SALT LAKE CITY — Joshua Strauther, aka Joshy Soul, is a neo soul, vintage Motown singer — and he lives in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake might not have the soul heritage of, say, Detroit, but Strauther is working to change that one performance and album at a time. Fans can catch Strauther with his band, the Cool, Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the Gallivan Center as part of the Excellence in the Community Concert Series found in The Blocks, an initiative to promote emerging artists and establish downtown Salt Lake City as a premier cultural district.
Strauther grew up in California, but relocated to Utah for school. He took classes at Salt Lake Community College, private music lessons at the University of Utah and found a job that let him spend even more time with his passion.
"I came here to go to school and to music direct for a church to help out their worship (services) … ," Strauther said in a recent phone interview. "I was on staff for that for a while and I did their campus ministry, so I just came out here almost on an internship."
Once Strauther started writing his own songs, he found he needed a band to help perform them, and soon put together a group made from his school and music friends. Since forming, the Cool has performed across Salt Lake, although Strauther said finding a Salt Lake audience for soul music has taken some work.
" … I guess people are really supportive of it," he said, "but you have to make it happen. People weren't expecting soul to come out of Salt Lake City."
Although Strauther works to help soul find an audience in Utah, for him, the musical genre was a natural fit. He's been surrounded by soul and drawn to it long before he started teaching himself piano at age 18.
"I listened to records … my whole upbringing, especially at Christmas time we always played the same soul or Motown Christmas every year," he recalled. "My mom was a gospel organist so I was always around that kind of soul, gospel style my whole life."
For Strauther, soul music is all about celebration and he hopes people who attend his shows do just that.
"My favorite thing is when people are not so into themselves and worried about what people think, but (rather) when people really party and like really dance," he said. " … When people just try to be respectful, it isn't respectful at all."
Strauther has found that a certain reticence among concertgoers isn't particular to Salt Lake — it's everywhere. "People are either too cool or they're too nervous or they don't want to show they're having a good time," he said. " … It takes a while to get people going even if they're a huge fans. It's like a curse on them or something."
Strauther's biggest musical inspirations are Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Little Richard — all masters of soul. Some of their works helped inspire Strauther's "We're The Ones," which he considers the best song he's written.
"It's a lot about race and color and about unity," Strauther said. "It's about people and human rights and just the gathering of humans. All my heroes wrote songs that helped people, so I feel like I was able to do that with this song."
He also takes inspiration from genres other than soul, along with contemporary techniques and artists. Strauther said having a variety of inspirations helps him balance his vintage style with forming his own sound.
"I make (my music) sound old because that's what I like. … I don't use all old equipment, maybe some old mics, but then we do some things that are modern so it's a little bit more clean," he said. " … I don't want to just sound like the '60s or '70s — it has been done. It's nice … to kind of push the genre forward instead of keeping it in the '60s."
His 2016 album "Vintage Dreamin" perfectly illustrates this careful balance, and he's planning to release a new album soon, although he's not sure exactly when — "Maybe I drop it tomorrow or in like August. I don't know," he said. He does plan to release a few singles within the next few months.
When it comes to writing music, Strauther pulls a lot from a little. Often a single word or phrase is powerful enough to build his whole song around. "One of my songs on my record is just because I bought new shoes and I liked (them)," he said.
For his most recent single, "Rose of Wonder," Strauther drew inspiration from the Rose Establishment, one of his favorite cafés in Salt Lake. The song centers around seeing someone for the first time at a café.
"(It's) about imagining a lover as a rose," he said. "But in the sense of I don't know them yet, but I want to get to know them, so I'm kind of making up my own story almost like a dream. … That's who I am. I dream about romance."
If you go …
What: Excellence in the Community presents Joshy Soul and the Cool
When: Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main Street
How much: free