Critically acclaimed painter, rock musician and poet, Joseph Arthur brings his synergistic live performance to the Arden Concert Gild on Saturday, March 21st at 8:00 pm for a WXPN Welcomes show. Joseph Arthur’s influences span from a variety of sources from Jimi Hendrix to Picasso. His music catalog is vast and varied, his poetry flows and sprouts effortlessly, and his collaborations with well-known musicians are well documented. Back in the early ