John Roseboro Started Over. Now, He’s A Bossa Nova Trailblazer.

The “post-bossa nova” darling is revolutionizing a traditional sound to fit today’s context, but not without some mysticism.


John Roseboro greeted me after his set with the most tender first bump I’d ever received. The emerging Brooklyn-based indie musician had just finished his Tuesday afternoon show for an Unofficial SXSW showcase held at Tweedy’s, a casual bar near The University of Texas at Austin’s campus.

Two and a half years into his artistic career, John plays with an effortless maturity. Delicate and warm, his music consists of a simple rhythmic guitar accompanied by his soft and baritone vocals. The melodies, easy on the ears and the soul, are punctuated with low whispers and harmonious interjections from the saxophone and trumpet. Most prominently, the sound is reminiscent of the soothing child of Brazilian samba known as bossa nova. But John’s take on it feels exciting and new — revolutionizing a traditional sound to fit today’s context.

Before we left to find a less rowdy scene and chat, I waited nearby as John coolly received the well wishes of various attendees. John himself is as gentle and relaxed a person as his songs would lead you to think. He’s tall with a wide, gummy, gap-toothed smile that comes out often during his conversations and singing. He moves through the world with an enviable ease, speaking openly and without anxiety. An assortment of different young alternative people approached him, eager to please. Each of his responses was engaged and kind but with no more than necessary enthusiasm. First and foremost, he felt concerned about the quality of the music and performance, and flattery didn’t distract him.

We made our way to Arlo’s, a nearby vegan food truck, and sat outside on a shabby picnic table. This afternoon was breezy and significantly more pleasant than usual in Austin. John laid down on the bench seat as I started to ask questions. Over fried pickles and the “Bac’n Cheeze Burger,” he told me about how he came to this point as a young musician in the defining and exciting space between starting and becoming known.

John’s entrance into New York’s indie scene is unconventional and far more endearing than other encroachers. He previously worked as a successful mortician in California, which he mentioned in a shockingly nonchalant fashion. “At some point, I got it in my head, I couldn’t say why, that I should do the music thing,” he explained. “And if I do anything, I do it one hundred percent.”

At the end of 2021, following “a bad relationship and a worse break up,” he completely departed from his former life, leaving all material possessions to his ex-wife. He started fresh and moved to New York City with “literally no money.” As he described the dramatic life changes, nothing about his thought process sounded manic or spontaneous. To him, it was the logical next step, the subsequent item on the to-do list. He credits this tranquility to his unwavering faith in God, and a perspective that allows him to see God’s encouragement in everyday life.

The band came together soon after. One day, while John was practicing at home, his neighbor came over and introduced himself as a drummer wanting to collaborate. They quickly became best friends. Eventually, through other friends and roommates, they’d compiled a gang of guys that would become John’s full live band. Daniel Robinson (tenor saxophone), Hunter Lewis (drums), Reid Devereaux (trumpet, electric guitar), and Michael Barnes (bass) all joined him in recording his music at home and playing shows. They’re an affable and genuine group of guys who operate with a touching bonhomie.

By 2021, John dropped his debut album Human Nature followed by his most recent album, Johnny in 2023. Both releases garnered him attention and acclaim that can be most obviously quantified by his 180k+ Spotify following. Despite many offers, he’s not signed to any label, as he has yet to see a deal he likes. His accomplishments thus far have been obtained independently, and all his ventures self-funded. He’s untouchable in the face of a world that insists on relentless branding and sanitization. The results he’s seen are, instead, thanks to his sagacious nature, granting him the ability to focus on the work and trust that others will see him producing something worth listening to. So far, his judgment hasn’t failed.

John is the trailblazer of a distinct style that can be referred to as “post-bossa nova,” a term he coined himself. But as much as the likeness is present, John never set out to be an imitator. He mentions yet another anomalous year in his late teens that he spent living with the Amish people in Virginia. His car broke down on their property, and they told him to stay, so he did. To pass the time sans internet, he composed and played songs for the community. “I was trying to make the rhythms fun to listen to and easy for the kids to digest, but also fun to play,” he says. “So that's just the way the music ended up sounding. I wasn't trying to play bossa nova.”

