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'This Has Always Been with You' — Josh Martin's New 'Thought Trials' LP Confronts Cancer Battle with Power of Music

(EDITOR’S NOTE — You might know Josh Martin as the guitarist in the Sal Mastrocola-led post-hardcore project, Gatto Black. A multi-instrumentalist, Josh also performs solo under the name ‘Thought Trials,’ writing and recording progressive post-rock instrumental music that is as provoking as it is compelling. Tomorrow, Josh will be releasing a new Thought Trials album titled, ‘This Has Always Been with You,’ a captivating 8-song body of work that documents his experience being diagnosed with, and treated for, brain cancer. Josh was kind enough recently to speak with 1120 Press about the album, his music and his health. We are grateful for his time. ‘This Has Always Been with You’ — Josh’s first release with the label Post Recordings — will be available on streaming platforms and vinyl. Josh also encourages those battling cancer or who have loved ones fighting the disease to check out the great work being done by Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Support Group and the Send It Foundation.)



1120 PRESS: Thank you for speaking with us! Congratulations on the new album, ‘This Has Always Been with You,’ which documents and takes the listener through your journey these past two years after being diagnosed with brain cancer. It’s a powerful piece of work.  

 

JOSH MARTIN: Yeah, thank you. The way the songs are titled and the way the album is structured, it kind of takes you through this experience that I’ve gone through. It’s about getting diagnosed with cancer and then everything that comes after that. Diagnosis, going into treatment, the internal thought process and where my mind was, and has been, these past two years as I go through this whole thing, all reflected in song.

 

1120: You do an amazing job on this album of conveying, without lyrics, all that you have experienced. What were your thoughts after you received your diagnosis because we imagine those thoughts were the elements that drove you in writing this music.

 

JM: The first thought was, ‘How long do I have to live?’ I imagine that’s everybody’s first thought when they go through something like this. And I guess one of my other first thoughts was, ‘Why does this have to be my brain? I mean, what the fuck? Out of all the places to get cancer, you mean it’s in my brain?’ Those were my first thoughts. The whole thing that made me go into the hospital and get a scan was I was having these visual disturbances. Now I know they were seizures in the vision center of my brain. That’s where the tumor is and it causes hallucinations. So, when they told me there was a tumor in there, I also thought, ‘Ok, am I going to go blind? How is my life going to change if I lose my vision? Am I going to be able to play music?’ I had a lot of anxieties and fears about the future.

 

1120: So then, how long after your diagnosis did you stay away from music and from picking up a guitar?

 

JM: Well right when this all happened in August 2022, all my time afterward was filled with medical tests: imaging, blood tests, figuring out what doctors I’m going to go see, what new medicines will I be on? So, I wasn’t even going to work. And I wasn’t thinking about music. I went into survival mode. Planning and making sure I could get in front of these doctors that I needed to get in front of. So it was a really stressful time as you can imagine.

 

1120: When you finally did return to music, was the music at that point something to simply turn to for distraction? Or as an artist did you feel compelled to go back and start playing and writing? What told you it was the right time?

 

JM: There were finally a couple months where, after all that initial insanity, there was a lull. I knew all along that I still wanted to play music. And you know, I felt that it was important to keep the music going and to create. My previous album came out seven or eight months before my diagnosis, and I always take a break once I finish a project. So, I felt like I needed to pick up my guitar and see what comes out and just do something normal to distract myself. It was a really crazy experience because when I finally did sit down and recorded some stuff for a couple of hours and I pulled my headphones off, it was like reality came flooding back in and I was overcome with emotion, and I was crying. It was really a surreal moment.

 

1120: Well that leads into the next question: what were the emotions you were

dealing with as you wrote this album? On one hand, the music had to be a distraction, but on the other hand, you are literally writing an album about your cancer diagnosis and ordeal, so you really couldn’t be completely distracted from it. You had to be tuned into it.

