might otherwise slide into mere moneygrabbing AOR-by-numbers. Josh Flagg's greatest asset is his informed and soulful vision, one which lifts these songs into the dramatic realms of great Americana, cadillacs and tumbleweeds and all.

So, full-on barroom machismo, eloquent tales of neon lit boulevards and finely tuned harmonics in the powerchordage. Josh Flagg rocks out like every gig is Shea Stadium, and every guitar riff the intro to 'Born To Run' - it's an eventful and demanding ride alongside Flagg and his cohorts, one that crosses and recrosses the lines between Metal, Emo and Country, making one or two less expected stops along the ways. This is all achieved with never less than total commitment from both Flagg and his band The Obligations, some of whose playing is of a quite mesmerising standard. It's Counting Crows jamming with Dave Grohl, Tom Verlaine on steroids, The Strokes rewriting MeatLoaf. Sharply produced and displaying the authentic powers of The Boss himself, Josh Flagg is very definitely 'one to watch', as they say at Billboard. - www.tastyfanzine.org.uk


"Interview: Josh Flagg & the Obligations"

So many love songs are about star-crossed sweethearts, long-distance couples and heartbroken romantics.

But how many are about the walking dead?

Josh Flagg & The Obligations have one. It’s called ‘Bring Him Back To Life,’ and you’ll find it on Devastate Me, the New York rockers’ new album.

“A zombie in love — that’s what brings him back to life,” Flagg, a 33-year-old native of the Philadelphia suburbs, explains about the track. “I’ve been writing songs for a long time, and I get really bored with the regular lovey-dovey songs.”

Subverting pop-music stereotypes is the norm for Flagg and his bandmates — guitarist Jamie Tanner, drummer Scott Campbell, bassist Marty Fowler and keyboardist Rebecca Haviland. They’re not the kind of rock band that fixates on winding guitar solos or 10-minute epics. They prefer tight, energetic tunes. That are sometimes about poisonous water supplies and cancer cells — like if Elvis Costello suddenly became fixated with graphic novels.

Josh Flagg has a song about a zombie in love, which is pretty amazing.
Photo: Craig LaCourt

After spending years rotating through different bands, Flagg and the Obligations released a four-song EP in 2009. Devastate Me is their first full-length. They’ll bring their catchy, quick-fire sound to The Saint In Asbury Park, N.J., tomorrow night and The Trash Bar in Brooklyn on June 24.

Pop-Break’s Brent Johnson spoke with Flagg over the phone about his band’s cutting album cover, their offbeat songs and why sometimes a 35-minute live show is all you need.

Pop-Break: The cover art for the album is very striking. What was the idea behind it?

Josh Flagg: The record is tied together by ideas of disasters. My friend Craig LaCourt took the pictures — he’s a great photographer. I gave him the record and just sort of talked to him about the record. I told him to listen to it and that I wanted a striking picture. We like the picture. I think it worked out a lot.

PB: Now when you say the record is about disasters, what do you mean?

JF: Jamie, the guitar player, and I, have played in lots of bands together and done a lot of writing. In the course of writing, we were just sort of drawn to those metaphors. We kept thinking of catchy, love-related choruses — but when you listen to the lyrics, they’re not about love at all. Just disasters personal and physical.

The song ‘Seeing Red’ — we read this story about something being in the water in this town. Everybody was sort of getting poisoned. It just sort of took off from there. ‘256’ is more of a song about a cancer or a disease. Something that just keeps going and going and going.

PB: So, what number record is this for you guys?

JF: Well, that’s kind of a weird question to answer. The guitar player, the drummer and I have been in bands for over a decade. We used to be in a band called Automatic. And when we got back together, we didn’t want to have it be automatic. We needed a band name, and it just sort of came about to put it in my name. Which wasn’t my first idea, but that’s just how it happened.

We put out a four-song EP in 2009. And I was thinking I wanted to keep putting out EPs because the business is different. We just wanted to keep putting songs out. Making a record you’re really proud of takes a long time. But then, we have seven or eight songs that we really liked. It finally made sense to make a record.

PB: The first instrument you played was a mandolin?

JF: My father is a virtuoso mandolin player. So the first thing I wanted to play was a mandolin. I started playing that, but once I got into high school and started playing bands, playing a mandolin? I don’t know. It made more sense to play guitar.

PB: What artists or records were your main influences?

Photo: Alissa Umansky

JF: A lot of power pop stuff for me. I guess it’s a weird kind of thing to call it. People don’t know what it means. But to me, it means The Animals and The Replacements. Just concise, three-minute interesting songs. I think more recent touchstones for us are The Posies and Superdrag. Just good pop writing. Rock writing.

PB: I read that you don’t really want big solos, that you prefer to play quick shows without too much rambling. Why is that important to you to stay concise and not meander?

JF: I’ve played in a lot of bands, and I’ve done a lot of touring, and after playing 200 shows a year with some bands, just seeing so many bands play the unwieldy solos or the eight-minute opus — it never really appealed to us. We’re a rock band. And we want to be a light-attack-mode rock band. I want it to be 30 minutes of punches to the gut and get out of there.

