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Pete Josef – Defence EP

‘A statement about our humanity, and a call to reach far outside ourselves and deep within’

Pete Josef is an artist who uses his soulful eloquence to entertain, but he also increasingly uses his artistry to open up conversations about social consciousness. He has an inherent belief in the need to educate ourselves about issues regarding the environment, society, politics, race and gender. All of these have permeated into his musical output in recent years, and they come together as one on the Defence EP.

In the opening song, Utopia, Josef adds his voice to a growing number of UK artists hoping to inspire change.  It talks of “greenwashing” – the method by which businesses exaggerate their environmental credentials for financial gain, and how this trickles down to consumers.


“They doping ya, so be wise, be alive. Don’t look up, ya house is on fire.”

“…Gonna be the summer, the summer of our lives”

The ironic lyricism reflects on how we bask in high temperatures without questioning why these changes are happening, and the danger it poses to our future.

The song builds around a striking riff played on a 1960s Harmony guitar, and Miguel Andrews steady and strident groove.  The unison chorus reflects the community demanding change, and as the track builds momentum it becomes a juggernaut with a powerful mix of horns, percussion and voices.  Like many of the songs on the EP, the track has a retro and somewhat South American feel.  Picture the politically conscious Curtis Mayfield backed by Khruangbin and the Dap-Kings.

On Sunny Side Up, the often taboo topic of depression comes to the fore. Despite the bleak subject matter, it’s actually a song about the importance of having people around you to support you when you are struggling.  Pete admits to suffering from anxiety for much of his life, and cherishes having his family present when he feels unable to step up as a partner or parent; when he experiences that ‘hazy funk’ in the day-to-day. In many ways it’s a love song, or at least one of appreciation for the people who carry you through those moments in your life.

“Took a little while and it might take longer, god only knows.. But darling I try. I’m invested all ways. I just hit bumps in the road that I cannot evade.”

For the first time in a long while, Pete chose to perform all the instrumental parts on this track himself. A 1960s Harmony Sovereign provides the core, whilst minimal drums (recorded with one single mic) and Hofner vintage bass provide a groove reminiscent of stripped back 1970s Al Green productions. The result is something delicate and spontaneous – perfectly reflecting the shaky ground felt in the moment of conception. The track ebbs and flows between some surprising harmonic twists, later on bringing the Hammond organ to the fore and swelling to a dramatic climax, permeated by backing vocal arrangements and glimmering electric guitar.


On the next track, Carbon, Pete writes very personally, and for the first time, about the death of his brother.

It’s a simple and poignant guitar and vocal song that, on the one hand, mourns the loss of his brother Mark, but on the other, celebrates the idea that we will all return back to the land as part of the carbon cycle:


“Now you are carbon, in a beautiful field of green. Wake up in the morning, rise over the valley, in a place you call your own.”

Lost Yourself concerns itself with the battle with one’s ego and the danger of ‘believing your own hype’.


“Undecided. A soul divided. Where’s the realness that your essence has provided? You been playing to the crowd and now you lost yourself.”


It’s a sonorous, dreamy slow jam with a head nod groove and ethereal, twinkling Fender Rhodes, and although it’s hard to escape the early Stevie Wonder references on the track, it takes Pete Josef into a forward thinking sonic space, aligning with contemporary soul voices such as Leon Bridges and Michael Kiwanuka.


The sturdy hip hop back-beat on the recording is provided by drummer Greg Freeman, who sculpted the track with Josef, and the help of Ben Jason Cook (Rag n Bone Man), late into the night at the NAM studio in Wiltshire. The all-nighter session no doubt contributing to the drowsy feel of the track as the production builds from a solitary piano sample and Pete’s soporific vocal to a more orchestrated sound, complete with flugelhorns and improvised guitar from Snazzback’s Eli Jitsuto.


Finally, the title track, Defence is a song about rights and freedoms – the right to free speech, and by extension, the right of all people to self-determination. It’s also a desperate call for people to wake up, read and learn more, and not simply trust media rhetoric without scrutiny.


“So tell me brother where you find your freedom? These precious lines need defence. And if we arm ourselves and we learn, we could have a chance to pull it back again… But as long as we’ve our comforts, do we really want to see?”


The idea of defence applies across all of these songs, whether it be against climate change in Utopia, depression in Sunny Side Up, or narcissism in Lost Yourself.  Perhaps the singular exception to this is in Carbon, where Pete explores the idea of bringing down our defences and letting grief in.  It’s a moment of emotional release in an EP that says a lot about not only self-care, but caring for humanity and the planet as a whole.

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