Meet Joshua Popejoy

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Joshua Popejoy never fails to capture the attention of an audience, whether he is playing solo, in an acoustic trio, or with his five-piece band. His music balances the difference between indie and mainstream, singer-songwriter and pop radio, to create a propulsive brand of melodic acoustic rock.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Joshua grew up in a musical family — his mother is a pianist and vocal music teacher. He began to learn how to play piano "about the time I was old enough to sit upright," and by high school he knew that he was supposed to make his living playing music.

However, it wasn't the piano or the guitar that captured the bulk of his attention — it was the trombone, which became the concentration of his music performance degree in college.

It wasn't until he was on his way to college that he first picked up a guitar, inspired by radio hits of Dave Matthews Band and Matchbox 20, as well as classic songs by Dylan, Young, and Cash. While honing his skills on the trombone he continued to cover his favorite songs on guitar, until he finally wrote his first original in 2002.

"I never had the motivation to write a song before then," he muses. "My fiancee had left me for my best friend, and I wrote 'This Big House.' Songwriting became very therapeutic. I had always improvised on piano, but only instrumentally.

"As I kept writing, the therapy of songwriting turned into a true enjoyment."

Equipped with his bachelor's degree and a burgeoning catalog of songs, Joshua made the move to Philadelphia in 2004, where he began to build his reputation as a confident, compelling performer. He combines the poise of his classical playing with the charm of a rock front-man to create a charasmatic on-stage persona. Calm and in-control on softer songs, on huge crescendos like typical set-closer "Surrendering" he seems as though he might shake loose from the stage.

Once he established himself in Philly he started to assemble a band, expanding from a solo songwriter to a duo with cellist Andrea Weber.

If a classically trained cellist seems like a strange fit for a rock band, Joshua certainly doesn't disagree. "I considered having a cellist on a couple of songs," he recalls. "My first rehearsal with Andrea, I started playing a song I didn't have in mind for cello, and she started playing the perfect part. After that, I wanted her to play on everything."

Andrea's widely varying style is perfectly in tune with Joshua's eclectic approach to guitar arrangements. In some instances she holds the low-end space of a rich, bowed bass, while in other places she is a lead guitarist, shredding through a killer solo. "I didn't want a cellist that just played long and pretty — I wanted one who could play lead lines and improvise. Andrea exceeded my every expectation."

Next he added drummer Jeff Metcalf, equally at home on a single djembe or a full kit. Or, as Josh relates, a paint bucket.

"I met Jeff through a mutual friend. We were all drinking together, and I started playing guitar. Jeff picked up a five gallon bucket, turned it upside down, and started playing. Maybe it was the state I was in, but I thought it was the best damned five-gallon-paint-bucket drumming I'd ever heard."

Joshua's music shatters the bland singer-songwriter mold. He's unafraid to inject an infectious pop hook or an infinitely repeatable chorus — as on "Just One Thing," the irresistible single from his EP. The pop in Joshua's music shines through due to the power of his soaring vocals and a signature guitar style that combines aerobic riffs and unusual chord voicings with ringing open strings.

"There is a lot to be said for having a catchy hook that gets stuck in your head. I think pop artists get such a bad rap. Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears — sometimes you just have to get past the production of the song to hear the fantastic songwriting."

After recording his debut EP, Runway Lights, Joshua added bassist Mark Weigel and Jamie Capatch on tenor saxophone and flute to fill out his band to five members. Still, each tune easily pares down to a trio format with Jeff and Andrea, or solo with Joshua live and acoustic.

Both in the trio and solo, Joshua employs an innovative pedal board that combines distortion, wah pedals, and octave shifters with the ability to record loops — enabling him to craft a full band arrangement with just his guitar in less than a minute. A gimmick for other musicians, Joshua uses loops as an opportunity to explore the spaces in his songs, layering bass lines, percussive rhythms, guitar solos, and atmospheric sounds reminiscent of U2's Edge.

Joshua has already played to audiences most indie rockers only dream of — except, as a trombonist in a symphony, rather than a front man. "I've played in an symphony orchestra at the Philly Convention Center. The Kansas City Music Hall. I played in claustros and temples in Madrid."

As he lists other locales his voice is neither starstruck or jaded, but appreciative and respectful. "Orchestral music has some of the most genius writing in existence. But at the end of the day, I am one part of a 90-person 'band' — I'm required to interpret my part how the conductor sees fit."

"I still love the symphonic stage, but there is something liberating about being able to play my own songs, however I want, in whatever order I please. It really gives a balance to my musical life."

It's that balance — between classical and modern, solo and band, rock and pop — that makes Joshua Popejoy Philadelphia's most radio-ready independent artist.