Whether you know him from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series or the "Drivers License" drama, it's clear that Joshua Bassett is just getting started. In anticipation of his self-titled EP finally coming out, Joshua hopped on a Zoom call with BuzzFeed to talk about what it was like behind-the-scenes to make the record, his dream collaborators, and what he really thinks about all the fan theories.
What’s the first album you bought?
I'm going to get in so much trouble for this — I don't know if I've ever bought an album. I'm the worst? [Laughs]. Yeah, I really wish I had like a cool answer for you, but I grew up in the streaming world.
Who’s your dream collaborator?
Harry Styles, hands down. I mean, who doesn't want to work with Harry Styles? I think he's amazing. Also, Adele or Ed Sheeran — any of those guys would be pretty cool.
Who's an artist you’re loving right now?
I've been obsessed with Miley Cyrus's new album [Plastic Hearts]. Like, obsessed with it. It's so good, start to finish. I've also been listening to a lot of Japanese disco — it's actually a really underrated genre. I was on set filming for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2, and Dara [Reneé], who plays Kourtney, was playing some some Japanese disco music. She showed me that world, and I've been just listening to it nonstop.
BF: Every time someone says High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, it puts a smile on my face.
Joshua: Funny, because it used to be such a ridiculed title. When they announced it, people were like, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" And now everyone's like, "It's my favorite name of a show!" Well, there you go.
Have you had a moment where you’ve been starstruck or a total fan?
Tim Robinson, he did the show I Think You Should Leave on Netflix. I am obsessed. It's a sketch comedy show, it's so stupid, it's ridiculous. I was in a coffee shop and he was there — I really have never lost it like that. I was freaking out. I just went up and like shook his hand and was like, "Oh my gosh, me and my friend quote your show every other second of the day."
BF: Good on you for going up. I always worry that it's not actually the person — so I just awkwardly stare at them.
Joshua: It is better than taking a video of them secretly, and them realizing that you're taking a video. That's the worst.
BF: I almost don't know what would be worse: People just filming you and taking photos of you everywhere you go without saying anything, or very obvious [paparazzi] cameras.
Joshua: I honestly think it's worse — the first one. There are plenty of times where paparazzi has gotten photos of people where they didn't realize, but everyone's paparazzi now. It's such a weird world.
Describe your EP, Joshua Bassett, in three words.
Honest — dude, self-assessment's tough! Melodic, I guess? Paul McCartney–esque, that's a word. Then the third word would be homemade, yes. A lot of it feels very hands on. I don't know, man, that's like 15 words.
BF: I like that you used the word homemade, because you're a multi-instrumentalist, right?
Joshua: Yeah, I played three instruments, at least, in each song.
BF: One thing that I find interesting is that sometimes, with multi-instrumentalists, just singing can be the hardest thing to do — because, in a lot of ways, it's the most vulnerable.
Joshua: Yeah, it's so weird. I can play a song perfectly when I'm playing the guitar and singing it. And then the second it's just vocals, it's like...yeah, so strange how that works. But I would say my favorite [instrument] fluctuates between guitar and piano.
What’s your favorite lyric on the EP?
[Sings] "I'm sure that you're hurting inside / Why would you make your pain mine? / You're making me pay for your cries."
"Why would you make your pain mine?" is such a strong line to me, because it's so real. Often, people hurt other people when they're hurting. It's never that somebody's perfectly peaceful and happy and they want them to wish harm on somebody else. But just because you're hurting, doesn't mean you have to make me hurt as well. Why would you project your hate onto me?
This past year has been really rough and weird. How has it affected your songwriting and recording process?
I recorded almost the entirety of the EP over Zoom. So it literally changed the whole recording game for me.
Writing is kind of the same. I basically write in my room most of the time, or the car. You were right when you said "weird," because I think that we're still figuring out what last year was and [this year] is, turning into 2021. We're in it right now, so everyone's trying to make sense of it — but it's pretty hard to make sense of it while you're in the middle of it. It's been a strange year, but, you know, you make do — and ultimately, I got this EP out of it, so I can't be too mad.
What’s your favorite memory from recording?
For "Heaven Is You," I did a bunch of background vocals. That was super fun, to stack it. I think I cut the vocals like eight times, I was just not happy with it. It wasn't feeling right, and once I finally got it, I was like, "Oh, okay, great." That's the best thing in the world, when you really finally feel like you nailed it.
BF: I've noticed a lot of creatives have had their motivation lie on a scale recently — from "I don't want to do anything" to "I'm going to Taylor Swift it and just release a ton of stuff" and utilize the downtime that some people have been afforded right now. Do you know where you would lie on that scale?
Joshua: First of all, that's such an accurate observation. I've had the same observation. It's just interesting, how certain people in general have really benefited from this, have really grown a lot — and a lot of people have kind of fallen in a bit of a pit. I will honestly tell you, I'm absolutely both of those people. I have gone up and down. I'm grateful to the people in my life who have been patient with me while I go through my ups and downs.
BF: Do you feel like you just have to ride out those waves and wait for them to pass? Or is there something you do in particular to inspire yourself and get yourself back in that headspace?