I’ve got nothing against guitar solos. But if there’s going to be a solo, I want it to be like a Paul McCartney bassline. I want to sing it. I want it to be part of the song. And if it’s not, it’s meaningless to me. We just want our songs to be nice and tight. - pop-break.com


"Devastate Me - Josh Flagg"

The feeling that sticks after listening to Josh Flagg's record "Devastate Me" is something I wasn't surprised to see as a buzzword in the musician's bio: velocity. There's a sense of urgency that colors the songs individually, and the record as a whole. From start to finish the record is less than forty minutes, and in that time Flagg soars through eleven songs. And that's maybe what I like best about the record: that it doesn't waste any time. None of these songs here fill like filler, and even the organization of the tracks feels purposeful. It's a record that maintains the most strength when listened to as a whole.

In the title track, Flagg sings "If every night could be a catastrophe/don't wake me, devastate me" and it creates an interesting contrast with the press photos for this album that show the musician with a bloody nose and torn-up knuckles. What interests me here is how the record, and the musician himself, deals with these two types of violence. It makes for an interesting lens by which to funnel this record through, and speaks to Flagg's control over concept.

Comparisons to The Foo Fighters have been drawn with Flagg's music, and I think that similarity works best in "Don't Wake Me," an acoustic break from the drums and distortion that comes toward the record's end. It calls to mind how wonderful Dave Grohl can be with nothing but an acoustic guitar, and reveals Flagg's softer side. I'd contest that it's the best track on "Devastate Me"— or at least my favorite.

But listen for yourself. The music here is worth hearing, even if power pop might not be something you're usually drawn to. There's hybridity in these songs, even if some tend to overlap one another. More importantly, they're fun to listen to, and make for a nice soundtrack on a summer day. Check out www.joshflaggmusic.com for more, where you can stream "Devastate Me" in its entirety free of charge. - www.thebuzzabout.com


Discography

Watch It Burn (EP) - 2009
Devastate Me (Full length) - 2011
Youth Hotel (EP) - December 2012

Both records produced by Tim O'Heir

Photos

Bio

No life spent in rock & roll comes without its share of close calls and run-ins with the law, and Josh Flagg’s is no different. A lifetime musician - he started playing mandolin under his father’s tutelage before he was out of grade school and was playing all-ages shows in Philadelphia ahead of Orange 9mm at the ripe old age of 13 - Flagg encountered no shortage of unsavory characters. “I remember I had been playing with this other band and we did a show in Virginia,” he recalls. “We were all sitting at the bar drinking, and I get a call from our lead singer. She was trapped in the van outside and some guy with a swastika carved into his forehead had chased her out of the bar and was banging on the van trying to get her.” The situation doesn’t improve on his home turf: a recent get-together of old high school friends quickly turned precarious. “There was a guy at the bar who, for some reason, decided he wanted to fight me,” he laughs. “I don’t even know why – he didn’t like the cut of my jib, I guess. I didn’t even find out until the next day. One of my friends called me and said, ‘Seriously, man, that guy wanted to kill you.’ Meanwhile, I’d been putting my arm around him, laughing right in his ear…”

This kind of physicality goes hand-in-hand with a very particular kind of music, but what’s surprising is that Flagg’s music isn’t some rough & tumble contrivance of snarling boozer attitude topped with strung-out narratives of rock debauchery. It’s the exact opposite: taut, perfectly-constructed glistening power pop that summons a more muscular Cheap Trick, Big Star on a bender or the Foo Fighters with frontloaded melodies. Flagg’s got a rough, ragged voice, and it scrapes against the songs’ jagged guitars and deftly counteracts the bright, soaring harmonies. Throughout, Devastate Me is the perfect balance of sweet and sour. Like the man himself, Flagg’s songs are brawlers with busted noses, but hearts of gold.

Fittingly, Flagg has no patience for rock bloat. “One thing I really respect in a band is keep the solos either nonexistent or very short,” Flagg says. “I don’t want to hear the singer give a speech. I’m not looking for a 2.5 hour show. I want a band that has their shit together and can kill it for 35 minutes. That’s our mind frame; take no prisoners and don’t let it get old.”

And while Flagg’s songs are certainly characterized by their impressive velocity, what impresses most is the record’s sonic range. “256,” which recalls The Cure’s “Push” (a slow-builder), progresses steadily from sedate beginning to full-bloom chorus with the song gradually opening to full stride and Flagg swearing “We won’t grow old, we can never be controlled” over a high-arcing, crystalline guitar. The title track is all muscle and sinew, a tense guitar strum and Flagg’s voice barreling up the center. “Come Back To Me” offsets sly, sinister lyrics written from the perspective of a comic book villain (“I can’t believe it’s been another year since you escaped from my secret lair”) with a desperate vocal melody and anxious, clawing guitars. The record is an unlikely, but masterful fusion: guitar-driven pop songs that exude rock attitude.

“I don’t like the You-Me-Girl aspect to songwriting,” Flagg says. “It’s a little cloying. I wanted to take those same sentiments and subvert them. Take really cliché choruses, but have them, when you listen to the lyrics, turn out to be about zombies – or written from the perspective of a cancer cell. It’s an interesting way to undermine the classic pop format. I mean, ‘Bring Me Back To Life’ is about a zombie looking for his girlfriend, more or less.”

It’s that very counter intuitiveness that powers Devastate Me - songs that barrel their way into your brain with a bruiser’s charm and a pop savant’s golden ear for melody. “This record is the purest representation of who we are as a band right now,” Flagg says. It’s a fantastic contradiction: a breathtaking showdown that pits pop hooks against right hooks.