Josh Krajcik has a motto. It’s done him more harm than good, with one important exception – it influenced his decision to go on The X Factor. His motto is “f*ck it.” He turned 30 and decided he might as well try out for the reality TV singing competition. He beat out a quarter-million people to finish second and scored a record deal from BMG, a major label.
He’s dubious of people who emerge from shows like The X Factor. He understands the skepticism. He thinks it’s weird that he was on it. He wonders if people in the Columbus music scene are cool with him being on the show. It’s a hip scene here, and reality TV contests are not hip. “Do I wish that I could have gotten this level of success by touring and organically selling records and being super cool, you know what I mean? Hell yeah! But it’s not the world that we live in anymore.”
Being from Ohio helped him. He’s from Wooster, a city of less than 30,000 people when he was born. The CEO of BMG told him that a lot of stars come from small towns. His response: growing up in a small town makes you naïve to the fact that you really have no shot. “When you grow up in Ohio you say, ‘I can f*cking conquer the world.’ And you don’t know any better. And that’s a plus because if you do know how f*ckin’ shitty it really is, how hard it is, then you just don’t try.”
He looks different than other pop acts, and he thinks his appearance has helped him. People have told him throughout his career that they didn’t expect that voice out of his body. “It’s always been sort of a bonus for me that I don’t sound the way that I look. You know, if somebody listened to me they’d say, ‘Oh, you sound like a 50-year-old black man.’”
He has a chip on his shoulder about his appearance. To be more specific, he has a chip on his shoulder about the fact that people emphasize it, particularly the national media while he was in the spotlight. He often deflects his discomfort with humor. A bee momentarily attacks him at our table on the patio at Jimmy V’s in Grandview. He addresses the bee: “I’m not a flower, dude. I know I’m pretty as one.”
It’s harder for him to sell sex than it is for the rest of the industry, but he’s comfortable with that. “Any time that the quality of music goes down, it seems that the sexiness of the pop stars goes up.” Appearance matters in the music industry more than it used to. His appearance holds him back as much as it helps him.
Sometimes he contradicts himself.
He loves Columbus. He missed it while he was gone. When he’s on the road, he loves seeing Columbus products like Watershed liquor on the shelves. He can relate to competing on a national scale. He thinks there are other acts here – Mount Carmel, Nick Tolford & Company, Dr. Kenny Delicious, The Floorwalkers, The Wet Darlings – that could compete nationally as well.
“I had big aspirations that I would bring attention to Columbus, but it didn’t really work that way. Obviously I wasn’t famous enough, big enough of a success for that to work.” He thinks Columbus’s lack of a musical identity presents problems for local bands to break nationally.
His major label debut, Blindly, Lonely, Lovely, sold more than 15,000 copies and 200,000 digital tracks. “To me that’s f*cking amazing. To the industry, maybe not so much.” He would have liked to sell 100,000 records, but he still calls it a success. He has fans in 46 countries now.
He likes gin. Gin and tonics mostly, or Negronis sometimes. But on the patio at Jimmy V’s, he’s drinking pints of hard cider, each mixed with a shot of Goldschläger. (Really? Goldschläger? I wish he was drinking gin. But he settles my tab without mentioning it while I’m in the bathroom, so I should probably shut up.)
He feels like he should say yes to commercial offers. Because most of the time his first instinct is to say no. He has pride, and there’s another chip on his shoulder because he came from a TV show, and he has the typical hang-up of wanting to be taken seriously as an artist. Saying no would help. But when it comes to commercials he’ll consider anything – booze, diapers, tampons – anything.
“This whole sellout notion is ridiculous because we’re musicians – this is our trade. Same as if we were carpenters. You wouldn’t call a carpenter a sellout if he gets a big contract to build a beautiful mansion. It’s another avenue for musicians to make what little money there is available for the actual artists these days.” He thinks art for art’s sake is a discredit to artists – he wishes universities would teach kids how to be commercially viable.
He has a girlfriend of 10 years, Megan, and a 15-year-old daughter, Rowan. He feels more pressure to say yes because of them. It also makes navigating social media more difficult. He’s a brand, and great brands are built online now. His management and fans want him to tweet about his personal life, for example about watching a play with his daughter, but he has a thing about that. “I don’t wanna tell [fans] like, ‘I’m with the love of my life and my cat and we’re grilling.’ Like, that’s none of your f*cking business.” Then he laughs and says he needs to get better at it.
He’s said ‘no’ to a lot of things since he did the show. One was a weight-loss supplement promotion. He was offered a lot of money, “which at the moment would be nice.” He said no because he wouldn’t want his daughter to take it. She’s his first consideration when he evaluates offers, and if it makes him uncomfortable for her sake, then he says no, regardless of the dollar signs attached.
Megan saved his life. He was a self-destructive asshole at 24. He’s 33 now, and more mature, and if all this business with the TV show and the attention and the album happened when he was 24, he’d probably be dead. He was playing around Columbus a lot then, enjoying the attention, making money, but hating himself all the while. He was in a dark place. Megan taught him to love himself again – or at least to like himself again. He still has those self-destructive tendencies sometimes, but less often.
He’s detached. He loves Columbus, and his Grandview neighborhood, and his hangout Jimmy V’s, but what he missed most about the city – gigs at his favorite local venues – he still misses. He used to play shows two or three times a week. Now promoters only want him to play this market once a year so he can sell out, maximize his value. “One of the worst things about my marginal success is that there’s a disconnect from me and the scene, but I never felt like I really fit in with the scene to begin with. I don’t know, for whatever reason, I never had much success here in Columbus.” He thinks this scene can be really tough. And he regrets not being a bigger part of it. Being more of a presence elsewhere means he’s less present here. He’s on an island.
He wrote Avicii’s new single, “Addicted to You.” He co-wrote it with Mac Davis, and then the Swedish EDM artist took it and put his spin on it. “I’ve got my fingers crossed on that because if it gets radio play I actually see pennies from heaven into my mailbox.” He gets a lot of joy out of writing for other artists, and he recently wrote a song for an undetermined female country musician.
Right now he’s spending most of his days writing. He worked with professional songwriters for the first time while making the last album. He managed to retain control of the process by reading a poem to start sessions or by opening himself up to them. He also learned to be less self-indulgent, to edit himself more. The last record featured the big production he’d always dreamed of having – strings recorded at Abbey Road – but he’s thinking the next one should be more stripped down and organic. He’s a songwriter, and he hopes the songs speak for themselves.
His ambitions remain the same – he wants to reach as many people as he can. “That’s a really humble way of saying I wanna be a huge success.” He laughs.
Musicians don’t need major labels to do well anymore, but it makes things easier, and he wants to be heard. He wants to compete on a national level. “I don’t think Ed Sheeran is any better than I am, you know what I mean? Oh, I think he’s great, nothing against him, but I can compete. I can compete with that. You know, he’s no better looking than I am. We’re both weird lookin’ dudes.” He laughs again. “Let’s do this.”
Like the man said, you only get a few chances to see Krajcik in his hometown, so head on out to the Village Green in Worthington on June 14. For more, visit www.joshkrajcik.com.