Joshua: I haven't quite figured out my method for doing that. It is important to me to change it up every once in a while — go on little road trips with my friends, or there's a studio in Joshua Tree that I go to a lot to record.
Are there any Easter eggs, perhaps lyrically or production-wise, on the EP that people might not notice at first?
There were overlapping lyrics in there — you'll hear a lyric in one song and then three songs later, you'll hear a similar lyric. A lot of the sounds in "Sorry" are just me and my friend Dallas [Caton], who produced it, just hitting random things and saying random things in the mic, and then EQing them.
While listening, I noticed that there appeared to be a theme of betrayal that runs through the EP — I’m thinking of songs like “Only a Matter of Time” and “Telling Myself.” Can you talk about what inspired those songs?
"Telling Myself" was a song I wrote roughly two years ago at this point. That one was about when you get out of a relationship, and you're sort of looking back on it, and you're like, was this really what we thought it was? Is it just that we're telling ourselves that this was good, when it was really not good? It's more reflective, and less about betrayal.
I think there's a lot of truth in all the songs. Ultimately, I don't want to put too much of my reality into the narrative — because I think the cool thing about it is that people can interpret it in their own way and apply it to their lives. So, I'm almost a little bit hesitant to give too much information about it, because I feel like it should be its own thing and be what people make of it.
If you could get one person to listen to your EP, who would it be and why?
Harry Styles, because I respect his opinion and I would just love to have him take a listen and let me know what he thinks.
You wrote “Lie Lie Lie” around two years ago. If I were to listen to the first time you played through the song versus what we hear on the record, what would be different?
When I first wrote it, I didn't have the guitar part where I go all the way up the guitar and do these different weird chords. I just kept fine-tuning it. There are three verses that nobody will ever hear of that song that are completely different — and each time, I learn something. I would be curious to listen back, I honestly probably don't even realize the ways it's evolved. I listened to "Sorry," the video that I posted on Instagram a year ago, and I evolved so much from that — the way I sing and everything.
BF: I'm an amateur musician, I just do it for fun, but I wrote a song about an ex a couple years ago and it's weird still playing it now — I do not feel any of these things anymore, but it's immortalized. I'm wondering if you've had a similar shift in perspective toward your songs?
Joshua: I think that's the interesting thing about songs, is that they are time capsules — but at the same time, over time, the meaning changes. I write it about a situation, and then a year later there's something similar going on, and I'm like, "Wow, this is crazy, now this song totally means this."
Also, you said you're an amateur musician that does it for fun. I'm an amateur musician who does it for fun! I'm telling you, I don't know anything about music. I'm totally faking my way through all this.
“Telling Myself” gave me “Physical” by Olivia Newton John vibes — was that one of your inspirations? Or, alternatively, "Prisoner" by Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa?
It's funny, I posted a clip on my TikTok and I was hearing that — literally, until people said that, I never thought of "Prisoner" or "Physical." No, those were not inspirations for the track. It is really just a coincidence. I think it's pretty funny how that all turned out.
So, Sabrina Carpenter is listed as a songwriter on “Heaven Is You” — is it safe to assume that this was the duet that you cut?
I mean, we wrote "Heaven Is You" while we were making "We Both Know." We did have harmonies and sang it as a duet, but I think it was pretty clear from the beginning that it was going to be a solo song. So, there was never really any plan for that to be a duet, but, I mean, it always could be a duet!
BF: It’s a very romantic song. What was it like working with her?
Joshua: It was super fun. She's an incredible songwriter, and just an absolute gem. So, the fact that we were able to also work on another song outside of "We Both Know" was super awesome, and I'm really grateful to have gotten that song.
Are you tired of being asked about the “Drivers License” drama?
No, I mean, I get it. I get why people are asking about that stuff — but it doesn't really get to me. It's kind of amusing at this point. Even like the SNL stuff, that's hilarious to me. People were so worried about me — and I'm like, dude, I'm honored that SNL is making fun of me! I'm also just proud of her and the success that her song is having. I really couldn't be mad at the situation.
What advice would you give to young people trying to get involved in the music industry now?
That's a great question. I'm still trying to get involved in the music industry, I don't know all the answers to that. But if I could give my younger self some advice, it would be: Don't be afraid to trust your vision, and don't be afraid to collaborate, you can have both.
Always go with what you love. You have to be the best advocate for it and you have to give it your best shot. Always hang on to those songs or those projects that are speaking to you, that's what it's all about. This whole world that we are in of going viral, getting this many streams — the people who made the most iconic, the best music ever made, made it because they loved it. That's the only way to do it, is if you love what you're doing and you really don't care what other people think. Even if you make 10 albums that nobody listens to, and the 11th album is the one that goes off, you've done it — but you're never gonna get to that 11th one until you do the first 10 albums. Lots of answers in one, but that's what I would say!
Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?
That's a big question. I don't even know where I see myself tonight! I'm going to keep working at it, I'm going to keep making music. I'm working on my next album now. I don't have, like, a five-year plan, but I'm gonna keep putting my best foot forward and do everything I can, and enjoy it while I do it.
Thanks for chatting with us, Joshua. You can listen to his self-titled debut EP, out now, here.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.