Divorce sent me crazy but now I'm living t he dream
IT WAS "bleak winter" when Josh Ritter's 18-month marriage to fellow musician Dawn Landes came to an end in November 2010. The Idaho-born singer songwriter was on tour in Canada at the time.
As a result, their marriage ended with a phone call. It was, as Josh admits over tea in Brooks Hotel on Drury Street, a "ridiculously hard time".
"As soon as it all happened," he recalls, "my manager said, 'we can cancel these shows – don't worry about it, we'll figure it out'."
But Josh didn't want to cancel – he felt he'd only be letting himself down. Besides, the nights were always easier than the mornings, when Josh would wake up wondering if he felt any better.
After the tour wrapped up, he headed home to New York City. Life got harder. He realised that things weren't going to improve overnight.
"Oh, it was horrible," says Josh (36). "I had a great friend who gave me a place to stay. I wouldn't go back to my place.
"I tried a lot of things to distract myself. I drank way too much. I was just out on the town a lot ... " For the first time in a long time, Josh was a single man living in the world's greatest city. "I went to plays," he remembers, "I went to silent movies during the day. I did a lot of stuff by myself. I did stuff that I don't even remember, but I know it was fun ... "
It was also rough – one distraction after the other, perhaps, but the pain was still there.
As it should be, he agrees, when a relationship that you put everything into falls apart. There were times when he even contemplated suicide.
"Totally," he nods. "I just pictured myself in intersections, you know? Now, I realise that I had people who were watching me – who would know I was not doing good and would follow me out until they made sure that I was going where I was going. Those are good friends."
Indeed they are. They also helped him to move out of his place. "It was Thanksgiving and my parents were in town," he explains, "and we went to get the stuff out of my apartment. We had a bottle of Jameson – and it must have been 10.30 in the morning – we got all the stuff into the back of this truck and then stood there with my friends, and my father and my brother. We're not drinkers," he says, with a grin, "we drank it dry. It was a great moment."
Certainly, Josh isn't afraid to speak about his divorce. Occasionally, he looks back on some of the more dramatic emotional outbursts with a smile.
"It was me that wanted it," he insists. "It was me that said like, 'this is it'. And the reasons were typical and cliched, but very necessary. I remember coming back to New York and there being just this torrential rain and like, having it out one last time, and going out onto the street in the rain.
"It kind of makes me smile a little bit because it was like being in a movie. It was just heart-wrenching ... this awful moment when you feel like everything you believed is kind of burning down. But it seems almost funny to me now how like, over the top that whole set of emotions was."
Josh mentions some of the "crazy" things he did around this time. He went to town on a peculiar, second novel (the unfinished follow-up to his excellent debut, Bright's Passage). He also began jotting down ideas for his next record.
The Beast in its Tracks is the sound of a man who waited until the time was right to reflect on what was a huge life experience. A stark and, occasionally, sweet collection of folk songs, it's also a hell of a break-up album. "I think that's what I would have called it," he says. "I also think that most records are break-up records. I mean, something has to like, knock you sideways for you to have time to sit down and write."
It's not all heartache and anguish, though. In 2011, Josh met Haley Tanner, an American author. Haley's husband had died of cancer earlier that year. "She'd had a really rough go," says Josh, "and I think we really recognised it in each other."
Josh and Haley started a relationship. "She's such a cool person," he says, "and all I ever want is to see somebody who really enjoys what they do so you can like, share that kind of enthusiasm. She's great. I love her." Last year, Haley gave birth to the couple's first child, Beatrix. The family now live in Brooklyn together and Josh is well aware of how fast things have turned around. "She's awesome, man," he says of his daughter. "I'm living the dream."
The Beast in its Tracks is out now. Josh Ritter plays live at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin on Friday, July 19