January 11, 2021

Indy-based Musician Joshua Powell Talks About Music and Its Place In The City

Joshua Powell and his band performing in WFYI's Small Studio (Scott McAlister/WFYI)

Joshua Powell and his band performing in WFYI's Small Studio (Scott McAlister/WFYI)

Joshua Powell is a WFYI Small Studio Sessions featured artist. He’s originally from Florida, lives in Indianapolis and has been playing indie rock across the country, full time, for the past five years.

In this interview with WFYI’s Melissa Davis, Powell discusses the value of attracting and keeping artists in the city, explains his process, and shares his music. This conversation was recorded before the pandemic. 

I'm Joshua Powell, and I'm making music and art. I actually grew up wanting to be a visual artist, but I always felt stifled, like I couldn't actualize the things that were in my head. And music was the first conduit that I found where I could actually do that.

How does place factor into your art?

I think that Indianapolis in particular, is super important, because I've always had an need to define the narrative of my life and my art and to be able to say, "I'm this kind of person, I make these kinds of records." But as I've grown in wisdom, and stature and self actualization, I've determined that like - the human narrative is a lot more fluid. And I'm not always going to be this x type of person, or this y type of maker of records. I feel that Indianapolis is a city that like reflects my psyche in that way. I love LA, and I love New York. But I'm not that high strung of a person, you know, I don't want to work 80 hours a week to keep up with my bedroom. And I grew up in small towns. And since I've moved to a city, I can never go back to the small towns, because of the wealth of diversity and creative opportunity that exists here. It's just like, lights up my brain. But I can go, like pick between five different things to do and to ingrain myself in these community activities of creativity, here in Indianapolis on any given Tuesday night. But also I don't have to worry about where to park and like, I can come back to my own house. And I love that it's a city that's growing, and isn't yet bloated. You may be a big fish in a small pond, but like, there's so many other dope fish.

Do you feel like Indianapolis is doing a good job of keeping its artists in the city?

I think that we're gonna have to keep our finger on the pulse of that going forward, especially in the next year or two. We're at such a critical juncture right now, where like five years ago, Indiana was nothing like it is now, and there's been such an explosion of growth. Since then, it's very exciting. You see new bands and artists cropping up all the time. But I feel that maybe, we're too geographically concentrated in just a neighborhood or two. And so there are people all throughout the city who have so much to offer, but they can't necessarily all be working in the same locus. I think that if we want to keep growing, that we need to keep an eye on our spread, and be working to not allow gentrification or whatever other forces of social movement to pigeonhole us as creatives into one neighborhood or another, because there are so many great rooms, and there are so many great bands. But we could do better by supporting it, wherever it is in town.

Okay, one more,


What keeps you going with your art?

Keeps me going ... Okay, so one thing is that I have a beautiful team that's working with me right now, the musicians who are in my band are the best that I've ever gotten to work with. And having people of that caliber throw in their lot with me definitely raises the bar for my own goals and accomplishments. Part of what keeps me going, is that the five years that we've been doing this full time, we've made so many connections with people who I just feel have given me an unprecedented level of support, and a faithfulness to their belief in my vision keeps me going sometimes. And then I think the the final and biggest component is that I feel like I was made to be a maker, I feel very geared as a person, who is at their best and most fulfilled, and like most spiritually enlightened when I am making things, and I think that the role of the artist in society is so different from the role of an entertainer. I don't want to just keep like, I'm not trying to make hits, like I'll take hit money if it comes my way. But I see the role of an artist also to be an activist, and sometimes a provocateur, and somebody who doesn't necessarily always just talk about feelings, but also talks about abstractions and ideas, and makes you think about things in a different way and maybe challenges your rhetoric. And as long as the world is happening around me, I see it as my spiritual duty to synthesize it, and to try to be a mirror to society. Whether it's to tell them how beautiful they are, or whether it's to shape up and do better. 

You can hear Powell's music and listen to this interview by clicking on the audio link at the top of this story. This interview was recorded by John Dawson.


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