Redwood Son’s Josh Malm is an anomaly. As he will tell you, “Saying I’m not a simple man is an understatement. It’s more like, people rarely know what I’m even doing. It’s just crazy-making, odd behavior, that quite frankly pisses a lot of folks off. People love me or they hate me,” says the Portland, Oregon-based musician who has spent four years seeing his latest, Saints & Renegades come to light. With a release (vinyl, CD, and digital) finally set for September 28, 2018, unconventional is one way to sum up the man who goes by the moniker Redwood Son, which is also his band’s name.
In 2016 he decided to pack up his bags from Portland, while still working on finishing Saints & Renegades, and move to Nashville, to be closer to his ilk. While most artists would stay put to finish up their record, Malm needed a change of scenery. While working on the eleven track collection of warm, vintage-meets-contemporary country-soul-rock that would become Saints & Renegades, Malm was also working on building his company, Westicana, both the label that releases his albums and a leading Northwest show promotion company.
In honor of Westicana, and to celebrate the launch of the brand, shortly after his move he released an EP, aptly titled Westicana. As he puts it, “The Westicana EP was intended to get some new music out there to my fans, old and new, while also building a brand for my own label, Westicana Records, and my show promotion company, Westicana Presents.”
The result was staggering, with Redwood Son and Westicana Records moving two thousand units without any press or radio coverage.
“I played the Northwest like a cyclone, with a blue collar approach that was borderline psycho,” he says of the feat. “It didn’t go unnoticed, but it also didn’t get any press either.”
With the EP out, and a solid fan base awaiting the full-length album, Malm focused back on the prize, Saints & Renegades. The record chronicles his struggles, depression, fight, and hopes with not only his move, but his music career. With a theme of never giving up, keep fighting, stay honest, and keep it real running through the album, the eleven songs tell the story of both his journey to Nashville, and his struggle to get the album released.
“Saints & Renegades was something that struck me as a fitting title, to represent the duality of the project. There is a certain amount of insanity that almost always comes with making a record. One day I may feel like a sensitive songwriter who aims to inspire people through my vulnerability - a saint. Then, other days I am
convinced that no one gives a shit about that, and we all just need to rock and roll - a renegade,” he says of the album’s title. “When I start letting insecurity take over, it’s usually followed by a bit of rebellious rage. Once I work through that mess, there is usually a sense of peace and indifference about music all together. It’s so strange to me.”
The album kicks off with the late-night, dusty road county melody of “Comeback,” a song that proclaims, “I come back, but I come back stronger. I’m not a simple man, and you can count on that.” This serves as Malm’s anthem, as we have already established that he’s anything but simple.
“The lyrics on ‘Comeback,’ especially that line, are perfect for my unorthodox approach to everything in life, especially my music career,” says Malm of the aforementioned lyrics. “I’ve always been a comeback kid. My down, but certainly-not-out mentality has gotten me through a ton of stuff over the years. Maybe it’s because I’m a leo or something, but I feel like my music career has definitely gotten nine lives of a cat-level of survival.”
Malm also got sober while making Saints & Renegades, another mountain that added to the stresses and forces working against him, but something he wasn’t willing to buckle under. This shows up in the lyrics and melodic mood of “You Know You,” a song about self-doubt, personal journeys, and finding one’s true self.
“Sinking to the bottom of the bottle, drowning my sorrows, drinking them down one swallow at a time. Trying to find my true self, but my soul is so hollow,” he opens the song with. However, his sense of optimistic and personal strength shines through, later singing, “How you gonna know if you won’t even try it? How you going to live so afraid of dying? Open your mind and your heart will shine on through. Sometimes you want to fly, but can’t let go. Sometimes you gotta climb, when you know you’re gonna fall.”
The self-doubt that bogs Malm down at times is also one vehicle that helps drive him. He will quickly admit that he may indeed be his harshest critic, as he attempts to discuss his favorite tracks on the album, unable to pick just one.
“Honestly,” he says, “I’ve gone back and forth so many times between hating it, and loving it, that I am just content now. It’s really just a solid album of songs that mean something. If I had to choose one though, it’d be ‘Punches.’ There’s nothing I have ever done that encapsulated all of my influences perfectly into three minutes like ‘Punches’ does.”
“Punches” asks, “Tell me, am I the only one that still hasn’t figured it out?” as the song encompasses influences ranging between indie-rock and subdued Americana, all with an undertow of soul brought on by the temporary flood of keyboards.
While he ponders his own question himself, Malm will tell you he’s quite happy with how the record turned out, refusing to look back as he moves forward.
“I can’t even go there. There are way too many rabbit holes to get lost in. It is a Pandora’s Box I choose not to open. My lessons have been noted and I will do my best to not repeat mistakes that were made along the way. There are far too many to discuss now. It would just be counterproductive. I am happy with where things are at.”
There is plenty of time - and moments - to look back on during the making of this record, with four years passing before it came to fruition, a timeline Malm didn’t plan on, nor could he have ever envisioned it would take this long.
“I did not envision it taking four years to finally release! That was a big surprise. Life just kept kicking my ass, and I went back and forth so much on whether the record was even worth it or not.”
Though, as much as there is gloom, Malm, like the songs and melodies on Saints & Renegade, always sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Reflecting on it all and looking back at the time it took to make this record and see it finally set for release, Malm points out a surprising fact: “Oddly enough, we are doing the release in September, which is exactly four and a half years from the time we started the project."
He is most excited about finally seeing one of his albums released on vinyl.
"I knew from the very start that I was going to do a vinyl release. This record needed to be heard in that way. No matter what, I was going to see that through if it killed me. Guess I survived it, though,” he says with laughter and a smile. Though, in a lot of ways, the record almost did kill him.
Paying homage to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, while recalling the likes of Jack Johnson, Eric Church, and Ryan Bingham, Redwood Son did what it set out to do, even if it took a move to Nashville to find himself, a move back to Portland to realize that is where he needed to be, and four years; Malm and company created a warm, vintage-meets-contemporary country-soul-rock that he can hold his head high on and be very proud of.
“The highlights are pretty much all tied up in the journey,” reflects Malm. “There were a lot of lows, but also lots of highs. Mostly though, there were lots of reminders about how crazy we are as artists to take this path in life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else though. Period. Music and this insane industry get me going and the blood boiling and a smile on my face.”
Now Malm’s only goal is to keep his head high and aim for the sky, because if Saints & Renegades has taught him anything, it’s that he may not have it all figured out just yet, but he knows the direction he wants to travel, and he knows his tenacity and uncompromising passion will lead him to his destination.