San Jose, California singer-songwriter Josh Damigo grew up in a strict household where he was only allowed to listen to KFRC, the local oldies station in the Bay Area. He found himself influenced by bands like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and other lyrically driven music. Damigo’s introduction to music was ordinary to say the least; Mom signs kid up for piano lessons, kid hates piano lessons, kid quits piano, kid picks up a guitar, and like any normal know-it-all 16-year-old, he was ready to hit the stage just one week after picking up said guitar.
Josh’s crash course in performing paid off, however, with multiple San Diego Music awards in 2006, in 2009 for his album Raw, in 2010 for Best Acoustic, won the 2012 San Diego County Fair Singer/Songwriter competition, was nominated for Best Album in the LA Critics Awards for his newest album Hope, won the International Acoustic Music Awards for his song “LA is Not My Home,” and recently had the honor of singing the National Anthem at the LA Lakers vs. The Bulls game at the Staples Center on March 10th.
Josh has shared the stage with several notable artists, including The Jonas Brothers, Jason Mraz, Eric Hutchison, Shawn Colvin, Joss Stone, and Josh Gracin, just to name a few. His tireless efforts have earned him rotation on several college and commercial radio stations, a mention in several prominent California newspapers, and Josh just finished a nationwide tour promoting his album Hope.
We were able to catch up with Josh after his return from touring to learn more about him, his inspirations, and what’s next.
Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?
I would say that I like to “write to the heart.” I’m all about touching as many people as possible, and when I write, I think about two things. First, am I being honest with my lyrics? And, second, will this resonate with my audience. I’m usually inspired by situations that come into my life. Some of my songs like “Just Let Me Love You,” is about a guy who loves a girl, but for some reason she can’t let him in; and “If I Had a Dollar,” which is a love song about a guy who wishes he could afford to treat a girl special, but he’s too poor. I think both of these are a great reflection of where I’m at in life right now.
On the opposite spectrum, I’m under the belief that there is no such thing as “writers block” and that you can be silly and goofy and write whatever you want, whenever you want. I wrote a song called “Crazy For Your Love” a while back, and it’s a love song from a psycho murderer to his victim, but set to a sweet and innocent Jason Mraz-style tune. It makes you feel sad for him, and almost makes you want to let him kill you to prove his love!
I think that inspiration is great, but for anyone who wants to be a writer, the truth is you just have to continue growing, continue reading and expanding your vocabulary, and grab a pen and write, write, write, until your fingers can’t stand it anymore!
You say you grew up only being allowed to listen to oldies, what type of effect would you say that had on your writing style?
I was writing with a friend of mine a while back who’s in a band called Little Hurricane. When we started writing and showing each other our songs, he started laughing at me. I said, “Why are you laughing?” He replied with, “’Cause every one of your songs has a melody that is so much stronger than any other songs I’ve heard. It’s like I’m listening to Disney or Taylor Swift!”
I definitely find that I’m very particular in my songs. Every word has a meaning. I don’t allow for any “fillers” because I don’t feel the Beatles or Bob Dylan would have ever done that. I guess it makes me a stronger writer because I’m pulling from the golden age of radio, and really taking time to make sure that my song will get stuck in your head, and replay over and over and over and over….
Reflecting back on the inspiration from the limited music you were allowed to listen to, you know, The Beatles, Beach Boys, etc., how do you think the music of the ‘80s and ‘90s that you apparently missed out on at the time would have influenced you. Do you think the music of that era would have influenced you differently, and if so, in what way? In other words, would your music be substantially different?
I think the biggest difference that I would have probably had would be in my musicianship. When I was growing up, it was about guitar solos and wailing vocals, then somewhere along the way, it switched to boy bands and pop groups. Had I been listening to the late ‘80s and ‘90s music, I’m sure I would have practiced my guitar much more, and be rockin’ some harder tunes. But, I’m happy with my sing-songy type of writing.
You started out playing the piano. What made you decide to pick up a guitar after quitting piano lessons?
I remember watching my dad play when I was a little kid and thought that he was the most amazing guitar player in the world. I wanted to be so much like him, that one of my first childhood memories was throwing picks into his guitar, and then getting spanked for it! J When I got older, my parents divorced and I would only see my dad for a few days during the summer. I loved his old guitar, and loved watching him play and sing when I was out there. We’d listen to Jim Croce and the Eagles and other bands while driving down the highway, and I think as a kid that was when I was the happiest. All of that influenced me to start playing when I was 16. I knew I was musical, and I loved sitting around just making up stuff on my mom’s organ in our house, so when I got a guitar, I literally just sat around playing with it, and trying to make it work. J I taught myself in a few months, and I’m still learning new things today!
Can you tell us a little about your gear and any endorsements?
I’m endorsed by Deering Banjos. They have been one of the coolest companies to play for. I play the Phoenix Six String Banjo, and it’s a sweet little bad boy! It’s really fun telling stories with my banjo, and people really dig the change of pace! 🙂
You said you first started playing music in church and have gone on to pursue music as a career and have won multiple awards. Can you describe the progression?