 

JM: Well yeah. It wasn’t like I was crying or screaming as I wrote. But I think it probably comes through naturally in the process. What I mean is, it wasn’t like I thought, ‘Ok, today I am feeling anxious so I’m going to write a riff translating that.’ I think it was more where I would just pick up the guitar and whatever was happening, or how I was feeling, just came through in the notes that were feeling right to me at the time I was playing. But overall, the emotions I was dealing with had to do with anxiety and questions about the future.

 

1120: You’ve recorded under the name ‘Thought Trials’ before this ordeal, but the name seems to fit now in way that maybe you never intended given what you’ve been through.

 

JM: The name is something I’ve always been occupied with. It came from a science/physics point of view, getting into what these astrophysicists would study. You know: what would happen if this person was traveling at the speed of light, and you were next to them — what would you see? These weird imaginative scenarios that we’ll never act out in real life. That always fascinated me. But it works for this album now too because these songs are mainly about where my mind’s at, and what am I thinking about while I’m getting treated for this disease.

 

1120: The album starts with what seems to be this sense of uncertainty and an element of doom, but then as the album builds the music begins to convey a growing sense of power and hope. Then, there’s an interesting part in the middle where it seems to just flatline a bit, as if things are holding steady. But from there, the tone changes again and picks up before ending on this ‘to be continued’ sort-of note. The album is about cancer but it’s not depressing.

 

JM: Right. I think if I had just written this album about the first year of what I went through, it would be sad and depressing. I’ve always been able to have a little bit of a glimmer of optimism and hope, even through crisis. I’m thankful that I have that too because it’s gotten me through some stuff and allowed me to continue living a semi-regular life through all this shit. But it was also kind of an intentional decision too when I got to a certain point. It was like, ‘I’m continuing to write music. This music is not going to be about what’s happening today, it’s going to be about what’s next.’ Even the song names; we get to this point in the middle of the album where it’s just like scanning, kind of where I’m at now where I’m no longer getting drugs, I’m no longer receiving treatment, we’re just looking at my brain tumor every few months. And we just do that forever until it grows again, or until something happens. So the songs after that point go and look ahead. One of the songs for instance is called ‘Decades’ because it’s not out of the realm of possibilities I could live decades with this. So there’s some optimism in those songs. And then the final track, jumping ahead, is called ‘Senescence’ about the natural decay of matter and life forms. It’s sounds kind of grim but it’s really what I hope for. You know, not a sudden, freak, early death. I just want to live a full, normal life like anyone else.

 

1120: ‘Oligo,’ the second song on the album, stands out to us. What strikes us about that song is the heavy jam at the end and the power it exudes. What inspired that?

 

JM: I had a lot of fun writing that song, especially the drum parts. This song is probably the most aggressive the album gets. There was definitely anger at the beginning of this (diagnosis.)

But you know, you have to go through that whole ‘Why me? Fuck the world!’ experience as part of this. I think that’s what the end of that song is. It’s like, ‘Fuck man. This is fucking bullshit. But let’s move forward. What do I do next?’

 

1120: What’s the experience like of writing an album while undergoing cancer treatment at the same time.

 

JM: (Laughs) I was just going to say it’s awesome, but I guess that’s not the best way to say it. But it was great having this music as an outlet. Not everyone diagnosed with cancer has this sort of go-to which they can pour themselves into for a sort-of therapeutic release. So, I say it’s awesome because I already knew what I was going to do to get me through this. So, it’s been great in that way. It’s been a great tool.

 

1120: Each song title is a medical term. Why did you decide to use those terms for the song names? And didyou learn anything from naming those songs that way? What we mean is: we can’t imagine you were familiar with those terms. So, in understanding what each one meant, did that help you better understand what you were going through?

