Joshua Bassett is the High School Musical star of a new generation. Best known for playing Ricky Bowen on Disney+ flagship show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Bassett is branching out as a singer-songwriter in his own right. We had a chat with the rising star, and discussed his home studio, the second season of HSMTMTS, his inspirations, and of course – his new song “Anyone Else.”
Starring on HSMTMTS is an interesting position to be in, given the legacy of the original High School Musical movies. People simultaneously had incredibly high and no expectations of the show prior to its release, some of it perhaps to do with the title. “When the abbreviation is long, you know that it’s actually too long of a title,” Bassett confides jokingly. He confesses that he wasn’t too sure at the start either. “I also had my own initial hesitations when I heard about the show, I grew up with the movies as well. When I heard that they were making a tv-show, I was like “oh, are you sure about that?” But then I went in and read with them and they sent me the script. The moment I read it, I was like “oh my gosh.” I was sold and was like, “I have to be a part of this project!”
It’s obviously been a great decision, as the show’s been met with praise for both its storylines and musicality. Suddenly being thrust into the limelight must have been daunting. “It’s kind of been a rollercoaster just in general. We shot the show for six months in Utah, and it was absolutely magical – the entire experience was. We were all just completely in love with the show and the cast, but it was an experience in a bubble– like our little secret. I’ve always had faith in the show and I always knew that I thought it was incredible, but you never really know how people are going to receive it and what they’ll take away from it.”
Bassett is mostly excited about the way that fans have latched onto the show, for community or acceptance. “I love seeing on social media that fans can be super supportive of each other. People talk about how they didn’t realize they were gay until they saw Seb and Carlos on screen, and it’s such an honor to be part of a project like that, where we get to do so many cool things and it’s clear we resonate with people. So It’s been insane, mind-blowing, none of it makes sense, none of it feels real.”
A season two is in the making, but Bassett can’t really tell me much, except that shooting has been postponed due to COVID-19.
“All I can say is that there will be more music, more dancing, and lots more. It’s just like, they’ve turned up the dial on everything from season one and went all in. I can’t give you anything specific, but just get excited for a lot more. I’m super excited to continue shooting season two – eventually, not now. I think people are really going to love what’s to come.”
When I ask him about his own favorite moment or song of the first season of which he hopes there will be more in season two, there’s one clear winner: “Wondering.”
“I mean, melodically and lyrically I think the song is beautiful. It has a special place in my heart, just because that was episode two, and we were still kind of figuring out how we were going to be singing live on the show. Olivia [Rodrigo] and I had sung our versions of ‘I Think I Kinda You Know’ live, but this was Julia Lester and Olivia at the piano and they did sing it live. And I had the honor of sitting on set because I came in right after them, so that was part of my role to just watch them sing it. And every time I’d sit there and watch them, I’d just have full-body chills. It was just a remarkable thing to witness. So I have a strong emotional connection to the song because that day was just so incredible. I got to be there and witness all that, so it has a special place in my heart,” he laughs, “you’ve seen it – it’s amazing!”
It’s definitely one of the best songs in the show. However, what’s more remarkable about the show, is that the songs aren’t only sung by the teens – some of them were written by them too. Bassett explains that it’s not a coincidence either. “During my audition [for HSMTMTS] they mentioned they’d seen my Instagram and that I’d written music and said they were interested in having me write music for the show. That was huge for me, to hear all the Disney executives say they were excited to hear my music and wanted to give me the opportunity to write for them.”
It’s a great confidence boost, but it’s also important to showcase who Joshua Bassett is, as opposed to Ricky Bowen. He recognizes that there’ll be some overlap, if only in writing style. “People will probably be able to tell that I wrote both because there are elements in there that come from me and there’s only so much you can do to really change it up. But a key difference I think is when I’m writing for the show, I try to be as honest and true to Ricky’s perspective. And with my own music, I’m telling my own story, my real-life story.” He pauses, then emphasizes, “well, mostly true story. I think it’s just about trying to be honest, both in my music as Joshua Bassett and when I’m writing as Ricky Bowen, and then I don’t think I have to worry about it sounding the same or overlapping. Honesty is key.”
Of course, Ricky Bowen has been put on the backburner for a bit anyway, now that the shooting of the second season has been postponed due to COVID-19. Still, Bassett realizes he’s one of the lucky few. “I’m very fortunate to be able to continue to do what I love, without needing to leave my apartment. I’ve got all my instruments and equipment here, so I’m very fortunate – that’s a lifesaver for sure. Wherever there’s a mic and a computer, that’s really all you need.”
His first track “Common Sense,” which was released earlier this year proves that to be true, as it was recorded in his apartment. “Anything Else,” however, was not. Enthusiastic as ever, Bassett eagerly launches into an explanation of the song’s process, rather than its message first.
“[Anyone Else] was really fun! It was a song that I really loved but didn’t really think too much about at first. I wrote it in my Salt Lake City apartment, and then a couple of months later after I was done filming and was in the studio, we were trying to come up with a song idea and I said, “oh I have this one idea that I’ve had for a while.” I started playing it, and it was literally like magic. In a matter of minutes, there was a guy who came up with a melody on keys and they had a bassline, and they were laying down all this stuff, which was great! We finished up the song and laid it down, and it was one of those magical sessions that happen once or twice every couple years or every year – I mean, hopefully, it happens more often – but still, it was a magical session,” he insists, hopeful excitement shining through in his voice. “So I had the song in my back pocket for a while, and once I signed with Warner, we were going through a handful of my songs. My A&R (Nate Albert) over there heard this song and said, ‘wait a minute, why aren’t we putting this one out? Why are we sitting on this, this is incredible, this is gold!’ So I was like ‘I guess that’ll be the next move,’ so that’s how it came about.”
