Music to Our Ears

By Edo Steinberg

If you haven’t been to Wednesday Open Mic Night at Max’s Place when Josh Sites performs there, you’ve been missing out. He sings and plays the guitar, performing his own songs as well as covers. He even wrote a song inspired by Annie Lang’s T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications and Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, titled “The Structure of Emotional Revolutions”:

Josh started singing when he was in seventh grade, and started playing the guitar about three years later. It wasn’t the first instrument Josh played. “In my school, everybody had to learn an instrument in fourth grade. I tried out the tuba,” Josh says. That wasn’t his first choice, though. He preferred the trumpet. The school held auditions in order to determine which instrument each student will learn to play. Shortly before auditions, Josh was stung on the inside of his lip by a bee that had gotten into his drinking bottle. “My lip was all swollen, so I couldn’t even buzz on the trumpet mouthpiece, but I could play the tuba very well with the big swollen lip. They told me ‘you have to play the tuba. Nobody ever plays the tuba and you were so good at it!’ Then of course my lip swelling went down and it was very hard to play.”

Despite dabbling with the tuba and electronic music, Josh hadn’t really felt very musically-oriented. Then his music teacher suggested that he join the school choir. He tried it out and liked it, being a member of the choir for the rest of middle and high school. He also joined a county-based choir.

After singing for a few years, Josh learned how to play the guitar. “I had a couple of informal lessons from friends.”  By that, he literally means two lessons. “They were all interested in playing things I wasn’t interested in playing, but I knew that they could still at least show me the true basics of the instrument.” He learned the rest on his own.

Josh sees himself as first and foremost a vocalist. “I learned to play the guitar because I wanted to play music and sing songs that nobody else wanted  to do.” He thought, “if I’m going to do this [sing], then I need someone to accompany me, so I’ll accompany me, because nobody else will,” he laughs.

As Josh sees it, the guitar is near the bottom of the hierarchy of his musical talents, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to his performances. “I think my better songs are better than my best guitar playing. And there’s the whole engineering and producing side, which I know I’m way better at than playing guitar, too.”

“I used to think it was harder to play and sing at the same time,” Josh says. “I’m learning it’s not that simple. There are things that are much easier and things that are much harder. Vocalists, including myself, have this tendency to play with time and rhythm, probably to a fault.  Other instrumentalists are really concerned about quarter-note, eight-note, etc. Vocalists say ‘I’ll float around this and it’s my artistic license to do what I want.’ So when I’m accompanying myself, it’s very easy to sound cohesive, because I just follow my internal clock. I think it’s easier to sing expressively and in my own voice, rather than imitating others, when I’m playing.” However, accompanying himself also has drawbacks for Josh. “I have trouble singing significantly different rhythms than what I’m playing.”

When asked if he prefers to sing alone or in front of an audience, Josh doesn’t have a simple answer. “I have awful stage fright. I’m so incredibly uncomfortable going up on stage and performing because it is such an intimate thing,” Josh says. “For me, it is my way to express myself, even though I’m playing other people’s music. It’s a way for me to get feelings out.” He knows it doesn’t look like it to others, but he feels uncomfortable about sharing his feelings with a crowd.

On the other hand, he also loves performing. “It’s such a great feeling afterwards,” Josh says. “It’s absolutely wonderful that so many people from the department have been showing up to the open mics. It’s so cool. I’ve never had that. But even if it’s just me and a couple of my acquaintances from Open Mic Night, there’s that feeling of ‘yes, I got away with it! I shared how I felt and nobody noticed!'”

Of all the songs I’ve heard Josh perform, here’s my personal favorite:

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