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Ritter’s pen as mighty as his microphone

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter

On Josh Ritter’s latest album, “So Runs the World Away,” the Moscow, Idaho-born singer-songwriter is kind of geeking out.

After a bout with writer’s block, he was up late one night, listening to his “2 a.m. voices,” when he became enraptured by the vision of a mummy’s love affair with an archaeologist.

“When you get writer’s block it’s like looking for a way into the woods and the pathway is right in front of you, and I found my way to a certain, specific place and that was ‘The Curse,’ ” Rittter, who comes to the Knitting Factory Concert House tonight, says of the resulting song. “It was a good starting point for the rest of the record.”

He then went into a writing frenzy, so much so that he didn’t stop at just writing an album, but also a novel – all the while engorging his mind with information about 19th and 20th century science, orbital decay, Martian canals, polar exploration and the mathematical golden ratio.

While all of these topics might seem unrelated on the surface, Ritter used them to fuse an exploration of, well, exploration – some through music, some in the form of his novel, “Bright’s Passage,” due next year.

“It was fascinating to me in a big way,” he said in a telephone interview. “Something like ‘My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble’ is a smaller scope. I want to make something big.

“Writing is like exploring. You’re not out looking for something specific, you’re just out looking. It’s better to be surprised by what you discover than disappointed by what you don’t.”

Released in April, “So Runs the World Away” comes on the heels of 2007’s “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” where he burned his rule book and wrote and produced almost completely on raw instinct.

“So Runs the World Away” was much the opposite, meticulous in every aspect.

“Each record is different,” he said. “ ‘Historical Conquests’ was a cut-loose affair which was recorded quickly and written quickly. It was off-the-cuff, like a real adventure, and that was exciting.

“With the new record I was taking some real, serious time and it had a larger scope. Initially, the record was a painful process. I really had a writer’s block experience. So once I did get started it was really exciting to get a song and really work on every little note.”

The writing, Ritter said, is like an oil painting, as the recording is to sculpting.

“One of the biggest parts of writing a song is knowing when it’s done,” he said. “But when you’re recording it you add as much as you can and then you strip away. It’s more like sculpting.

“Writing is like painting, where you’re adding colors and shapes, but with the production of the album you’re actually stripping layers and refining and chipping away at them.

“You always know when it’s done. It’s like being a guest at a party and knowing when it’s time to leave.”

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