Fans of Lily Allen and Kate Nash will love Josie Proto. The rising British artist artfully uses conversational storytelling to create playful, catchy, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek tracks.
The five tracks on her debut EP, Pub Songs: Volume 1 capture Proto’s distinct and notable style. Her tracks and EP have quickly climbed the charts, gaining the attention of her growing Tik Tok following and Lilly Allen.
ECHO chatted with Proto about the EP, writing and more.
How does it feel to finally have your EP, Pub Songs: Volume 1 out in the world?
Oh my gosh! It’s so good. We had a bit of a celebration. This morning I woke up and was like ’OMG it’s actually out. People can actually listen to the full thing.’ It’s crazy. It’s weird to think that literally three months ago I hadn’t released anything at all and now I’m here with my new EP.
This EP is a collection of songs you have written over the years. Do you find that some of the songs that you wrote when you were younger are still songs that you can relate to today?
Yeah, massively. If it’s not relatable to me today, it’s very reminiscent. The main two songs on my EP are “Sliced Bread” and “Three Words.” They’re the oldest ones that I’ve got. Both of them I wrote when I was sixteenish; so they’re like three years old. “Sliced Bread” might even be about four years old. Even listening to them now, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.’ I remember exactly who I wrote them about and why I wrote them. So it’s nice to play them because I just feel like my 16 year old self again. I say to my friends all the time that I wrote them ages ago that they’re old songs and they always go, ‘yeah, but you haven’t changed very much at all.’ I guess I’m kind of the same as I was when I was 16. Yeah, I love them. They’re so much fun to sing and play because I wrote them; so I relate to them and it’s nice to see other people relating as well.
How does it feel to see people relating to you music and buying it? It is already climbing the charts.
It’s so weird. I’ve literally been following it all day today and it’s on like number seven I think now. It’s bonkerz. I’m still not quite over the fact that people actively listen to my music. I have a really, really wonderful network of a lot of close friends who have always been buying my music, supporting me and promoting me. I kind of forget that there are strangers out there that listen to my songs. Sometimes when I get comments and stuff on TikTok or random people message me, I find it so odd. It’s so strange that other people actively look my name up on Spotify to play my music and they’re not related to me in any way. They’re just some random person who happens to like my music. I just think it’s bonkerz. I haven’t got over it, evidently.
Where did the title for the EP come from?
I spent so long trying to think of the title. I hadn’t even thought that the EP needed a title until someone was like, ‘oh by the way we need a title for it by tomorrow’ and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ So I sat and spent a full day writing loads and loads of ideas and we had so many ideas. I even started the artwork with a different title. I was talking to my parents about all the songs in it and I was saying like how “BTEC Lily Allen” really was the starting point for the EP. It’s kind of ironic that that song gets played not in pubs because I was told all my songs would only ever be played in pubs. We were just having this conversation and I was like, ‘oh it would be so ironic if we called it something like Pub Songs.’ Most of my songs are just middle fingers to various different people; so why not make the title a middle finger as well, you know?
Speaking of “BTEC Lily Allen,” the song grew out of you hearing those negative comments. How have you learned to be your own biggest fan?
I like to think that I’m confident with my music, but I’m still really self-critical. I really do drag all my own music. A lot of the stuff that’s just released is old for me. I’m writing new stuff; so I’m very self-critical of all of the stuff that I’m putting out, but what I’ve learned is that part of being an artist and part of being a songwriter and part of just generally being a person is that you kind of have to air your dirty laundry and tell people that you’re making mistakes. Then people sort of learn to love that. One of the big things about “BTEC Lily Allen” was that it’s less of an, ‘I’m going to ignore those comments.’ It’s more of a, ‘ you can say those comments and I’ll hear them, but I’ve got so many other things to be thinking about.’ I don’t want it to affect me. Also, obviously, there’s irony to making money out of someone calling you all these different names and things. That’s kind of just me being petty. It’s difficult. It’s a conversation I have all the time with people. The music industry is incredibly difficult because you have to be really self-motivated. You’re not relying on anybody else to do anything. You have to do it yourself; otherwise nothing happens. You sort of have to have that belief in yourself, regardless. Otherwise, you’ll end up rolling out of bed being like I don’t want to do it today. It’s difficult and I wouldn’t say that I’m the most confident person in the world at all, I just have I think I’ve learnt to own my own mistakes and not be embarrassed about doing things wrong the first time around because I am only nineteen and I’ve literally got no idea what I’m doing. I’m making it up.
What did the writing process look like for the EP?
“Sliced Bread” was one that I wrote a long time ago and “BTEC Lily Allen” happened over the course of a year and a bit where I just had various different comments and I wrote them all down. “Burner” I wrote very early on in lockdown. I wrote it about the misinformation that was being spread about COVID-19 and things at the beginning of the pandemic. “Three Words” is a relatively old song. I have a really weird way of writing and I still am yet to come across anyone who writes like me, but I sort of have a concept in my head and then I write the lyrics to that concept and then I sort of hum what I think it’s going to be and then I try to write the music to that. It’s very complicated and nobody else does it that way. It probably makes my life a lot harder. That’s kind of how a lot of the songs in the EP grew. Like you said, it’s kind of across a lot of years. It’s not really a concept album yet. One day, in the future, I’ll write a concept album, but it’s not yet; so the songs were really sporadically written all over the place whenever I could write.
