When fame means having a full stomach

Joshua Radin went hungry when he was a struggling artist. Now he’s an acclaimed — and well-fed — singer-songwriter


By Elisa Bray, May 6, 2010
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Joshua Radin’s celebrity friend, the actor Zach Braff, boosted his career by getting his music airplay on TV

Joshua Radin’s celebrity friend, the actor Zach Braff, boosted his career by getting his music airplay on TV

'Nowadays when people ask me how I define success I'd say it was being able to order anything on the menu," says Joshua Radin.

The New York-based singer-songwriter, who says that for years he was a "starving artist", can certainly order any dish he likes in any restaurant in the world. His first album to be released in the UK, Simple Times, went straight into the top 10, and he has just completed a sell-out UK tour, while his songs have been heard on more than 70 episodes of television shows, including Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy.

After years struggling as a painter and screenwriter, living on five dollars a day, the 34-year-old has found his niche. It was at the age of 29, as a cathartic distraction to a disintegrating six-year relationship, that Radin picked up an acoustic guitar and started teaching himself to play. "I was writing screenplays at the time and if I was stuck on a scene I would pull out the guitar and learn a new chord," he recalls. "Just sitting there in my living room strumming, I found myself humming and then I thought, maybe I should just write a song."

Imagine testing your first song on close friends only to hear it, weeks later, on a TV show watched by millions. That is what happened to Radin, whose starry contacts, met through screenwriting and while studying art at university, include his best friend, the actor Zach Braff. Braff placed his song on his hit series Scrubs and soon after Radin was getting messages from fans asking where they could hear more. It spurred him on to keep writing.

"When I wrote my first songs I wasn't setting out to be a professional musician, but it was just the reaction I got from the first time I did it. Writing songs was almost effortless, and I had spent so much effort on other creative endeavours. I said: 'All right, if people like that I'll just do that', and then I found that I was able to express myself more fully in my songs than any script I wrote or anything I had painted."

I've gone through two break-ups so I have made two records

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Radin has described himself as a "European mutt", being a quarter Polish, quarter German, quarter Austrian, and quarter Russian, and says his upbringing was not religious. "I like Woody Allen", he offers. "I like deli food, and Seinfeld."

In person, Radin is much like his music and stage persona - softly-spoken and endearingly open about the ups and downs of love. "I've gone through two break-ups so I have two records. I've just written a third one and there was no break-up - there's no girlfriend. But there are a couple of love songs on there, of course. I think about love all the time."

He credits his parents for bringing him up on a music collection including Bob Dylan, Neil Young,and Marvin Gaye. His voice, and the harmonies that lace some of his songs, he puts down to his mother. "When she'd drive me to school she'd always be singing Simon and Garfunkel and Everly Brothers-type harmonies that seeped into my songs. Before my voice changed through puberty we'd sing in the car together and our voices were pretty similar. She always had a good ear for harmony." But it was the complaints of a noise-sensitive neighbour in New York who most shaped his distinct, almost-whispered vocals and gentle acoustic guitar.

With a father in sales, a mother in social work and a sister in business, he is the first in the family to take a creative route. "I'm the black sheep I guess, but I wasn't treated that way. It was more: 'Wow, where did this guy come from? Where did he get this creative energy?' They always told me I could do whatever I wanted, and made me believe it, so that's what helped me to keep an open mind and think: 'Well I'm 29, I'm going to become a musician'."

Some might consider him lucky to have made it so quickly in an industry dominated by young newcomers, but Radin says: "I did spend 10 years as a starving artist, writing and doing all sorts of things trying to express myself."

'Simple Times' is out on 14th Floor Records

Last updated: 11:47am, May 6 2010