When Josh Roach isn’t creating the latest and greatest apps and software, he can be found playing lead guitar for his band SunStone. With influences such as Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes, and Jethro Tull, the band embodies the old school rock-n-roll vibe with modern flair. SunStone’s debut album West of Wonder is available now on iTunes and sunstoneband.com. Josh takes a break from engineering and jamming to answer questions.
What compelled you to create SunStone and record your first album West of Wonder?
I’ve been a musician since I was seven years old. Although my day job is running a software company, creating algorithms, and designing large-scale systems, I had always wanted to create my own recording studio, where my creativity could come on my own terms and timeframe. The goal from the outset was to create a variety of songs, styles, and sonic stories that would fit thematically and stylistically onto an album. West of Wonder is simply 10 songs that fit well together, and I already have enough material for several more albums. The musicians I employed were able to listen to the basic tracks and help me with the layering – again, taking the time we needed without deadlines.
What inspired you during the writing process of West of Wonder?
My process is very iterative. I learn new material from various sources pretty much daily. Whether that’s mining from albums, online tablature, videos, guitar magazines and all the guitar books I have, the idea is to always learn from the best and synthesize it into ideas and ultimately into songs. All the songs start with either an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar foundation – usually with several sections. The musicians I used – Barry Dubis on keyboards, Jon Campos on vocals, and James Raub on drums and percussion are all so good, that they always enhance the songs with their input. I’ll even go back and completely rearrange material based on whether they’re enthusiastic or luke-warm about a certain section. Sometimes a section starts in one song, and I’ll take that section and place it in another song- because we all liked that particular section, but maybe not the entire song it came from. So you cut and paste to a certain extent, with an idea of ensuring a song has no glaringly mediocre parts. In terms of artists, I listened to a lot of the layering that Jimmy Page does, as well as bands as diverse as The Black Crowes, SoundGarden, Satriani and Vai, Van Halen, Jeff Beck, as well as English folk guitarists like Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. I can be listening to Van Halen for inspiration for one song, and Paul Simon or James Taylor for another. It’s always guitar oriented artists that I listen to. Someone like Elton John is a fantastic songwriter and musician, but he writes from the Piano perspective, whereas I write from the guitar, which is why I gravitate to, and mine ideas from other guitarists and bands.
Is there a song on West of Wonder that means more to you than the others?
I like a song to create atmosphere so certainly “Refuge” has that edge of melancholy to it. I tried to make them all stand on their own, and it was hard to distill down all the material and songs I have to just 10. But these were certainly my favorites at this stage.
Where did the name SunStone come from?
If you think about what the Earth really is – it’s just a large stone revolving around the sun. Large enough however to have been a place of far flung mystery to early explorers, and that’s where the ‘West of Wonder’ title comes from.
What bands influenced you most growing up?
I started out like most guitarists learning from musicians who were better than me, then moving from teacher to teacher as I progressed. In my earliest days, I was learning mostly simple songs, and barre chord based rock. Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Hendrix, ZZ Top – at least those songs I could handle. Later on you delve into different tunings – things like The Rain Song, or Bron Yr Aur, or the various slide guitar tunings. I graduated to some of the more fusion-based guitarists like Al Di Meola, Steve Howe and Steve Morse, although I don’t consider myself in their league, just something to aspire to someday. I also spend a lot of time on blues fingerpicking, although not a lot of that made it onto the album. I listen to a lot of jazz and classical, but I don’t actually play it much on guitar. So basically it’s bluesy rock, acoustic rock, and hard rock, with some progressive rock influences.
When did you start playing guitar?
I started around seven when a neighbor showed me some chords to “House of the Rising Sun”. Then I sought out some formal lessons. Once I got better than my first teacher, I moved on to a really great guitarist who was earning his PhD in music at a local University at the time, and he opened me up to a lot of theory and more complex chording and harmonies and some jazz and fusion guitarists. I’ve forgotten most of the theory, as I don’t worry much technique, I just look for ideas that resonate with me – whether a riff, chords, or the way various instruments work together to create something that grooves as a song.
You have had some very impressive titles at many successful companies. How do you find time to play music while simultaneously running a business?
Lots of late nights and weekends, plus I’ve been playing since I was a kid. You have to have the passion to create something, and you’ll find the time. Also, I worked on West of Wonder for three years, so it wasn’t like I went into a studio with a band for two months and emerged with the album.
Is it easier for you to create innovative software or write rock songs?
Creating software is very team oriented, sometimes with very large teams, and there’s a blueprint you follow – various methodologies that get it engineered and deployed. Music is totally different. I’m not on a project plan or schedule, as I don’t know when the muse will strike. I’m just mining for ideas. Sometimes I have three or four songs being worked on at once, sometimes just one. With music, I can never tell how long it’s going to take, whereas with software, there’s generally a project schedule.
Do you plan on writing another album?
Yes, I’ll continue to put out one album after another, although they’ll probably be at least two years between albums just because of the way I work with studio musicians and the time it takes to write material that you’re proud of.
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
First, write songs that I like to hear myself. Then provide those songs to a larger audience that will hopefully derive pleasure from them in their own way. It was never about making a lot of money off of it, because to do that you’ve got to tour, and I have a day job. So the motivation is about having others appreciate what you’re doing.