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We're all broken: An interview with Josh Hagquist of the Beautiful Mistake

Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.

"You're not broken. I am." the new EP by The Beautiful Mistake

"You're not broken. I am." the new EP by The Beautiful Mistake

Josh Hagquist: The Beautiful Mistake

I've been fortunate enough in my life to interview a variety of bands and artists, but it's not often I get the chance to interview friends of mine, especially friends I have known for two decades. Josh is one of those guys and we had a blast chatting earlier this Spring. I was a little more chatty than usual because I was having a conversation with a friend of mine.

I met Josh at TOM Fest, in Skamania County, Washington, back in the early part of this century. He was playing bass in a band called Ember and I was a fan of their music so I struck up a conversation after watching them play and we ended up clicking and developing an off and on friendship. We also had some common friends and, of course, a shared love for music. As we have both hit our forties, we are closer now than we have ever been, despite the fact that he lives in Southern California and I'm in Juneau, Alaska.

A couple of years ago, his band The Beautiful Mistake reunited for a couple of reunion shows, Earlier this year, they released their first new record of all new material since 2006. I thought that now would be as good of a time as any to catch up. I hope that you enjoy our conversation... and be sure to check out their music.

Josh Hagquist on stage with The Beautiful Mistake

Josh Hagquist on stage with The Beautiful Mistake

It’s very humbling, to be honest. We were gone for so long and we weren’t one of those upper echelon bands from the early 2000’s. We never were."

"You're not broken. I am."

Justin W Price: Can you give me a little background on The Beautiful Mistake?

Josh Hagquist: Yeah! A few of us were in a band called Ember and Ember started in 1998 and went from 1998 until mid-2000. Then our singer Dan left Ember and Josh Quesada, Shawn Grover, Steve Dunlap and myself all started Beautiful Mistake.

JP: Is that the lineup now?

JH: That is the lineup with John Berdtson (he’s our bass player) and he joined shortly after we started.

JP: Okay. So, it’s essentially the original Militia Group lineup?

JH: It’s the absolute original original lineup.

JP: What was it? 17 years from your last record to this one? Is that right?

JH: Our last EP came out in 2006, so, fourteen years.

JP: Based on that, what brought about the new one?

JH: We did two reunion shows in 2018. We had been apart for twelve years, thirteen years. We hadn’t played together, the four of us, Josh, John, Sean, and myself, hadn’t played together since 2004. They left the band and I kept going.

So, we did the work to get our lives right and then get ourselves right with each other and that’s how the reunion came about. After we played the shows, we had so much fun that we were like “Hey! Let’s see if we still have some chemistry together and let’s see if we can write some songs.” We flew to Longmont, Colorado, where our drummer lives (Josh) and over a weekend we wrote four songs. We were like “This is awesome.” We we’re having so much fun.

The cool part of that is— I think when you’re in a band and you’re touring and you’ve got a label or you’ve got a manager and there’s financial implications like “How am I gonna pay for rent? You know, I’ve been fine for six weeks. I have rent. I have bills.” I think all those things like put lot of pressure on people. So when we got back in together in 2018, it’s like our lives are pretty situated and normal, so to speak, so we didn’t feel any pressure. There was no pressure at all. We still don’t feel that. We’re just stoked to be able to put out records and play music together and I think feels really awesome.

JP: That is cool! How has the new E.P. been received?

JH: I think people have been enjoying it. You know, when we wrote those songs, we had no idea what people would think. It was our hope that people who used to like us would be into it. You know, that they could kinda make the jump. And then, it was also our hope that new people would hear it and be like “Who’s this band? I really like these songs or I connect with these songs.” The response has been really cool. People are glad that it’s heavy because that’s definitely what we wanted. We wanted to write the heaviest stuff we’ve ever done and, yeah the response has been rad. It’s very humbling, to be honest. We were gone for so long and we weren’t one of those upper echelon bands from the early 2000’s. We never were.

So, any sort of response has been cool. It’s been nice to get messages from people that were like “Hey! I remember you playing at TOM Fest back in 2001. Or I remember seeing you play at this tiny little coffee shop in Michigan in 2002 and I’ve been a fan ever since.” It’s just really humbling. It’s really nice. It really feels good that our old school fans are stoked for us and we’re finding some new ones too, you know.

JP: I listen to it and to me it sounds like a natural progression from where you guys were to where you are now. Has some of that old school feel to it but it also sounds up to date. How do you personally feel about it?

