The Candles Step Into The Limelight

The Candles’ frontman/guitarist/chief songwriter Josh Lattanzi took some time during a tour with Norah Jones to talk to Pollstar about his writing process, career as a sideman and growth in his own project.

Lattanzi has played with the likes of Jones, Brian Wilson,and  Emmylou Harris. In 2009 he and guitarist/bassist Jason Roberts, keyboardist Pete Remm, and drummer Greg Wieczorek formed The Candles, a folk rock project with diverse influences.

The Candles has toured the world with bands like The Lemonheads and released its third album Matter + Spirit through The End Records digitally last week. Physical copies will be available Dec. 16.

Currently pulling double-duty as a member of Jones’ backing band and playing her opening set with The Candles, Lattanzi took some time to chat.

Photo: Robert Bomgardner
A press photo for The Candles.

You’re doing double duty on this tour. Are these long nights for you?

[Well] I’m definitely not complaining.

We do a 90-120 minute set with Norah and The Candles go for like 35 minutes. Compared to any other job that’s not a long workday, so I’m happy to be doing it. And it’s fun to play music, so no complaints.

It doesn’t drain you to perform that much every night?

Definitely not. I could do a lot more and be happy. I feel like most people are used to an eight hour workday and then you’re kind of spent. Eight hours to play music would be kind of a lot, you do it sometimes when you’re in the studio … [but] anytime I’m doing less than three hours of playing music, I feel like it’s not that much and I am usually left wanting to do more.

How have you gotten to this point where you feel comfortable performing for so long?

I’ve been doing [music] my whole life. When I was a kid I used to do three long sets with bar bands. You’d be playing from 8 p.m. to 1 in the morning. Coming up I got used to playing long shows. And then when you start to get better gigs the shows actually become shorter. Now I’m somewhere in the middle because I’m doing double duty on this tour, but I’m just comfortable playing music all day long. It’s not an issue. I just feel fortunate that I get to do it. There’s really not much else I’d rather be doing.

What else can you tell readers about your coming up as a musician?

I went to school in Boston, and I stayed there for 10 years after I was done, played in bands, made records, worked in a studio called Q Division Records and formed my network there. Then I moved down to New York. And I’ve been there ever since.

The Candles formed in New York in 2009 and we put out our first record in 2010. I’ve spent many years playing as a sideman in some cool bands but I just had a lot of songs that were piling up and I really wanted to record them and perform them. So in between doing stuff with other artists I found time to make a record and then it just sort of grew from there. And some of the other artists that I play with were nice enough to take me along for some shows to act as support. Artists like The Lemonheads and Norah Jones. So I’ve gotten to play for some diverse audiences around the world, make some fans and play a lot of music.

Photo: Robert Bomgardner
The Candles is Pete Remm, Josh Lattanzi, Jason Roberts and Greg Wieczorek.

So you write most of the music for The Candles?

Yeah I do it all. I write primarily on guitar. I didn’t do any co-writing on the last two albums. The first album I did some co-writing on a couple songs, but the last year I just wrote everything.

There’s one cover on [Matter + Spirit] … [that’s] actually been covered by a lot of artists over the years but it’s still not all that well known. But aside from that they are all my tunes.

How has being a sideman for the likes of Emmy Lou Harris, Norah Jones and Brian Wilson influenced you as an artist?

I think it raises your standards in terms of what you expect from yourself and what other people expect when they are giving you their time to look at you or buy your album. Because people like that are so good and they’ve made such important music for so long it makes you think twice before you commit to a lyric or a recording or a part because you know when you perform with some of these people, it reminds you of what’s possible. It just keeps you on your toes. When you work with people like that, it brings out the best in you.

So you’ve had a lot of work as a sideman, but you said you also felt the need to get your own songs out. Can you talk more about that?

When you play as a band member for a solo artist, for one thing, it’s seldom 365 days a year. So there’s usually a certain amount of time when you’re at home. You have downtime and you have to find stuff to do with your downtime. So a lot of musicians have a certain artistic fulfilment that [they’re] looking for, and so songwriting is one of the first things that I think a lot of people turn to. You can do that by going into the studio and coming up with songs for other peoples’ albums or you can write your own songs. I like to do both things. Writing songs is just fun. … I think that’s why most people do it. It’s just enjoyable to build something and watch it turn into a finished song.

So what can we expect from the new album?

I think I’m trying to start the songs, during the writing process, from a place where they would stand up well on their own if they were played just with me and an acoustic guitar and then augmenting them with a band later in the studio … or onstage. A lot of the time there are different ways to go about building a song. Sometimes you can start with something simple, get a bunch of guys in a room and then build it up from there, where everybody is together, trying to create a song.

But this one I wrote from a singular place. I wanted to be able to go out there and play some acoustic shows, just me or me and another person maybe, and have the songs hold up. It’s a little different that way because in the last couple albums, I had basic song structure ideas, but I kind of finished them off with some of my bandmates in the rehearsal studio or in the recording studio. In this one I really tried to scratch stuff out ahead of time.