You can tell that the lyrics come first because of the story in each song. Do you feel that storytelling is an important part of your music?
I have always said that I’m a writer first and then I’m a musician because the reality is that while I love to sing, I have always wanted to be a writer. I actually wanted to be a journalist for so long and then I changed my plans when I learned to sing. After writing some poems and stuff, I decided that I could sing; so I learned the guitar so I could play the guitar to me singing. I had these poems and I was like ‘I could write a melody to these poems.’ It was always lyrics first. That’s why the story is so important to me in songs. I try not to write a song because I need to write a song. I’d rather write songs about things that I feel like I need to say or that are worthwhile to somebody listening. I try to stay on the storyteller side because lyrics and words are my thing and then music sort of came afterward.
If you could set fans up in the perfect environment to listen to the EP, what do you imagine it looking like?
Oh, in my bedroom. My bedroom would have to be pretty big if I wanted to have a proper gig. I think it would be so much fun to just sit on my bed and play songs to people from my bedroom. I’ve got a shoebox that’s full of all my pieces of paper with random lyrics on them and everything. Every now and then, I have to go back through it because I forget about the millions of songs that I’ve written in the middle of the night. One day I’d love to sit with people and just go through the whole thing and sing all the songs that I’ve written.
Who did you listen to growing up and did they influence your sound today?
My parents brought me up with this ridiculously broad music taste. I’m obsessed with musical theater, but I also love all the greats: Bowie, Elton John, and Elvis. Then my parents introduced me to Madness and a lot of Ska bands. I absolutely love Ska. Then also dance music. My music taste is everywhere. I think my love for music stems mostly in lyrics; so I don’t really mind what style the music is as long as I enjoy the lyrics. I think when I was about 8 years old, maybe a bit older, my uncle made this CD when you could burn cds. He made this cd for me of all these Carole King songs and I played that on repeat for actual years. I think until I was about fifteen, I had that cd playing. I knew every single lyric to every single song on that whole cd. She massively influenced my writing in the sense that I was so inspired by her story. She is such an incredibly strong female in the music industry; especially in her day when it was a million times harder than it is right now. I felt her songs were incredibly honest and I think that that’s something that I really try to be and aspire to be. You can tell her personality through her songs; which is amazing. She was a massive influence.
People always say this – ‘do you listen to people that are in the same genre as you?’ Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to people who make bedroom pop and things like that and I listen for inspiration sometimes. It’s actually not the type of music that I would actively go and listen to like. I’m such an oldie. I will just go and put on the 70s road trip playlist from Spotify and jam to that instead of finding stuff new.
What can fans look forward to next? Is there going to be a Volume 2?
I’m definitely working on loads more music. Part of me wants to make a volume 2 because I’ve done volume 1, but then do I start something completely different? I’ve definitely been writing a stupid amount during lockdown. I’ve got so many songs in the pipeline. I’m really excited for all that. I’m ordering more merch. I’m absolutely dying to gig. Gigging was my favorite part of doing anything before lockdown and I haven’t yet gigged as a released artist. I’ve never gigged with songs that people have been able to listen to. I’m really, really excited to do that and maybe go on like a baby tour around the bottom of England or something when it’s safe to gig. There’s so many songs. I’m working really hard. I want to release more. I’ve got the release bug now. All I want to do is release more songs.
What song are you most looking forward to playing at gigs?
It’s got to be “Burner!” I can’t wait to play ”Burner.” Even if one person sings back “F*ck it. I’m going to live in a cave,” it will make my year. We [Proto and Ben Matravers] pretty much wrote that line because we knew it would be fantastic live. It just would be so much fun. I‘m really excited to play that one.
You’ve invited fans to contribute to your video for your song, “Thank You” by sending in random acts of kindness. Why did you choose to engage fans in the video creation?
I’m in the process of making it at the moment. That song was massively influenced by a lot of the conversations I’ve had with certain fans. People have said that they listen to my music and some people have been amazing and they have said things like my music has made their lockdown or changed their life and all this stuff. I find it mind blowing. When I have these sort of conversations, I realize that I’ve actually done that so many times to other artists. I’ve messaged other artists and was like ‘oh my god your music is amazing.’ I just absolutely adore the idea that there are people that I’ve met in my life that have really influenced me and the other way around as well. People have met me and I may have influenced them. I wouldn’t ever have got the chance to say thank you. Involving the people that listen to my music – it was just a natural course of where the video had to go. This is probably one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. When I wrote it and when I thought about the ideas for the videos, I just had to get people involved that have had an impact in my life; specifically a lot of people that listen to my music.
What is one quote that you’ve heard or that you go by that you want to ECHO out to the world?
“Art is long, life is short.” I like the idea that there’s so much that you can’t do in your lifetime, because you just don’t have the time. But, there are so many things that you can do that will last longer than you live, which I think is such an amazing thing. I like the idea that you don’t just sort of disappear. You have a nice long life with the things you have made and left in the world.