JH: I love it. I’m really excited about it. I feel like the songwriting process was very collaborative and we all came with ideas and all of our ideas were on the same page. Which is rad because we didn’t have the one person in the band going “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.”

I’m stoked with it. I have always been really self-conscious about my singing. I only started singing in bands out of necessity. I was the only one who could kinda do it. It was never something that I wanted to do. It’s never been something that I’ve even remotely enjoyed. I’d rather just play guitar. I like playing guitar! [laughs] That’s what I enjoy doing. But, this process in writing these songs and singing in these songs, for me, got me into that mode where like “This is fun. This can be fun. And this can be something that can be a positive instead of like ‘Oh, I guess I’ll sing.’”

JP: Are you screaming also? Is that you?

JH: Nope. I’m not that tough. I don’t have the toughness. John did the screaming on “East of Eden” and “Monument” and then Shawn did the screams/yells on “Momento Mori”, “Decades Away” and “Anger/Courage.”

JP: As far as the album name, “You’re not broken, I am” what’s that all about?

JH: It’s kind of a mix of a lot of things. we’ve all been through some really hard times over the years. I went through a divorce a few years ago. I lost everything, for the most part. And, when you go through things like that, whether its divorce or losing people, in your life that you were once close with or death or whatever. I think a lot of the healing comes through owning your actions and owning your behavior and being responsible for how you’re a part of something that maybe went south. So, it’s, on one hand it’s kind of an acknowledgment of that. I’ve gotta get things fixed. I’ve gotta work on myself. Because when things go down like that, you can either continue to live the same way and continue to have the same patterns and same habits and same reactions to things or you can try to change.

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Buy "You're not broken, I am" by "The Beautiful Mistake"

"Memento Mori" By The Beautiful Mistake

I don’t try to write vague on purpose. I just try to be honest with what I’m feeling. "

JP: I just talked to Bryan Gray about the new Blamed record, “The Church is hurting people” and that’s a double entendres. The church is hurting people and the church IS hurting people. I kind of think of that with “You’re not broken. I am.” I almost get the same kind of vibe from the name. I don’t know if that was intentional but I kind of got that.

JH: Yeah. I mean you could also look at it with a little bit of sarcasm as well. You could look at is more of. “Oh. oh. Hey! You’re fine! You’re coming up roses here. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all me.” And you could kinda have that take on it too, ya know? I always like to leave things up to people’s imagination.

One of my favorite bands in U2. I love U2. They’re hands down my favorite band. But, the one thing that kind of bummed me out— this is like a decade ago— Bono came out with a book explaining all the songs in detail. I didn’t wanna read it— and of course I read it! I’m a glutton for punishment— but I read it and I was like, aww, I totally thought this was about that. It was about this for me. So, I like to leave people— Oh, there’s a picture of a rotting church on the front. Is it about the state of the church? Or about the state of me within Christianity or me within this faith group or whatever. No! I mean, if that’s what you get out of it, that’s what you get out of it. But I would rather the people listening to it or enjoying it or connecting with it get what they wanna get out of it and not necessarily what my thinking or the bands’ thinking was in regard to that specific thing. Does that make sense?

JP: Yeah! It does! It reminds of when I talked to Scott Hunter and how he wrote his lyrics intentionally vague. He wrote it about something, but he wanted everyone else to be able to get something out of it.

You mentioned that you guys had some good chemistry and wrote the songs pretty quickly. Obviously this Covid thing has put everyone’s plans on hold. But, short of that, do you guys have any plans for a full length or a tour or anything like that?

JH: We don’t necessarily have plans for a tour. We’re definitely gonna play more shows. Everything is on hold right now, but, we wanna go back to the studio. We wanna knock out another EP. I think we’re pretty content with doing EP’s right now, just because it’s a little more... I dunno. We had seven songs and we whittled it down to the five that we wanted to use for the last EP. So, for us, it’s like “let’s just put five bangers on there and keep going” you know?

JP: Short and punchy.

JH: Yeah. Short and sweet. To the point.

JP: You has mentioned U2 as your favorite band. Who are some of your other musical and lyrical inspirations? Along with that, is there any underlying message or theme to your lyrics?

JH: Yeah. I think for me, when it comes to lyrics, I gravitate toward stuff that, I dunno, maybe not literal. I like imagery. I like basic themes that sort of hit you hard . However that’s gonna hit you. It hits you in some way.

