Musician and songwriter Josie Dunne joins us to talk about singing to herself under the covers, teaching Justin Bieber songs to children, and being a little fish in a big pond.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves.
Today we had a chat with Josie Dunne, a 21-year-old Nashville transplant by way of Chicago, Illinois. Josie is not only an incredibly talented singer, but she is also a multi-instrumentalist and an extremely gifted writer. Josie hails from a creative family of dancers, painters, graphic designers and actors. Early on, she knew music was her path and began flying to Nashville every month during high school for writing sessions.
While there, she wanted to capture the Motown-era music of her childhood, proving that soul music could feel cool again. Her sound blossomed into what could be described as an alchemy of Meghan Trainor, Duffy and Corinne Bailey Rae. The long short of it, is her music is about being authentic and real.
When Josie came by the Atlantic Podcast Studios, we talked about that feeling. Josie’s debut single, “Old School,” is out now, and her debut EP drops later this year.
Tom Mullen: So, do you remember your first favorite song?
Josie Dunne: Yeah, it was “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. That was the first song I ever sang in front of anybody.
Tom Mullen: What was it on? Was it on a 7-inch? Was it a record?
Josie Dunne: No, my parents weren’t that hipster. We were just on – probably a CD, honestly, or just the MP3, we probably had iPods at that time.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. No records. I should take that out if there’s a certain age of someone, I’ll be like, I won’t mention a record anymore.
Josie Dunne: No, they’re cool now. I collect records.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song you memorized?
Josie Dunne: Yeah, it was “How to Save a Life” by The Fray.
Tom Mullen: Okay.
Josie Dunne: It’s so random. But I had the-
Tom Mullen: How come?
Josie Dunne: My brother printed the lyrics for some reason, and it was the only time that I had ever seen lyrics printed out. So, I just learned them.
Tom Mullen: Did you recite it anywhere?
Josie Dunne: I probably just sang it to myself. I was really shy, so I just sang in my bedroom under my covers.
Tom Mullen: Under your covers?
Josie Dunne: I didn’t want anyone to hear me at all.
Tom Mullen: How come?
Josie Dunne: I was super shy. I was not the music girl until middle school. Which, for a lot of people is a late bloomer. I know so many people that – they’ve done it since they were four.
Tom Mullen: I think you’re right on track. Don’t worry.
Josie Dunne: Thanks.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song or album you remember buying?
Josie Dunne: Yes. It was Avril Lavigne’s … I can’t remember what the record was called, but it was the one with “Complicated.” That was probably the second song I knew every word to.
Note: The album is “Let Go.”
Tom Mullen: Really?
Josie Dunne: Yeah. That was my first own record, which is so random, but I love Avril Lavigne.
Tom Mullen: Is there a specific song of yours that you felt took you to the next level of writing? Like, after finishing it being like: “All right, now I know some more pieces.”
Josie Dunne: It was probably “Old School,” which just so happens to be the first single. That was the first time that I came out of the session and went: “Oh my gosh, this is it, this is the sound.” It really, I think, musically felt like a representation of who I was.
Tom Mullen: Is there a musical influence of yours that someone would be surprised about?
Josie Dunne: Probably, a musical influence of mine that people would be surprised about would be … I really like a lot of rap. Notorious B.I.G. is my favorite rapper and I listen to him a lot. I’m saying the most random range of music right now.
Tom Mullen: Not at all.
Josie Dunne: I love Biggie Smalls, because the groove feels so cool, you just feel cool when you’re listening to his music. So, yeah, that would probably be an influence of mine that people would be surprised about.
Tom Mullen: I like that one. When you’re recording a song, are you picturing anyone or a specific audience listening to it?
Josie Dunne: I always try and picture what I would like if I was in middle school or high school, what I’d want playing at a birthday party or at the block party, or something. Music that people can have fun to, I think that’s always what my goal is.
Tom Mullen: And then, what visuals do you want them to have in their head?
Josie Dunne: What visuals do I want them to have in their head? Probably, if you’re listening to my music I hope that you are thinking about … I love color. So, super colorful whatever it is and probably, hopefully a fish tank. I’m really into marine biology so, maybe a fish tank.
Tom Mullen: I like that.
Josie Dunne: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: What’s the most recent song you discovered and had to share with your friends immediately?
Josie Dunne: It would be “Love You Like That” by Dagny. It’s such a good song.
Tom Mullen: What about it?
Josie Dunne: The harmonies are so cool on the chorus because all of the melody comes from the harmonies. And so, it’s just a really unique song. It feels so big. It’s like a lot of the Bleachers stuff too, I was so obsessed with the Bleachers record when it first came out because it just feels so big and anthemic, which is so fun.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs in public?
Josie Dunne: Yeah. It would have been-
Tom Mullen: Even in another room, kind of thing, of hearing something you did-
Josie Dunne: It’s weird. A lot of times I’ll walk around the offices at Atlantic or Warner and they will be playing my music in the different rooms and that’s pretty weird.
Tom Mullen: That counts.
Josie Dunne: Yeah, okay, that counts. They’re paid to listen to my music.
Tom Mullen: So, it felt weird?
Josie Dunne: Yeah, it felt weird. It felt definitely weird. It will be a really weird thing if I ever hear myself on the radio or TV, or something. That will be a really weird thing.
Tom Mullen: And awesome.
Josie Dunne: (Agreeing) And awesome.
Tom Mullen: When you listen to other people’s songs, what first connects with you?
Josie Dunne: It would be the lyrics first probably. I think, creatively developing in Nashville, you grab such an appreciation for songwriting and telling a story. So, the lyrics definitely are usually the most important thing to me.
Tom Mullen: You said that you’d spent some of your days teaching music lessons, correct?
Josie Dunne: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: What’s a song that you would bust out to let the kids know you were cool?
Josie Dunne: We always started learning the song “Baby” by Justin Bieber. That was just the easiest. It’s a pretty simple song.
Tom Mullen: Totally.
Josie Dunne: Or “One Less Lonely Girl,” too we did. That was the first song we learned all the time and that was usually what they liked to play. But I always wanted my students to play the music that they liked to play, because that was how I learned piano was [by] playing The Beatles. So, it was music that I wanted to play. And so, it kept me interested in it. So I’d always have them, a lot of the girls would want to learn Taylor Swift or Katy Perry.
Tom Mullen: But if that’s what they want to learn and then they go create, even better.
Josie Dunne: Yeah, exactly. That’s what you should be teaching them, I think.
Tom Mullen: Putting those songs together and thinking about it from that bigger view of not just one place of lost love, but maybe a documentary or something like that.
Josie Dunne: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: What’s something that you would want people to take away from the EP about learning?
Josie Dunne: It would definitely be … The title of the EP is “To Be the Little Fish,” and I got that because – really the meaning of it is – when you’re the little fish, you can hang out with the big fish and learn and grow from them and see how they got so big and how they are still alive. And so, then when you’re the bigger fish, the pool is only so big. So, you become stagnant because you just can’t learn from anything else and I think that was really how I viewed my development and also just how I view my life. I try to step into everything and learn a little something from somebody. Because if you’re learning, then you’re growing and becoming better, so that’s what it’s all about.
Tom Mullen: Great.
Josie Dunne: Yeah, thanks.
Tom Mullen: Great job.
Outro: Thanks to Josie Dunne for coming on What’d I Say. Find more about her at josiedunne.com. That’s J-O-S-I-E-D-U-N-N-E.com.
Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all the Atlantic Records podcasts at atlanticpodcasts.com. Thank you for listening.