Stylistically … there is a little bit more improvisation going on. I did a lot less directing and let people do what came naturally. That’s something that I learned over the last couple albums. If you give someone too much direction then you often don’t get the best that someone has to offer. You have to accept somebody for their strength and bring them in for the recording process and let them do their thing. You can pick and choose stuff, but if you push and prod people too much you don’t normally get the best thing. And if you’re not getting the best thing then you are probably not working with the right musicians. I definitely didn’t have that problem because everyone I’ve been playing with is really seasoned and really good. I just think I learned a little bit more to let people go with their gut instincts during the recording process and I think the album came out better for it.

It sounds like the key to that process is finding the right people to work with?

That is absolutely the key thing. It’s like casting for a movie, I think. I’ve never casted for a movie but I’ve thought about that analogy before. Imagine if you were making a film or show, if you bring in the wrong people to play the role, it’s just not going to translate. So you have a casting director who is trying to choose the right people for the show and when they do it right, the show comes out better. I think it’s like that.

It’s so important to choose the right people. If you choose the right people, then you don’t have to micromanage and things can happen in an organic way. You’ll come up with some final result that’s maybe a little bit different than you envisioned, but comes off as hopefully not “forced” sounding, which is really important to me.

So you stayed with The End Records for The Candles’ third album?

Yeah, this is the third album we’ve done with them. They’re really supportive. They let me have all the creative control I need. They don’t micromanage my process and I try not to micromanage their process.

I have to say, in an era when it’s pretty tough for small labels to stay afloat they’ve actually grown. I think they make a lot of good decisions over there and I feel like they are one of the better labels out there for an artist like me to be associated with.

What do you think about the current state of the music industry, with streaming?

I think that’s where we are at in the evolution in recorded music. It has to be that way for the time being. I don’t think it’ll ever go back. It’s cool to have something physical to take home from a concert, but I don’t think people really want files anymore, for the most part. They just love the convenience of streaming. I know I do. I have a vinyl collection, [but] streaming is definitely where things are and definitely is not going away. And I’m totally fine with that. It’ll be [even] cooler when it becomes commonplace to stream high-resolution formats.

My biggest complaint right now is that people just listen to their computer speakers and crappy sounding ear buds. I think at some point that will change. I think it’s starting to change a little bit now. [But], you know, there’s not much middle ground in terms of quality and how people listen.

For the most part you have people that have the crappy ear buds and some people have $10,000 stereo systems. When I was growing up there was a lot of in-between stuff and it was like a badge of honor to have a high-fidelity system to do your listening on. I’d like to see things gravitate back there at some point because listening to music that sounds very good sonically is very satisfying. 

I get the sense you are a very detail-oriented person.

I hope so! I try to be. I always feel like I could do better but. … (laughs).

It sounds like it legitimately bothers you that people might be listening to your music through poor quality sound systems.

It is definitely bothersome, I think it’s bothersome to anybody that records music that’s not straight up modern pop. You spend so much time choosing just the right microphone and just the right amplifier and just the right guitar, bouncing back and forth between different monitors in the studio to hear how it might sound one way on this set of speakers and this way on another set of speakers. … So yeah, if people are listening through their laptops or earbuds, it’s kind of a bummer.

I think that’s one of the reasons why live music is really important to people these days. Especially when you get to 1,000-cap rooms where the systems are pretty good … they can hear music played live in a sonically rich environment and they react to it in a positive way.

With your experience in the industry, do you ever see artists put under pressure to make something sound like something else for sales purposes?

It’s definitely not an issue for me and it’s not an issue for the types of artists that I play with. But I definitely get that [this pressure] is a thing. I think it’s definitely much more true of modern pop artists than it is for somebody who is more steeped in the history of music from the last 50 years and trying to incorporate lots of different influences from throughout the history of rock and folk and country.

What are some goals for The Candles moving forward?

I’d like to see us increase our audience in the U.S. and Europe. We’re out there trying to do that now. We’d love to see this album react at radio at AAA, at college and specialty stations. I think there are some songs in this new album that fit nicely into those formats and that’s really all I could ask for. Just to expand the audience and reach some people.

Certainly another goal is to become a better live band, but that is always a goal with anybody you play with, just to push the quality a little further and deliver a better show for the audience and for yourself. I think that’s what playing music is all about – trying to create something good and put it out there in the world and seeing if you can top yourself.

Photo: Image Courtesy of The End Records
The album cover for The Candles' album Matter + Spirit.

Upcoming dates with Norah Jones:

Nov. 18 – Madrid, Spain, Auditorio A. Palacio de Congresos
Nov. 21 – Paris, France, Olympia
Nov. 28 – Kingston, N.Y., Ulster Performing Arts Center
Nov. 29 – New York, N.Y., Beacon Theatre
Dec. 2 – Philadelphia, Pa., Academy Of Music
Dec. 3 – Washington, DC, Lincoln Theatre
Dec. 4 – Washington, DC, Lincoln Theatre
Dec. 8 – Providence, R.I., The VETS
Dec. 9 – Portland, Maine, State Theatre
Dec. 10 – Boston, Mass., Orpheum Theatre

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