I love lyrics like Mineral. Just very honest. But you can take them a whole bunch of different ways. And for me, I’ve always done that with that band and like Sunny Day Real Estate, I always thought were more cryptic. But you can take them in like fifty different ways, you know? And they can be what they are to you and that’s okay.

We all listen to similar stuff. I can listen to Nine Inch Nails and get something out of those lyrics. And I can listen to Ryan Adams and get something out of those lyrics. I don’t try to write vague on purpose. I just try to be honest with what I’m feeling. Any lyrics that I write are just about stuff that I’ve gone through.

JP: It’s funny [that] you mention Nine Inch Nails. Counter to the faith we grew up in, they’re often antagonistic about that. But in church once I brought up [Polish death metal band] Decapitated and one of their songs. We did a whole Bible study on one of their songs because it was about human nature. It’s interesting. You can get something anywhere if you’re open to it.

JH: Absolutely. And just because Trent Reznor might— his intention may have been one thing. But, like when I hear “Hurt” for instance— Johnny Cash covers that. It took a whole new spin on that song. I can listen to that song and may not feel what Trent Reznor was feeling or whatever even he was trying to convey. But it hits me in a way where I’m like “Oh my gosh. This is like a fifty ton pile of bricks hitting me.” And it’s awesome. But it hits me in a different way. A different angle.

And then along with the faith thing, like, we’ve never as a band been— people ask us all the time: “Are you guys Christian? Are you guys a Christian band?” Tom Fest was the only quote unquote Christian festival or show we ever did. That was our one exception because to us it was more about community and not about it being labeled a Christian festival. It was all about our friendships and our brothers and sisters and our family that was there, you know? We’ve never been ashamed of saying “Yeah, we’re Christians” but I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m just here to be real with you. If you have questions, cool. And if you don’t, I’m just gonna be real with you and hopefully treat you with respect and be kind to you and be a person that will listen to you.

The Beautiful Mistake

The Beautiful Mistake

"This is who you are" by The Beautiful Mistake

In this day and age everything is disposable. People are losing interest overnight and I would say just do what you wanna do and be sincere about it."

JP: KMAX, post DC Talk, is one of the most interesting artists there is in that industry. He recently posed a question “What is Christian Music?” And, to me, if it’s not worship music, it’s just music.

You might be Christians in a band but maybe that’s not what you sing about. Maybe you sing about heartbreak or maybe something else. I think Anberlin is a good example of that. They don’t ever really have Christian lyrics but they’re all Christians, as far as I know. I think that label— especially now— doesn’t really mean anything.

JH: Yeah. You know, you end up arguing semantics with people. We just avoided the whole scene in general. It was never “We’re better than this.”— I mean, with played with all those bands anyway. I mean, we played with Emery, Anberlin, Number One Gun, Dead Poetic, As Cities Burn, Underoath. I mean, we played and toured with all of them. But it was always on terms that we were comfortable with. And in venues that we were comfortable with.

You know, what makes it Christian, quote unquote, what makes it secular? I dunno. I mean you can have a hundred different people and have a hundred different opinions on that. I would rather just make honest music and live my life according to what I believe.

JP: You mentioned Underoath.

JH: We toured with them back in the day.

JP: Interesting case because they were a Christian band and now they’re not and they’re getting a lot of heat for it even though the music they’re writing now is incredibly honest about their experience. That’s one pitfall to labeling yourself a Christian band. Oh, if you wanna say “fuck” in a song or if you want to sing “Hey, I’m having doubts about my faith.” You can’t do it. It’s like “Oh, that’s heresy. You can’t do it.”

JH: Totally.

JP: I think you have a lot more freedom without that label. Not that you’re running from it but the idea that “Hey, I’ve got these questions or issues with the church or with Christians.”

JH: I appreciate it. A lot of people that are into our band are Christians. I’m stoked about that because I was that kid growing up. I was that kid that was into The Prayer Chain and listening to The 77’s and The Choir and Starflyer [59] and Focused and all that stuff. I was there. That was me.

But, you know, I don’t wanna sit around and have to answer to the thought police telling me “You can’t say ‘hell’ in your song. You can’t be divorced. You can’t have a cigarette. You can’t drink. Like ‘Oh ya, I heard he was out at a bar after the show. Oh scandal.’” I don’t want anything to do with that. So we’ve been spared. We haven’t had to deal with any of that stuff ‘cause it’s a non-issue for us.

