Josh Rawlings On Keeping Music Magic Alive

Josh Rawlings at the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle. Photo: Courtesy of artist.

Josh Rawlings On Keeping Music Magic Alive

GRAMMY-Nominated pianist, composer and producer Josh Rawlings '05 returns to Cornish College of the Arts on October 11 as part of the Pivot Convocation series. Joining him on the stage at PONCHO will be GRAMMY-award winner and producer Ryan Lewis.

Cornish graduate Josh Rawlings is one of most sought after performing and studio musicians in the Pacific Northwest today. Rolling Stone recently described his piano playing on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Billboard Top-20 Single “Downtown” as a “bombastic, theatrical piano breakdown.” He has toured throughout the United States and Europe with Macklemore and emerging Soul/R&B sensation Allen Stone. Rawlings has been working as a professional performer, composer, educator and advocate in Seattle for the past 15 years. He’s a member of the PNW GRAMMY Association and the Musicians’ Union of Seattle as well as the founding member of the the award-winning band Industrial Revelation.

On October 11, he joins with Lewis on the stage at PONCHO for a free, lunchtime Pivot Convocation discussion on about life as a musician, the tension between art music and pop music, and arts entrepreneurialism. Cornish News caught up with Rawlings via email before the event to pose a few questions about how visiting artist events impacted him as a student and his work today.

When you were a student at Cornish, what were the things that you wanted to know about music business?
JR: When I was a student I wanted to know everything I could regarding how to be a tradesman of sorts in the current arts world. This, of course, is a hard thing to fully comprehend and pin-down because of how ever-changing and diverse the music industry actually is. I soon realized in my semester (or year) of career development that it wasn’t exactly going to show me the path I needed to follow in order to be successful. Certainly my teachers were guides showing me how they’ve made careers for themselves, but it was still very elusive at how I was going to make it work once I graduated. There’s a long story on my road to success (and I’m still walking it of course), but needless-to-say…just not giving up and experimenting and following my excitement wherever it lead…that certainly gave me perspective and the longevity to keep going.

How did visiting alumni and other artist events on campus help you connect with Seattle’s music scene?
JR: I remember watching alumni come back like pianist Ty Bailie (who is now touring with Katy Perry) and really admiring his sound and joyful vibe. He definitely seemed to me like a guy who was on his way to making a successful career as a pianist and climbing up the ranks so-to-speak. I also remember certain visiting jazz/classical legends that really exuded a level of excellence in their craft that kept me inspired during my time at Cornish. Several of them said certain things that stuck with me and just kept me motivated to keep digging and pursuing my art.

You say on your website “If there’s a way to make money in the Seattle music industry…you name it…I’m probably involved in some way.” How did that work out and what was most surprising about your choices?
JR: I’m not really sure I can actually attest that I’ve done everything possible in the Seattle scene to make money, but I’ve certainly tried a lot of different gigs, teaching gigs, and random things to stay afloat. I’d say the thing that I wasn’t expecting was to come back full-circle to producing and songwriting like I did my whole childhood. I particularly got involved in making “beats” and productions in high school and writing a lot of original music. That slipped when I became very interested in the live aspect of music making and the overall craftsmanship and care that goes into that on an individual’s instrument. I got lost for 15+ years basically only nurturing that live music making world. Now I’m benefiting from the fruits of evolving with my bands and deepening in the musicianship and interplay that can exist from years of playing.

What’s the one piece of advice that you want to impart to the audience on Thursday?
JR: My one piece of advice is simply to never quit if you really love it, don’t make excuses, strive for your best and enjoy the ever evolving ride! Seems cliche, but I wouldn’t be where I am with my career today if I didn’t take those things to heart over the years. I still do to this very day. The magic of life is always unfolding and willing to display itself at any given moment in all of our lives, but it takes courage and a willingness to just go with the flow and walk-the-walk. Simply…do the work that you know you must do…then the magic of the world will be illuminated!

Josh Rawlings On Keeping Music Magic Alive

Thank you to our sponsors:

The October ​Pivot Convocation event with Ryan Lewis and Josh Rawlings is made possible in part through support from the Office of Arts & Culture and donations to our Music Department.