As for the meaning of the song? “Basically the song is about the ‘uh-oh’ moment when you realize you’re maybe falling a bit too hard for somebody and you probably shouldn’t be. And you don’t know what to do about it. The main lyric ‘how I’m supposed to think about anyone else // how am I to go on keeping this to myself // I’m done pretending I’d want anyone else,’ I think that perfectly conveys that feeling of – you know. Everyone’s known that feeling when they fall for someone that’s either taken or know they can’t be with, and then you ask yourself what you’re supposed to do next because you can’t stop thinking about them. When I personally had that, my friend was like, I’m sure you’ll find someone else, and I was like I don’t want anybody else, that’s not the point – I want them!”
Thematically, it’s similar to “Common Sense,” though that wasn’t on purpose. In fact, Bassett hadn’t even realized until I ask him about the overarching theme. “Uh, yes in a way… That actually does have a similar kind of messaging, in a way. I didn’t realize until right now. But yeah, there’s a bit of a common theme there between the two,” he trails off with a laugh.
Despite the similarity in theme and the reliance of acoustic guitar in both of them – they do manage to paint a picture of the type of artist Bassett wants to be: a clever singer-songwriter.
He’s a big fan of Ed Sheeran, “I have mad respect for his ability to sell out 90,000 seat stadiums with just his guitar and his loop pedal and people walk away from his show saying that it was the best show they’ve ever been to. That is the most inspiring thing. But I also love Adele and her honesty in her songwriting, she has the perfect balance between putting out music and showing up but also knowing when to leave the party and step out of the spotlight. I love Sara Bareilles and her song-writing. Clearly there’s a theme here of singer-songwriters,” he adds.
Maybe somewhat unsurprisingly given the curls and the spotlight, Bassett gushes most over Harry Styles – “[he]’s someone who’s just so well-rounded.” In fact, he can’t help but tell me he’s recently found out Styles also co-wrote some of the One Direction repertoire. Though he did not pen as many as fellow band members Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, Styles did perform some of the hits that made him famous on his most recent tour. “I don’t know if many people know this, maybe they do and I’m just late to the party, but I found out he wrote a handful of the One Direction songs. I thought that it was an interesting thing that he was writing for so long for them and I think it shows now. Anyways, he’s so amazing and inspiring. His songwriting, his singing, his entire vibe with his music, his fashion, his music videos are so brilliant and so him – I’m in love with Harry Styles if that wasn’t clear, that was basically me saying that.”
The final ingredient to his amalgamation of inspirational idols? Billy Joel. “I grew up with his music – that’s just ingrained in me, a part of me. All those people combined are ultimately the dream for me, and if I can navigate that somehow and emulate at least a fraction of one of their careers I’d be happy.”
It’s commendable that he not only appreciates the songwriting or the aesthetic of artists but that he also seems very much aware of trying to strike the right balance when it comes to visibility and privacy – like Adele and Ed Sheeran try to do between album cycles. “I think social media can be a really valuable tool and it can be really great. But I think just for me, it’s really a mental health thing and I think it’s important to be able to recognize that something in excess is damaging your mental health. And not being afraid to say you know what, I need to take a step back right now and need to come back to reality. Especially right now during this time when people don’t have much to distract themselves, and they can end up falling into hours of social media. It’s hard to be able to recognize when that is actually maybe harming you – at least in extremes. So yeah, finding that balance I’m still working on figuring out what that looks like, but I’m not afraid to pull back once in a while.”
It brings us back to the current situation – the COVID-19 pandemic, and what that means for him in terms of future plans. “I am obviously looking forward to going back to shooting my show, so far from what I’ve seen it just looks incredible and I’m so stoked to actually realize all that’s planned. But the good thing about right now, even though I can’t go anywhere, I’m still able to record. I am able to work with certain producers I wanna work with via Zoom and I can record my stuff, my guitar, vocals, piano from my own place, so I’m excited to – I don’t want to jump the gun and I don’t want to make any assumptions, but somewhere between an album and an EP is coming and I’m confident and hopeful that it’ll be in 2020.”
As excited as he is, Bassett seems to have already learned to temper expectations. “Again, I don’t want to overpromise anything or let anyone down, but I am excited to continue to put my work together and to get it down and to get it to the best it can be and hopefully, if it’s at a place that I’m confident and comfortable about it, then people can expect an album. But I think the most important thing for me that I’m not afraid of is to take the right amount of time to make sure it’s right before it comes out.”
When I ask if he’s also planning on acting or combining the two in the near future as well, he seems hesitant to decide. “I love singing and acting, and I’m fortunate enough right now to do both, so I’m going to continue to do that, and whatever happens after that, it happens. I think naturally people are going to associate me with musicals, and I’m excited to see what will come from that. We’re already talking about that stuff, I look forward to seeing where that’ll head and what that looks like down the road. If it’s a musical project that’s great, if it’s something else, also great! There are no limits here!”
“Common Sense” and “Anything Else” by Joshua Bassett are out now.