JP: And your lyrics are very honest and open so it’s not like you’re hiding anything. It’s just the label you’re rejecting, essentially.

JH: Yeah. The Chorus to “Momento Mori”, the first track we released, is like “Oh Lord,I’m tired.” Like, “Okay, that’s even saying ‘he’ but does he mean God or somebody else [laughs]? I didn’t write that lyric to go “Oh, We’re gonna be real
Blatant about it.” It’s like, “Am I petitioning an empty sky right now?” Or is God up there? And please help me out because my life is shitty right now, you know?

JP: Everyone’s life is shitty right now.

JH: Yeah. That’s a bummer.

JP: Speaking of, you guys are from Southern California. Does that affect your music or your lyrics at all?

JH: No. I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t think so. Only two of us live here. Steve and I live here. He lives about fifty miles north of me. John lives in Minnesota. Sean lives in Eugene and Josh lives in the Denver area.

JP: Your sound is really more that East Coast Thursday type of music than the Southern California ripe of sound which is more punk oriented.

JH: Yeah. I Agree.

JP: Are there any causes you guys get behind, as a band or individually, that are important to you guys?

JH: Umm. For me, there’s a thing called Operation Smile— this is more global— when I started working with G&L guitars in 2001—that’s Leo Fender’s company that he started. His wife, Phyllis Fender has a ton of money and gives a lot of time to Operation Smile. It’s about kids who are born in third world counties with cleft palates. They pay for surgery and healthcare surrounding that. Because it’s debilitating. It’s really difficult to live to that way. They give a lot of time so that’s something that I’ve always been supportive of and interested in.

JP: Here’s a couple that aren’t really related to music, it they’re kind of fun.

JH: They better be fun!

JP: Well, they’re fun to me! The first one, I don’t know if you’re a board game guy, but if you are, would you rather play Risk or Monopoly?

JH: Risk. World Domination!

JP: What are your top five Stone Brewing beers?

JH: Top selling Stone Brewing beers of all time or right now?

JP: However you wanna do it.

JH: Smoked Porter was the greatest beer ever. We don’t brew it anymore. Number two: Arrogant Bastard. We still brew it. It’s one of my favorite beers of all time. Number Three: Double Bastard. It’s like Arrogant Bastard on steroids. It’s eleven and a half percent. It’ll end your day very quickly. You age is a couple years and it’s absolutely fantastic. I’ll send you a bottle [authors note: I’m still waiting for the bottle]. Number four: Stone IPA. Classic. Love that beer. And then we did a a Berleinerweiss. A little bit tart. A little bit sour but not overwhelming. Very clean. Very solid, German style beer.

JP: Arrogant Bastard was actually the first beer that got me into beer. I didn’t like beer before I tried that one. I haven’t had it for years but that was the one that kind of turned me into a beer drinker.

JH: That’s a tough one to start with, too. But it’s good. I love that beer.

JP: If you could write a letter to your ten year old self, what would it say?

JH: It would say: “Don’t take any day for granted.” It would say: “Practice guitar more.” And it would say: “Live each day like your last,” probably.

JP: Are you quarantined alone or do you have someone you’re quarantining with?

JH: I’m quarantining alone. I’m still working, though.

JP: So you’re still going to the office every day?

JH: Yeah. I’m still going to the office. We’re offering beer to go so both of my retail locations that I oversee— we’re open for beer to go and online purchases and things like that.

JP: I imagine Probably your social life is a little different? Going out. During all this time have you discovered any new talents or hobbies you’ve found to amuse yourself?

JH: I’ve been playing guitar a ton, which is awesome. I drove out to the desert last week and didn’t even see another human, which was pretty awesome. I love taking pictures so I like going out on my motorcycle or taking my car out and just taking pictures, of, you know, abandoned stuff or pretty stuff out in the desert.

JP: Didn’t you do The Joshua Tree picture when you were out there?

JH: Ah, yeah I did. That was like two years ago.

JP: You mentioned your guitar. You mentioned your motorcycle. What other hobbies do you have outside of music?

JH: I really like photography. I’ve really gotten into that the last year and a half. I find it really cathartic. I don’t have delusions. I don’t think I’m fantastic. But I just enjoy taking pictures of stuff and exploring. I love finding like hidden places and abandoned places and just out of the way things that most people don’t see. I like finding little beauty in things.

