JAMES HATTORI, host:
If you want to sing along with Josh Ritter take a deep breath first. He describes his music as Rock and Roll with lots of word.
(Soundbite of song "To the Dogs or Whoever")
Mr. JOSH RITTER (Singer): (Singing) The stain of the sepia the butcher Crimea through the wreck of a brass band I thought I could see her. In a cakewalk she came through the dead and the lame just a little bird floating on a hurricane. I was flat on my back with my feet in the thorns, I was in between the apples and the chloroform. She came to me often I was sure I was dying. It was always hard to tell if she was laughing or crying. I thought I heard somebody calling. In the dark I thought I heard somebody call.
HATTORI: That's Josh Ritter's performance last week here in Washington, D.C. He's on the road to promote his new CD "The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter." Ritter composed all 14 tracks on the album. He says writing a song is like finding your way into a maze.
Mr. RITTER: You're looking for the way in and once you've found the way in that's when the fun kind of starts, you know, then you're inside. And once you're inside, it's really - it's just fun.
HATTORI: Your songs and especially your lyrics can be a little corky or…
Mr. RITTER: Yeah.
HATTORI: …eclectic at times. One of the more interesting songs on the new album are those of "The Temptation of Adam."
Mr. RITTER: Yeah.
HATTORI: Tell us about that - maybe play it.
Mr. RITTER: Sure. Yeah. "Temptation of Adams" is a story about - like I was thinking about like, you know, those times when it seems like love can only exist in the unrarified environment for a short amount of time like I was thinking like, what's the most rarified place in the world? And I was thinking like, under missile silo, so.
(Soundbite of song "The Temptation of Adam")
Mr. RITTER: (Singing) If this was the Cold War we could keep each other warm. I said on the first occasion that I met Marie. We were crawling through the hatch that was the missile silo door and I don't think that she really thought that much of me. I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the bomb. She just came along and started to ignore me. But as we waited for the big one I started singing her my songs and I think she started feeling something for me.
We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside what five letters spelled apocalypse she asked me. I won her over saying w-w-i-i-I.
Oh, she smiled and we both knew that she misjudged me. Oh Marie it was so easy to fall in love with you felt almost like a home, of sorts, or something. And you would keep the warhead missile silo good as new and I'd watch you with my thumb above the button.
Then one night you found me in my army issue cot and you told me of your flash of inspiration. You said fusion was the broken heart that's lonely's only thought and all night long you drove me wild with your equations. Oh, Marie do you remember all the time we used to take, we'd make our love and then ransack the rations. I think about you leaving now in the avalanche cascades my eyes get washed away in chain reactions.
Oh, Marie if you would stay then we could stick pins in the map of all the places where you thought that love would be found. But I would only need one pin to show where my love's at in a top secret location 300 feet under the ground. Oh, we could hold each other close we'd stay up every night looking up into the dark like it's the night sky. Pretend this giant missile is an old oak tree instead and I'd carve your name in hearts into the warhead.
Oh, Marie there's something tells me things just wont work out at all that our love would live a half-life on the surface. So at night while your are sleeping I hold you closer just because as our time grows short I get a little nervous. So I think about the big one, W-w-i-i-I, would we ever really care the world had ended? You could hold me here forever like you're holding me tonight. I think about that big red button and I'm tempted.
HATTORI: Very nice.
Mr. RITTER: Thank you very much.
HATTORI: How do you know when you write a song and you perform it that the message gets through?
Mr. RITTER: You know I think that it's just something that I don't think about too much. I think that you can - if you're too worried about the message getting through, you say things too plainly and a song just - it gets kind of led. And I feel that, you know, any song that last because it has a multiplicity of meanings, and that's what's really cool. Because I don't want anybody in a song telling me what exactly a song is about while they're singing it, you know?
HATTORI: Yet you've done songs where you try to address issues like religion or…
Mr. RITTER: Certainly.
HATTORI: And - but you didn't espouse a certain point of view? Or you weren't trying to say something specific?
Mr. RITTER: I personally think that, like, as Americans who are great moralizing in songs, you know. We always add the extra, you know, even in folk songs, you know, folk songs where you always add the last verse at the end. It's the moral about, you know, not talking to the dude who you meet in the woods are like, you know, or that's why they didn't go down to the river or whatever, or that's why she stay away from cards and gambling and lose women and all that stuff.
But I think that when it comes to politics and when it comes to religion and some these big issues right now, you know, people are dying. That's, you know, I believe that you should definitely like question the necessity of the sacrifices but I don't want to like - I, you know, I want to respect those sacrifices at the same time. And I think that there's nothing worst than dumping down something as horrific as the war going on right now by fitting it neatly into a rhyme. It's never that easy.
HATTORI: How about another new song from the album?
Mr. RITTER: Cool. Yeah. I'll do the song. This is "Empty Hearts."
(Soundbite of song, "Empty Hearts")
Mr. RITTER: (Singing) So save all of your light for those who can't sleep at night. And we can't even sing to the shadows. So they ride into town and they throw the shots down. And they save the last round for the windows.
Singing don't let me into this year with an empty hear, with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart.
I'm inside with my friends. We build fires and pretend that tonight could just been gone forever. While outside in the frost are the wolves and the lost and we sing to the dogs or whoever.
Singing don't let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart.
There's a friend that I have and for her I'll go back. You see all of these empties that I'm holding. They're too much for a man. Empty arms, empty hands. And she'll know me by the sound of my hoping.
Singing don't let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty hear. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty hear. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty hear. Don't let me into this year with an empty heart.
Mr. RITTER: Thank you very much.
HATTORI: You are a happy guy, aren't you?
Mr. RITTER: Yeah.
HATTORI: You - on stage, you're always smiling.
Mr. RITTER: Yeah.
HATTORI: You thank people a lot. You must be pretty happy in your skin.
Mr. RITTER: I am. I'm just - I'm a lucky person who found what they love to do, you know, and gets to do it. And then anybody who takes the time out of their day to pop in your record or a comedy or show it's a real cool common hang out with a bunch of strangers, you know. So I'm thrilled and I'm a happy guy whenever I got a guitar here.
HATTORI: Josh, thanks for stopping by Studio 4A here at NPR and sharing some of your music.
Mr. RITTER: Thank you so much for having me here. I'm a big fan, you know. Thanks.
HATTORI: Josh Ritter's new CD is called "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter." Among the songs, in instrumental track called "Edge of the World." And, Josh, if you wouldn't mind playing us a bit that would be awesome.
Mr. RITTER: Sure.
HATTORI: Yeah, totally.
(Soundbite of song, "Edge of the World")
HATTORI: You can hear Josh Ritter's performance again and the full concert recorded at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. They're on our Web site. That's npr.org/music.
Our story was engineered by Rob Byers(ph) and produced by David Nogarris(ph). With special thanks to ALL SONGS CONSIDERED and Bob Boylet(ph).
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week.
I'm James Hattori.