Post-bossa nova is its own movement that John would solely associate with bossa nova for the similarity in sound rather than substance. “If you translate the lyrics of bossa nova songs, a lot of them are very light and vain, which I think is one of the reasons why it went out of style. Brazil was having a revolution and dealing with dictatorships. And the songs are about, at best, ogling women. My songs are actually subversive. They're low-key revolutionary. Now bossa nova has influence, but the first album and a half had already been made without that influence. Topically and culturally, I'm more influenced by Mac Demarco and King Krule than João Gilberto, though he rocks. I just come from a different stream.”

Lyrically, his songs are concise and simple yet often rich and imbued with sincerity. He’s interested in sharing his musings about the world, both its divine beauty and its misery, but never maundering. His philosophy: “Don't say more than necessary. Say the least amount, actually,” he added with a smile.

“If you translate the lyrics of bossa nova songs, a lot of them are very light and vain, which I think is one of the reasons why it went out of style. Brazil was having a revolution and dealing with dictatorships. And the songs are about, at best, ogling women.”

John entered the music world with a sense of obligation, hoping to curb culture and contribute a wholesomeness to an industry that he views as boosting music that exudes perversion and lacks meaning. “Let's give the kids something else. We can have corn syrup and processed foods, but we should have some organic stuff as well. If somebody else was doing this, I’d let them freaking do this. I don't need to do this. But nobody else was doing it, and someone should.”

He speaks with clarity; his views on life are as plain and focused as his songs. When I asked him about writing, he said he finds it extremely easy “when he has something to say.” For him, the craft entails processing what’s going on in his life and writing songs that convey his thoughts every night before he sleeps.

John’s uncomplicated, neurosis-free view of everything is refreshing. It’s nice to see someone carry on in a complicated world with such grace. But this insouciance about other matters belies a devotion to the music. He spends all day working, emailing, and reaching out to people. Plus, he’s a real yes man, frequently opening him up to success-inducing experiences. “Here's a rule: If you can sleep on it, don't. Don’t procrastinate. Wake up, put your clothes on, brush your teeth, and be ready because you never know you're gonna get a message and someone's gonna say, ‘Hey, we need you over here,’ and it’s a huge opportunity. That's the kinda stuff that happens in my life all day.”

I caught his set the following evening in the backyard of yet another casual Austin bar, Batch. During sound check, John meandered on and off stage, holding a drink in his hand but letting everyone know he doesn’t drink by calling out, “I don't need this.” There were no signs of nerves but rather an impatience to get going.

The performance took place just before the sun had fully set. The band played together with magnetic ease. The pleasant scene washed over the previously distracted audience, creating a sea of soft smiles, swaying bodies, and lightly closed eyes.

After the set, John happily oscillated between various groups of people in the crowd, livening up his company each time. An introvert with social prowess, he ping-ponged between presenting as a laconic figure and a chirpy gossip but always remained gregarious. His draw is unique and impacts everyone. I expect John Roseboro to continue taking off – his pure talent and authenticity propelling him forward. He shares this confidence in his purpose and reach, and that faith seems to be his most valuable asset.

“Everything I did in this direction has been so thoroughly blessed,” he gushes. “I just pay attention, you know? You ever go to the thrift store, and it's a rainy day, and then you go in there, and they're playing ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna. And a person didn't do that. It's like an automated playlist that’s going. But it’s those little winks from the cosmos. I see the patterns. I see the timing. I’ve been noticing providentially, and prophetically the hand is telling me I'm supposed to go there. I can tell you one story or a million, but everything confirms that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.”

John Roseboro’s latest single “80 Summers”, is available now. He is currently on a US tour. Find tickets here.

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