Josh Ritter (born October 21, 1976) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist and author who performs and records with The Royal City Band. Ritter is known for his distinctive Americana style and narrative lyrics. In 2006 he was named one of the "100 Greatest Living Songwriters" by Paste magazine.
Ritter was born and raised in Moscow, Idaho, a college town in the northwestern part of the state. As a teenager, after hearing Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" on his parents' copy of Nashville Skyline, he attempted to write songs on a lute that his father had built, before abandoning the lute and buying his first guitar at K-Mart.
Ritter graduated from Moscow High School in 1995 and attended Oberlin College in Ohio to study neuroscience, but later changed his major to the self-created "American History Through Narrative Folk Music". At the age of 21 Josh recorded his first album Josh Ritter at a recording studio on campus. After graduating, Josh moved to Scotland to attend the School of Scottish Folk Studies for six months. Josh then moved back to Idaho for a few months, before moving to Providence, Rhode Island, then Somerville, Massachusetts, where he worked temporary jobs and played at open mic nights. During this time, Ritter sold copies of his album and was spotted by Glen Hansard and his band The Frames, who invited him to return with them to Ireland. As an early sign of his success to come, Ritter found on the trip to Ireland that his album sold particularly well at open mics there. With the money from merchandise sales, Ritter was eventually able to quit his day job and devote himself to music full-time.
A year and a half after recording Josh Ritter, Ritter recorded his second album Golden Age of Radio for $1000 and self-published it. The album was recorded in three different studios: Soundgun in Philadelphia, Electric Cave in New Hampshire, and a friend's basement studio. While promoting Golden Age of Radio, he met Jim Olsen, head of independent record label Signature Sounds, who offered to remaster and re-release the album after hearing Ritter play. The song "Me & Jiggs" was subsequently released as a single in Ireland, where Ritter was quickly becoming a word-of-mouth success, first opening for The Frames, then headlining his own shows. Ritter's third record, Hello Starling, produced by former Frames guitarist Dave Odlum, debuted at No. 2 on the Irish charts.
In 2003, Ritter shared top billing with the French Kicks at Sepomana, the annual music festival produced by WRMC 91.1 FM. Ritter and Ron Sexsmith headlined the Friday night singer-songwriter event at the Hotel Viking at the 2004 Newport Folk Festival. He also appeared at Oxegen 2005, and has headlined with artists such as Joan Baez, who later released her own version of Ritter's song "Wings" on her album Dark Chords on a Big Guitar. He was signed by a British label, V2 Records, in 2005 and Hello Starling was subsequently re-released. He began performing and touring in a crossover duo with the classical violinist Hilary Hahn in 2005.
In 2006, Ritter released his fourth album The Animal Years. 2006 also saw the release of Ritter's first full-length live album and DVD In The Dark - Live at Vicar Street which was recorded over two nights in May 2006. Ritter released his fifth album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, in 2007. Both The Animal Years and Historical Conquests received warm critical reception with Stephen King calling The Animal Years the best album of 2006 in his column for Entertainment Weekly. In support of Historical Conquests, Ritter appeared as a musical guest on such high profile television shows as Late Show with David Letterman in America and Later... with Jools Holland in Britain.
Ritter re-issued his second and third albums, Golden Age of Radio and Hello Starling, on April 7, 2009 and January 17, 2010, respectively. Each re-issued album was packaged as a two-disc deluxe edition. The deluxe editions contain both the original studio album as well as solo acoustic versions of all the original tracks, live and remixed bonus songs, and never-before-seen photos and artwork. The deluxe editions also feature liner notes written by Ritter fans, including Dennis Lehane and Cameron Crowe.
In Autumn 2009 Ritter toured with Love Canon String Band, where he reinterpreted his songs with a band composed of banjo, double bass, mandolin and guitar. This tour included three nights in Whelans Dublin, where he performed his albums Golden Age of Radio, Hello Starling, and The Animal Years in full. In 2009, Ritter also provided the soundtrack for the documentary film Typeface, by Kartemquin Films.
