Josh T. Pearson is one of the most revered musicians to come out of Denton in the past 15 years, but you wouldn't know it by how often he plays there.
It's been more than a decade since Pearson, the leader of influential post-rock trio Lift to Experience, has performed in his hometown. “I just haven’t been asked,” says Pearson. But the timing of his return this weekend, opening for revered psych rock outfit Mercury Rev at Dan's Silverleaf, couldn't be better, with news coming last week that Lift to Experience will be reuniting this summer for the first time since their breakup in 2001.
Word of his appearance came days after news of the Lift to Experience reunion, which will coincide with the reissue of the band's seminal double album, The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads. “I only play shows when I’m asked, and no one cared enough, I guess.”
Such a scenario seems odd, given the near unanimous critical success of Pearson’s recorded body of work. But the only places where the critical hosannas and the cash registers have truly joined forces behind Pearson have been overseas. For as much enthusiastic ink was spilled over Lift to Experience and even his 2011 solo record, Last of the Country Gentleman, his audience in Europe has always dwarfed what he plays to in the States. Similar scenarios have played out for Midlake, another Denton band that’s seemed to cause a bigger splash across the pond than in most of its home country.
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“I can make a living over there, and I can't over here,” Pearson says, matter-of-factly. "I know that it's true the further away something is, the more romantic it seems. Like I said, I haven't played in Denton in over a decade because I haven't been asked, but the last time I played in London, there wasn't any advertisement and I played in a 1,000-seat place. The time before that, in 2011, it was a couple thousand... I do good over there, but I work that territory really well, and I lived over there for a few years."
As we talk, Pearson answers questions in a relatively straightforward manner, which is initially surprising. The two records he’s known for are filled with distorted, poetic tales of the apocalypse and spiritually tortured, meandering acoustic tunes filled with despair and pain. Neither style translates easily to cold logic, but more important, honesty is a common element that links Pearson’s art with his conversational manner during our interview.
Pearson, who has more or less abandoned listening to most rock records in favor of old country — or “gut music,” as he calls it — says he will focus on playing his country-inflected “acoustic-driven songs." Besides, he has toured with Mercury Rev before, many years ago in France. So in the spirit of clinging to the truth as he sees it, his songs, whether bombastic or not, all come “from a similar place.”
One of the major themes in Pearson’s songs, regardless of musical backdrop, is religious and spiritual torment. But, in his insightful way, Pearson, who counts himself as a “believer,” explains the chaos of internal emotional distress in a philosophically accessible manner — and it's nearly impossible to disagree with it in its simplicity.
“It should be hard,” he says. “That’s why they call it faith. Mystery is important in life. If you think you have it all figured out, that should send some red flags up. The most important things in life are difficult.”
In June, Pearson and his former bandmates, Andy Young and Josh Browning, will perform in London as a part of the prestigious Meltdown Festival in London. As for why Lift to Experience is reuniting now, after what surely must have been many requests to get the band back together in some fashion and perform songs from The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Pearson holds true to a fantastically clear philosophy forged from a less-than-clear past filled with pain and heartbreak.
“I haven’t listened to it for years,” he says of LTE’s one and only record. “And I haven’t been in the same room with both of the fellas since we separated. We’re getting older, and I’ve had a few friends die in the past year and a half, so it’s a wake-up call. If we’re ever going to do this again, let’s go out on a high note.”
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Pearson's last Denton gig was also an opening slot; he played before Explosions in the Sky in 2005. The symmetry displayed in this return appearance seems to fit with the deceptive simplicity Pearson exudes so well. Though “10 minute songs that never repeat themselves” are standard fare for Pearson shows these days, June's reunion will give Pearson and his fans a chance to revisit his vision of a Texan apocalypse with something simple, to the point and just plain cool.
“I am excited to rock again,” Pearson says.