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Dissatisfaction leads Moscow-born-and-raised singer Josh Ritter to ‘Gathering’

For some, a feeling of dissatisfaction might be a sign to call it quits, but that feeling always compelled folk-rock singer Josh Ritter to create even more.

That emotion, for instance, was the driving force behind his latest album, “Gathering,” which was released in September.

The Moscow, Idaho-born-and-raised Ritter only identified his feeling of dissatisfaction before beginning to work on “Gathering,” but he realized it’d been with him his whole artistic life. He realized that it wasn’t him who was discontented, but the writer in him.

Instead of whining about that side of him though, Ritter decided to embrace it, letting it fuel his creative endeavors.

“It’s so important to keep shifting and changing, and that shifting requires a lot experimentation and a lot of faulty starts,” he said from a recent tour stop in Sisters, Oregon. “For that reason, the dissatisfaction is there, but it’s a primary engine of the whole enterprise.”

“Gathering” brings Ritter and the Royal City Band to the Knitting Factory on Friday.

Experimentation often leads Ritter to speak in, as he told the Arizona Daily Star earlier this month, a “different artistic language” from album to album.

He realized the artistic language he was speaking on “Gathering” when he was working on a rousing song called “Showboat.”

“This character came into my mind who is this big talking, hard living guy who underneath it all was incredibly fragile,” Ritter said. “That character was one that stuck with me and informed a lot of the songs on the record.”

Likewise, Ritter said each of his albums takes on a tone of its own as it comes to life.

“Gathering’s” tone was inspired by Ritter’s desire to bring the Royal City Band – Zachariah Hickman (bass, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer), Sam Kassirer (piano, organ, synthesizers, percussion), Josh Kaufman (guitar, synthesizer) and Ray Rizzo (drums, percussion) – to the forefront even more than on his previous records.

“I couldn’t wait for them to get their hands on the skeletons of the songs because as soon as they did, I knew they were going to put all kinds of crazy stuff on,” Ritter said. “They were going to take the songs places that I couldn’t take them myself.”

Ritter also featured Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir on “Gathering” after he wrote or co-wrote all but one song on Weir’s 2016 solo album “Blue Mountain.”

Working with Weir on “Blue Mountain,” Ritter picked up the guitarist’s knack for capturing a mood and applied that to his work on “Gathering.”

“I always think of Grateful Dead’s music as trying to capture fireflies,” he said. “He does that. He keeps his mind open to the possibilities of where a song could go, what a song could be in a way that is really important for me, at the time, to experience. I took that philosophy into making ‘Gathering,’ and it was really rewarding.”

With an open mind, Ritter took early versions of the songs that would appear on “Gathering,” his ninth studio album, on the road during the “Works in Progress” tour last year.

He likened the situation to trying on clothes in front of a room full of people, but appreciated the experience for what he learned, and said between the tour and when he entered the recording studio, many songs changed rhythmically, lyrically and in delivery.

“There are things you learn from playing a song for people and you just know intrinsically in your heart ‘OK, this is not the right spot for this. This doesn’t feel right’ …” he said. “There’s a lot of self-conscious thought and work that goes into it, but for that reason, the songs come out stronger. And when it’s time to record, I have a better grasp of what I want them to sound like.”

With “Gathering” completed, Ritter is committed to working on whatever tickles his fancy.

“One of the great things about making music and doing stuff right now is that I feel like I can go in any direction that feels like it’s pulling me,” he said. “I just want to take advantage of that.”

Several years ago, for instance, Ritter took up painting. The “Gathering” album cover, sweeping blue waves crashing into brown cliffs with stormy gray clouds lurking in the background, is a Ritter original.

Ritter doesn’t put pressure on himself to paint, though his output increased while working on “Gathering” in an attempt to contextualize the songs.

“Painting is a great way for me to shift down in my gears,” he said. “When I work on songs, I get really spun up … and maybe a little bit difficult to be around. Painting slows me down, and it takes away any of the spun up feeling. I think it’s a therapy for an overexcited brain at the moment. I really treasure it for that.”

He also recently teamed up with author and perfumer Tanwi Nandini Islam, founder of Hi Wildflower Botanica, to create a scent inspired by “Gathering.”

The unisex fragrance is available through Ritter’s online store, $68.99 for 8 milliliters with a custom box and roller.

“If you really get deep on a record, you can smell it,” Ritter said. “Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue,’ after listening to it enough, you get an idea of what it must smell like and I felt that way with ‘Gathering.’ ”

So what does “Gathering” smell like?

According to his webstore, the fragrance has top notes of blue cypress and English ivy, heart notes of Palo Santo, blue cypress and marine accord, and base notes of sandalwood, wet earth and sweet grass.

“With this record, it’s wet earth, wet ground,” Ritter said. “The smell of the ground right after it rains.”


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