Ritter's sixth album, So Runs the World Away, was released April 23, 2010 in Ireland and May 4, 2010 worldwide. The vinyl version of the album had an earlier release on April 17, 2010 as a part of Record Store Day celebrations. The vinyl record came packaged with a CD version of the album as well. To promote the album before its release, Ritter made one of the songs, "Change of Time", freely available online. The song also appeared in the March 23, 2010 episode of the television series Parenthood and the trailer for the 2011 Natalie Portman film, The Other Woman. In support of the new album Ritter toured with his newly named The Royal City Band – starting with six dates in Ireland – including a sellout performance at the newly opened, 2100-capacity Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin, and continuing with an extensive tour of the United States. So Runs the World Away largely garnered positive reviews.
On February 15, 2011 Ritter reissued The Animal Years on vinyl and as a two-disc deluxe edition on CD. The deluxe edition contains both the original studio album as well as a solo acoustic version of the album. The bonus disc includes four b-side recordings, two videos, new artwork, and liner notes by author Tom Ricks.
During his early 2011 tour, Josh Ritter released an EP album of previously unreleased material from the So Runs the World Away recording sessions, titled To the Yet Unknowing World. Ritter began streaming the EP for free on his website as well as made it available for digital purchase on February 8, 2011. To the Yet Unknowing World hit Apple's iTunes and record stores February 15, 2011. In February 2011, Ritter and his band continued their extensive tour in support of So Runs The World Away touring America and Europe. During his European tour in April 2011, Ritter released his third live album, Live at The Iveagh Gardens. The limited edition two CD and one DVD set is a live recording of Ritter's performance of 21 songs at the Dublin venue on July 18, 2010.
Josh Ritter married Dawn Landes, a fellow musician, in Branson, Missouri on May 9, 2009. However, in a February 2011 interview with the Boston Herald, when asked about Dawn Landes, Ritter said "we've actually decided to split, which is hard, but is going to be better in the end." On November 11, 2012, Josh's current partner, author Haley Tanner, gave birth to their first child, Beatrix Wendylove Ritter. Tanner is the author of the book Vaclav and Lena. Tanner and Ritter own a home together in Woodstock, New York.
On November 22, 2009, Ritter played at a Benefit Concert at Moscow Junior High School in Moscow, Idaho for Jim LaFortune, an Earth Science teacher at the school struggling with a brain tumor. LaFortune was one of Ritter's teachers. Ritter attended the school from the 7th through the 9th grade.
Apart from music, Ritter also has an interest in writing. Ritter has claimed many different writers as influences on both his songwriting and fiction work. Some of his favorite authors are Flannery O'Connor, Philip Roth, and Dennis Lehane (who wrote the intro for the Deluxe Edition of Hello Starling). The title of Ritter's sixth album, So Runs the World Away, comes from a line in the third act of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ritter's own novel, Bright's Passage, was published by Dial Press on June 28, 2011. Ritter has said of the novel, "Besides my songs, Bright's Passage is the first [written] work I've wanted anyone to see". Ritter has said that "It's about a kind of sweet normal guy from West Virginia. He goes to the first World War and he comes back and he has an angel. And it's about him and this angel escaping this wildfire for five days. It's sort of this short little comedy".
Josh also has a cousin in Southern Oregon named Krista.
The Royal City Band
In 2010, Ritter's band members – some of whom had been performing with him from the early 2000s – were given the name "The Royal City Band" (a reference to the song "Thin Blue Flame" from The Animal Years).
Josh Ritter – Lead vocals, guitar
Zack Hickman – Bass, guitar, tuba, strings
Sam Kassirer – Piano, keyboards, organ, accordion
Austin Nevins – Guitar, lap steel, baritone
Liam Hurley – Drums, percussion