Joshua Bassett’s new EP, Sad Songs In a Hotel Room, certainly delivers on its promise. The project – which precedes a debut album he’s still working on – features six songs “from a different episode in a very dark time in my life,” according to the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star, who is honing his craft as a singer-songwriter while trying to remain true to his own arrow amidst Hollywood and headlines.
Speaking to Billboard about the gestation of the EP, Bassett says a lot of the songs were written separately from the formal sessions his label set up for him. Oftentimes, he would wrap a songwriting session with strangers – distraught with the pressure foisted upon him to share personal details – and go off on his own to write a song that addressed his emotional state. And those were the ones that made the cut on the final project.
That commitment to candor has certainly captured the attention of a devoted audience. Watching Bassett perform at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom (not long before his EP’s release), the fervent teen and twentysomething audience hangs on his every word. Well, even more than every word; they seem to know precisely every beat of each song – sometimes before him. Speaking to Billboard a few days after the show, Bassett laughs, “they knew (the lyrics) better than I did.”
He’s certainly grateful for the attention most rising talents would dream of. “Putting your heart and soul into these songs you wrote in your bedroom or car and have people singing it back to you – I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Bassett says.
For the 21-year-old, who has faced more public scrutiny than most of us will ever see in a lifetime, Bassett remains guarded, but kind and hopeful. While he readily acknowledges that the last few years were no treat, he’s grateful for the support and love from fans.
“I hope people can see that if I made it out of that okay — and a lot of people saw publicly what I went through — if I can stand up after that and keep walking and keep my head up, then so can you. That sounds kinda cheesy and I’m not trying to be preachy, but we gotta be there for each other.”
Here, in his own words, Joshua Bassett takes us through each song on his Sad Songs in a Hotel Room EP, from the incidents that inspired each composition to the emotions that fueled them.
"Sad Songs In a Hotel Room"
“I spent a lot of the last two years in Airbnbs and hotel rooms alone and sometimes I’ll end up in the same hotels. I was in Nashville writing and thinking about how I was in this hotel room where I had been with a partner about a year prior and it was so sad to be in the same spot but everything had changed. Just feeling isolated and alone in this room and having nothing to do but play the guitar and write songs in my bathrobe…. That song came out of nowhere. I Postmate’d something and went out to the car and for whatever reason I saw in full letters ‘Sad Songs in a Hotel Room’ and wrote it in like 20 minutes.”
“(It’s) more about the industry and less so about literal L.A. I get kind of brought down by the energy there. With all due respect, there’s not as much of a community there; everyone lives in their own little bubble. That song came at a time when I was being put into (songwriting) rooms day after day and the label yanking me, saying ‘we need more music’ or ‘we need this and this from you’ and me having to show up and pretend that I’m fine. (I would) meet all these different writers and act like everything was okay when I was really not okay….
“I wrote that entire song in five minutes and then called my friend and was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna take a road trip?’ So we left and went to Joshua Tree. It’s funny – I wrote that song and got out of L.A. and immediately felt better.”
"Used To It"
“I wrote that song as a piano ballad, but everyone on my team and I were sick of the slow, sad piano songs. If you listen to it and break down the lyrics, it’s very sad, but it was like, ‘Why don’t we take a different angle on this and add a groove to it?’ There’s a bit of bitterness and anger in the sadness. Anyone who has been in a relationship where they weren’t treated properly and let it happen for a while, you get out of it and realize, ‘Wait a minute, how did I allow this person to treat me like this for so long and let them walk all over me?’ The track brings out the bite underneath the sadness in the lyrics…. It was fun to work with Davis Naish [songwriter/producer] on finding the sweet spot between the colors.”
“It’s (about) that thing where you have a friend and you start to get close to them and maybe you share things with them that you can’t share with anyone else, but ultimately there’s this barrier – there’s only so far you can go because they’re with somebody else. It’s like that thing: we only get so much time together, and I know we’re never going to be anything more than we are now, but let’s soak in this moment and enjoy it, even though there’s only so far we can go because he’s the one waiting at home.”
Bassett wrote this song about his unexpected January 2021 hospitalization. After he suffered septic shock and experienced heart failure, his mom hopped on a plane and spent hours by his side.
“I don’t find it tough to share it with people because it’s so honest. The more honest a song is, the easier it is to share. I don’t know how that works. But that was the lowest, hardest point in my life, both emotionally and mentally and, literally, physically. My mom… it’s really a love letter to her. If anyone can hear that song and be reminded about what really matters in life – that it really is about people, it’s not about anything else at the end of the day – I couldn’t ask for anything more. To be able to share that and dedicate it to my mom is a treat. And it’s her favorite song of mine.
“[Before it’s release] I texted it to her and my dad in a group chat and my dad walked into their office and she was just bawling and he was like, ‘What happened?’ And she was like, ‘Did you listen to the song?’ I mention my parents pretty frequently in my music, just naturally. That hospital experience was very sobering. To leave home for a couple years and then have that time with my mom – we got to know each other in a way that we hadn’t been able to at home. It was really special.”
"All In Due Time"
“After more and more sessions I was forced into, it felt like everyone I was writing with was trying to get something out of me. And then I’d go on social media and I’d want to bury my head in the sand. It’s dramatic, but I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I felt voiceless and like I was drowning and that there was no way out. And it was a reminder to me: ‘you’ve gotten through hard things before’ and ‘things happen for a reason,’ even if you aren’t able to see the reason as it’s happening. Keep walking through the fire and eventually you’ll get to the other side. It was something I needed to write to remind myself: ‘it will all be okay all in due time.’ One of the lines I love is ‘just ’cause it’s over don’t mean I’m over it now.’ A lot of times people think healing is linear – ‘why aren’t you over it yet?’ We put that pressure on ourselves to get over things or be okay. It’s important to remember: I’ve been up before, I know I’m down now, but I’ll be up again.”