Well, my first performance was to a sold out crowd in West Minot, Maine at the age of 11 months. (I was baby Jesus in the Christmas Play!) I don’t remember anything from that… but, after I turned 16 and was the only guy in my youth group in San Jose that could play guitar, I kind of got thrown into it. I’d just jump up every Wednesday night and play to the room the different songs that were picked. I haven’t really thought of it in a really long time, but that was a really fun experience. I looked forward to Wednesday nights all week. When I first started, playing all I wanted to do was be in a Christian Rock Band, but as time passed, I realized that I was writing more and more songs about love and life, and less about God and my beliefs. In college, I would lock myself in my room sometimes and just go to town trying to make a song, skipping homework, and tons of other social activities, but this was something I did for fun, and didn’t really take it too seriously.
I got a pretty tough injury in college and lost the ability to play competitive sports. It made me wonder what I was going to do with my life, and I guess that’s where the beginnings of my music career started. I played for a few friends and they said, “You should play an open mic!” I didn’t know what an open mic was, so I went to go see one. I watched people play for 7 or 8 weeks straight and took mental notes on everything I saw them do. I would watch guys get up and make people laugh or fail miserably, be really nervous or confident, and off-pitch or pretty good; and I soaked it all in.
I played my first open mic the next week, and was offered a gig. From there, I became good friends with the guys who booked the shows, and became a regular at the “acoustic scene” in San Diego. I put out an album, some people liked it, and boom… I won an award… and I was honored, but I’d still be writing and making music, even if I never had.
I guess it was just a really long process from sitting in my room, to sitting on a stage, but the time I took getting ready and perfecting my performance eventually paid off! J
You’ve performed with some pretty big names, what would you say you’ve learned from performing with artists like The Jonas Brothers, Jason Mraz, Eric Hutchinson and Shawn Colvin, among many?
“Be Lucky.” – Shawn Mullins.
“Don’t give up, you’ve got something special.” – Kenny Loggins
“Dude, you really killed it! I hope we play again soon!” – Matt Nathanson
Those are just a few of the quotes I’ve heard over the past few years in conversations with artists. The number one thing I’ve learned is that all of these musicians had to be a little bit crazy to get where they are now. Shawn Mullins was on his 7th record before “Lullaby” came out and made him a household name in the ‘90s. Jason lived in his car and Matt drove up and down the coast begging to play for radio stations in their parking lots!
You have to really believe in yourself, do the best you can, and then put it out there and let it go. If you worry about it too much, you’ll just lose sleep trying to force things to happen. If you let it go and do the best you can, you have the ability to sleep longer, live happier, and be grateful for the opportunities you’re given.
You recently returned from a national tour, what would you say you are most excited about in regards to touring?
I am a huge lover of driving. I absolutely can’t wait to see all the sights in different states! I broke up my “national” tour into five smaller tours: Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest. I’ve already done the Midwest twice and loved it. I’ve done the northeast twice, and that was my favorite, because I’m a huge Boston Red Sox fan!
It’s also fun to meet people and learn different inside jokes and observe different mannerisms that different states have. I’m a huge fan of people watching, and there’s not much funnier than watching people talk in the same language as me, but a completely different accent that makes them almost impossible to follow!
Speaking of your tour, how was that experience and what was your most memorable moment of the tour?
I think the most memorable experience was driving to the edge of a cliff and not falling off… Twice… Don’t sleep and drive, kids…
You launched a Kickstarter campaign for the release of your sophomore album “Hope” and your US tour and raised over $12,000. Can you share with us your experience with Kickstarter and would you recommend it for other artists?
It’s a great avenue to raise support from your fans, but you can’t overuse it- be sure you have all the pieces in place or you won’t be as successful as you could be.
Jim Croce’s son, AJ, also contributed to a song on “Hope.” How did you meet him and how was it working with him?
I am a huge fan of his father and had to get AJ’s permission to play it, and he asked to play on the record! I was so honored, and I’ve played a few shows with him since.
Have you started on any new songs?
Always writing! Can’t wait to work on another album!
We have a few fun questions for you: What’s your guilty musical pleasure?
What are your top five favorite albums of all time?
DC Talk – Welcome to the Freak Show
All Star United – Greatest Hits
Gary Clark Jr. -Blak and Blu
Berkley Hart – Crow
Jim Croce – I Gotta Name
If you could share the stage with one musician, who would that be and why?
Elvis. He’s the King!!!
Where can our readers find out more about you and possibly catch a live show?
I have a show calendar that is downloadable on reverbnation.com/joshdamigo that is continually updated. Also, I’m easily reachable on Facebook.com/joshdamigomusic, twitter @joshdamigo, and myspace.com/joshdamigo. My website is JoshDamigo.com and has links to all of my social networking sites and shows off my blog.
Cover Photo: Dennis Anderson Photography