All the pictures on our record I took.

JP: I have one more and then I want to go back to more music. This one is music related, though. If you were planning a music festival, all time, who are the top five bands on the bill?

JH: All time?

JP: All time. They can be living, dead, broken up, made up. I don’t care.

JH: I’ll go living. That makes it easier. I’ll say U2, Smashing Pumpkins, The Verve, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Fugazi. U2 would open. Fugazi would headline. Tickets would be five bucks.

JP: You think Bono would do that?

JH: He would have too! It’s my festival!

JP: For all of Bono’s talk, I know he likes to make money.

JH: He does. I mean, look at Rage Against the Machine? Their tickets are like 300 bucks. Go socialism on that one!

JP: They said they’re donating half the money.

JH: I’ll donate to who I want too and not to their ticket fund.

JP: They got a big dose of capitalism with Audioslave.

JH: Yep.

JP: Just a couple other quick questions. What separates you from other bands out there? What would make someone want to listen to you instead or in addition to someone else?

JH: I dunno. I just think we’re coming from an honest place. We are making music that we believe in. We don’t have some big label and we don’t have a lot of flash, but I think what we do is from the heart and I hope that people see that and not some image or some facade. Something that’s quote unquote cool. That changes every five minutes. I mean, when we started the band, there wasn’t an Instagram. There wasn’t a Facebook. Trends change overnight. I hope that people just go “This an honest, legitimate group of people who care about what they do.”

JP: I don’t bash pop music. I enjoy pop music. It’s called pop for a reason. But today I listened to “Full Collapse” [Thursday]. Twenty years old. Sounds as fresh as the day it was written. I think that goes with stuff like yours because it’s so honest and real. It didn’t sound dated at all. It was like the first time I listened to it.

JH: Yeah! I was just talking to a buddy. I was just listening to “End Serenading.” Mineral. And I was like: “This sounds as fresh as it did back in the day.” And I think there’s records like that that really pop. And really hold that place where they still sound current. And I think Thursday is one of those. Thrice is another band, you know? There stuff sounds so good and so current. A lot of things from the early 2000’s sound dated. I know that Brand New had their issues and whatnot but “Deja Entendu” sounds as good today as it did back in 2003. That’s my opinion. I’m not involved with any of the other stuff surrounding that band. I just think that collection of songs... they just nailed it.

JP: I think “Clarity” by Jimmy Eat World is another that comes to mind. Early Death Cab to me... that three album run the had from “We have the facts” to “Transatlantic” to me, is like, as fresh as the day it’s written. All of those albums have honesty in common. It’s a pop record but it’s honest. The lyrics, the music. Fountains of Wayne comes to mind too, especially in light of Schlesinger passing away.

Also, your album, “Light a Match” is in that category.

JH: That’s awesome! I hadn’t listen to it in a while and then we talked about doing a reunion on 2018, I started like practicing to it. I was like “I haven’t heard this in a long time. I like it. I like it still.”

JP: I was in a band called Royalty Wears Thorns around the same time that you were in Ember.

JH: I knew you were in Royalty Wears Thorns.

JP: Well T.J. [Arko] the main singer for that band, when he heard The Beautiful Mistake for the first time, said “That’s what music’s gonna sound like two years from now. And he was right. It right about the time that that screamo stuff was hitting. And we were behind that trend, even though we had that sound. He hit the nail on the head because as soon as “Light a Match” came out there were like a thousand other bands doing the same thing.

JH: It was fun. It wasn’t planned. It was just what we wanted to do.

JP: Any advice to young people out there trying to get their foot in the industry?

JH: Just be sincere. And manage your expectations. In this day and age everything is disposable. People are losing interest overnight and I would say just do what you wanna do and be sincere about it. But, don’t put undue pressure on yourself. It should be fun. It should be something that’s from the heart and that’s enjoyable.

JP: You can tell if it’s fun!

JH: Absolutely!

JP: I watched the Dropkick Murphys St Patricks’s Day concert, with nobody there and they were still having a ball. Jumping around, bouncing on stage.

JH: I saw some clips of that! They were jumping all around. It was awesome!

JP: Anything else you want to add?

JH: Buy our record and catapult us to teenage stardom!

© 2020 Justin W Price

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