Sitting Down with Southwood Studios

By Ryan G

There is no shortage of music personalities in Columbus, OH. One of them is producer Joshua Altfater, who is known for his work with bands like Shrub, Kidd Columbus, Destin Shimer and more. He has also brushed shoulders with members of My Morning Jacket, Odesza, Pretty Lights, The Huntertones, and more.

Josh is a man of many hats, who sees them all collide in his Merion Village studio. Like us at Tuned Up, Joshua has a passion for promoting undiscovered talent. He seems to have a kindred spirit with a down to earth approach. In a testimonial found on the studio website, Destin Shimer volunteers “His presence in the studio is always really calming- he knows how to make an artist feel at home and like they have all time in the world to get their art right.

This might sound like an advertisement but hey – we’re based in Columbus and we couldn’t pass up to feature a seldom discussed talent in our backyard. Therefore, we sat down with Joshua and he graciously filled us in on his vision and background.

I will say that I hope Columbus can continue to grow and that Southwood grows into a bona-fide institution of Columbus instead of just a launching pad. As an oft-shared meme gif says, “Why not both?”

Read about Joshua and Southwood below and then check out their website.

Tuned Up: If Southwood Studios has a mission statement, what is it?

Joshua Altfater: To hone, inspire and develop young talented artists.  

What is the biggest challenge, if any, you are facing post-COVID? (Editor’s addendum – there isn’t a post COVID. Post Quarantine would be a more accurate term here).

Nothing now, but for a while it was not having the ability for the artist to perform and do shows. It’s like they want to make an EP, but at the end of the day they really want to get on a stage and perform their music and so if that’s not happening it’s very easy for one to not be as motivated. 

What is an unexpected benefit from running Southwood? An unexpected challenge?

An unexpected benefit is every artist that comes through I get to see how they approach music and writing. Everyone is different. It’s almost like being a kid in a candy store and I get to take what I learn from each artist and apply it to my own approach to music. I also love hearing everyone’s  story and how they started writing songs and doing music. An unexpected challenge, ha I guess when I started this I did not consider how challenging it would be to really finish an EP/record. So many details go into making an EP and so much emotion can get tied up in it. To be a producer you really have to be a part time psychologist as well as a producer. I didn’t think it would take so much perseverance.     

In your touring days, did you ever reach a fan in an unexpected way? How was that?

Umm I can’t remember anything specifically, but I will say we had this RV for awhile when I started touring and we would have little parties on it after the shows. It’s like for a lot of people you know this is their one night to go out really and for us to just be social and hang with them I think they really thought that was cool and special. And one of those times I really connected with this fan from St. Louis we just hung out on the RV and shot the shit the whole time and I really think that made his night and we stayed in touch over the years.  

Tell me about your impression of SXSW. I personally miss attending, but got burned out after a few years. I think I’m ready to go back.

I loved SXSW, especially my first year down there. I was just blown away and it really humbled me because there was so much talent everywhere. To me it was such a great way to network with so many other people trying to do exactly what you are trying to do and you just never knew who you would run into. There was so much happening at once at one point we were playing up to 3 shows a day, I’ve been there twice and I think this coming year I will definitely be trying to go down there. 

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Columbus as an emerging music city. How do you see Columbus playing a role in the broader music industry? How do you see yourself fitting into that role?

I can see Columbus being this little music hub where unexpected talent comes out of it and eventually that will transcend in the industry as a whole. I do think we still have a long way to go in terms of being a big music city, but I think it’s a great place to get your feet wet and then you can venture off into a bigger music city. Columbus is growing and it’s been really cool to see that growth over the last 12-13 years that I’ve been in the scene as I believe that talent has gotten way bigger over the years. My role in that would be to get some of the artists that I’ve worked with and produced here to get on the map and become a part of that. I’ve had one artist move to Austin, TX and a few others that eventually want to venture off as well.  

Tell me about some records this year that excite you.

Stuff from the studio that came out this past year that excited me Destin Shimer’s EP. Friends with Elephants have a record we are wrapping up right now; “Time”, which will come out this year that I’m really excited for. 

Mainstream records that I really got into are Khraungbin’s “The Universe Smiles Upon You”. I love that band and the whole vibe is almost hypnotic. Internet Money’s “B4 the Storm” I got heavy into and just what that whole group of cats is doing. My Morning Jacket just released a new record that I love. So much good music is coming out these days.

You have varied experience in the indie, jam and reggae scenes. I’ve noticed that Ohio seems to have a large supply of music festivals catering to that demographic – what makes Ohio unique in being fertile ground for that scene in particular?

I think it’s unique because it’s this midwest state that is doing that kind of music that is more known on the west coast so it surprises people, but not in a bad way. The festivals really took off in the midwest, which I think helped progress a lot of those scenes more.

Is there anything you want the people to know about your professional future right now?

Really just that I am going to be moving to the west coast (California) to further my career as a record producer as well as bouncing around to some of the other major music cities. 

Check out a playlist showing a sampling of artists that have recorded with Southwood below:

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