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Josh Ritter: Building Dollhouses And Burning Them Down

Josh Ritter has spent the past decade writing and playing beautifully constructed folk music. But when it came time to work on his latest album, he says it felt like looking down the barrel of a lost 10 years.

"I had these nightmares about ending up basically singing medleys, which was just a terrifying thing," Ritter says.

There's a darker quality to So Runs the World Away, which covers themes of exploration, but Ritter says he had fun writing the album. For a story to be a story, he says, something has to go wrong.

"I wanted to build these little dollhouses and burn them all down," Ritter says. "I wanted to build something intricate and let them run around and maybe come to untimely ends."

"The Curse" is a love story between an archaeologist and a mummy. In it, Ritter paints a picture of tragic reality. In addition to discovering a wealth of treasures, the archaeologist also unwittingly unleashes a curse.

"Sometimes you can find what you think is love, what you think is a sure thing, and in the end it's much worse for you than you ever would've expected," he says.

The Thrill Of Songwriting

Ritter shows off his folk background in "Folk Bloodbath," a song borrowing its refrain from a song by the legendary Mississippi John Hurt. It channels several longstanding characters who have been appearing in blues and folk music for decades.

"I grew up a huge fan of a lot of different types of folk music," Ritter says, "and I wanted to put Barbara Allen, Stagger Lee and Delia and Louis Collins all together on a song and see who came out [alive]."

So Runs the World Away is Ritter's sixth studio album, but he says the thrill of songwriting remains.

"When you have a song in your teeth and you're going for it, it's just an incredibly exhilarating experience," Ritter says. "There's times when that doesn't happen, but when it does, it's a thrill to write it."

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NPR Staff