INTERVIEW: Josie Dunne finds heart in nostalgia

Josie Dunne interview
Photo Credit: Bree Marie Fish

Raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, Josie Dunne had a specific idea of who she wanted to become. With dreams of making a name for herself in the music industry, she put in years of work to make her unique vision for her artistry a reality. Building an impressive background in Nashville songwriting and an organic love for soul and Motown music, Josie took the time to develop her own blend of the sounds she grew up loving. Her deeply rooted influences are instantly recognizable amidst pop sensible melodies and bright lyricism.

After being introduced to Stevie Wonder’s music by her mom at a young age, Josie continued researching on her own and found herself completely enamored with the heart of soul music. Growing up in the early 2000s, she simultaneously found passion for the bubblegum pop that was bursting onto the scene. “I think in pop, a lot of times it gets bad rep for being surface level and I wanted to always include something that had authenticity and heart and a little bit of grit— just emotion in the song,” she says.

Through her parents’ openness to music of any genre, Josie found artists that helped craft her own appreciation for the nostalgia of both eras of music. “My parents weren’t playing this cool underground music, so I would listen to like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles and then I would go and listen to Britney Spears and Aaron Carter,” says Josie. “There was something that I loved so much about both, this tight in-a-box pop music that is undeniably catchy but also this raw, really emotional, or just makes you groove music.”

Josie’s own music delivers the warmth of nostalgia with references to classic films or the instrumentation of a bright trumpet (that she brings out for live performances) while also incorporating lyrics that feel instantly relatable today. Striking the perfect balance of nostalgia with the concise, cut-to-the-feeling lyricism of pop music, Josie has become a pro at crafting pop music with heart.

Her latest single, “Ooh La La,” highlights Josie’s affinity for classics, namedropping cultural icons Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. While Josie has never actually said “ooh la la” to a potential love interest, she loves the challenge of crafting unique songs out of relatable situations. “I like finding a way to say the sentiment of that while also making it what you would actually say,” says Josie. “I always want that warm feeling because I feel like that brings the soul element without it being like real old-timey.”

Earlier this year, Josie released the single “Same,” a track that she jokingly calls “the most millennial song ever.”  Setting the scene of a pair casually grocery shopping on a Friday night, Josie’s songwriting chops stand out as she expertly turns a simple retelling of events into a modern romantic love song. The lyrics tell the story of a boy’s confession of love with the response being a nervous “same” from the narrator. Behind the relatable quality of her lyrics, Josie put in the time to develop her skills as a writer in her own right.

As she was finishing high school, she was also spending time in Nashville working as a songwriter. She managed to lock a publishing deal with Warner Chapel and had the coveted opportunity to join in on songwriting sessions alongside household names like Nathan Chapman. Garnering writing credits on tracks for Kelly Clarkson and YouTuber Jacob Sartorious, she was gaining on the job experience that would help shape the direction of her own artistry.

Her sharp songwriting skills are easily recognizable through the tracks on her debut EP To Be The Little Fish, which came out just last year. Songs such as “Old School” and “Saying Goodbye” nod to her inspirations while also delivering authentic sentiment. Eager to take what she learned the first time around, Josie is back to writing and recording sessions for her upcoming EP, due out sometime this fall.

For now, Josie is heading out on the road for a string of summer tour dates. She recently kicked off the tour opening for indie-pop artist Phoebe Ryan in New York City. Her versatile sound has allowed her to fit right in opening for artists across the board in genre, such as Kesha, Ben Rector, Andy Grammer, and Julia Michaels.

“All in a couple of months, I’ve opened for all these different artists and it’s been fun because I get to see completely different shows. I feel like I’ve gotten to take away little bits of each,” says Josie. “There are so many ways to do a show and the way that all of the people that I’ve opened for do it are all so wildly different so trying to find a way to blend everything in a way that feels like me is hard, but it’s been an amazing challenge.” She is constantly pulling inspiration from the artists with whom she has shared the stage as she develops a stage presence that is uniquely her own.

With pure enthusiasm for not just her own music but also in cover tracks like Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” Josie brings unparalleled energy to the stage. As she heads out on the road for the rest of the summer, we eagerly await the release of her next body of work later this year, which will be, of course, authentically Josie Dunne.