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Born in the small town of Paxton, Nebraska, he moved to various places in the Midwest during his childhood due to his father's military career. Following his time at Austin Peay State University, he eventually settled down in Tennessee, where he met some local musicians and began recording.

The initial recordings he put to tape eventually became his debut release, Dressed Up Like Nebraska. Released to critical acclaim, it allowed him to tour and begin performing full time, eventually releasing a second album, Home, in 2000. His songs would later be featured on a variety of television shows and movie soundtracks.

In 2002 Rouse released Under Cold Blue Stars, his first for Rykodisc. Following a tour with Guster, he would release another album, 1972. A concept album of sorts, in the style of songwriters from the time of his birth, it was released in 2003. In 2005, he released Nashville, which featured the single "Winter in the Hamptons". In 2006, Subtítulo, was released, which corresponded with his move to Spain.

Along with his normal full-length albums, Rouse occasionally releases EPs featuring demos and alternate takes on his personal Bedroom Classics label. The volumes are usually limited to small numbers in release, and for sale only through his website or at live performances. In 2007, Rouse released a duet EP with Paz Suay under the moniker She's Spanish, I'm American.

Rouse opened for John Mayer on a string of dates from January 25 to February 3 for Mayer's winter 2007 tour.

A new album, Country Mouse City House, was released July 2007. The album was promoted by a US tour in September and October, followed by a European tour in November and December.

In April 2008, Josh announced his official website will become Bedroom Classics Closet Archives, where for a yearly subscription users can download rare and unreleased recordings in MP3 format. The first three of these releases are a complete live recording of December 7th 2007 performance at The Shepherds Bush Empire in London; 4 additional recordings from an April 20th 2006 KCRW radio performance with a string quartet (the rest of this performance is available of the digital EP 'Guitar and Strings') and the 5 track Bedroom Classics Vol.3, featuring 4 new original compositions and a cover of Mother Love Bone's Chloe Dancer.

ALL MUSIC GUIDE - "Rouse sounds perfectly at ease, as if he were just playing for fun with no tapes rolling."

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY - "Persistently gorgeous"