 

JM: Yeah. Absolutely. I wasn’t familiar with them at all. And so, the first song is ‘Palinopsia,’ for example, and that was what I was experiencing with the hallucinations at the start which made me go and get a scan to begin with. And songs two, three, and four: ‘Oligo,’ ‘Dendro,’ and ‘Glioma’ — that’s actually just one long word and that’s the type of cancer that I have. (Oligodendroglioma) But each word is its own thing, too. ‘Oligo’ is a type of cell in your brain. ‘Dendro,’ which means ‘tree’ in Latin is the way it branches out. And ‘Glioma’ is a type of cancerous growth. So yeah, the terms really broke everything down and helped me become knowledgeable. That gave me confidence to talk to my doctors about what’s happening in my body.

 

1120: So, you play with Gatto Black, but you also do this instrumental music which is nothing like hardcore. Who are your influences.

 

JM: I love Gatto Black and I love playing punky, aggressive music and that’s kind of what I came up on. But the last 15 years or so, I kind of turned toward more instrumental, ambient, melodic music. It probably happened when I got into the bands ‘American Football’ and ‘Explosions in the Sky.’ That took me down this path. But I also like heavier, more aggressive influences too.

 

1120: The album does not strike us as ‘ambient.’ If anything, there is a progressive element to it. We even had to go back and look up the definition of ambient while listening. This album is not background music. It’s almost music that requires you to participate in.

 

JM: Yeah, I think ‘ambient’ is probably a word I use when I am talking to people who don’t really listen to this type of music. They’ll be like, ‘Oh it’s good music to fall asleep to.’ ‘Or to study to.’ But it’s great to hear this sort of critical breakdown because it’s not necessarily the greatest compliment when someone says they love to fall asleep to your music. (laughs) I have had trouble characterizing the music though too, so I just say it’s ‘post rock’ because that’s a big umbrella. But then sometimes, I even wonder about that term because some of my songs sound post-hardcore.

 

1120: You played everything on this album yourself. Was there anyone else involved in any other part of the process?

 

JM: When it came down to the mastering, I handed it off (to audio engineer Jason Sissoyev) to get a final polish on it. I think it brightened it up a lot. This was the first time I have actually done that — had a second set of critical ears on the whole thing and had someone put their touch on it. When it’s just me listening, there are things I am not going to hear, and I am going to be biased toward. He brought it to the next level. I’m a little bit of a control freak with my music for better or worse.

 

1120: The album was produced in Buffalo, but also Texas. Where did Texas come into play?

 

JM: When I got my brain radiation it took place at a hospital in Texas. So, I moved down there for about eight weeks and lived in an Airbnb which was right next to the radiation center. I would get five days of radiation in the morning. When I went down there, I brought with me the bare bones recording gear, and my first day there I bought a guitar, the cheapest one I could find, and I actually used that on ‘Oligo.’ This $60 toy guitar hooked up to my laptop. But yeah, a good chunk of the music was written in that Airbnb in Houston.

 

1120: Was working on the album therapeutic, or was there something else driving you?

 

JM: It was therapeutic for sure. I always think, ‘what would I have been doing with all of that time if I had not been working on this album?’ I needed something to fill the time, so I view it as therapeutic for myself. I also think this is really a cool album to have and I really hope I can look back on it and, not that I want to relive this experience, but to see where I was at. In being open about the diagnosis, treatment and what I have been going through, I have met a lot of other people too who are cancer survivors, people battling it now, who are also musicians and I’ve made some friends through this. So that’s been pretty cool too. Maybe some people will hear this and if they dig it and they are going through anything similar, maybe this will help them.

 

1120: Thank you again for speaking with us. Before we wrap up, can you say where things stand now with your health?

 

JM: I did radiation. I finished chemo. So right now, I go to Roswell every three months and get an MRI and the goal is — my tumor can’t be operated on because of where it is, and they don’t expect it to get smaller — but the goal is for it to be stable. It should look the same every time. Meanwhile, I’m already thinking about my next album release and what I want to do, and I’m looking forward to it not be about cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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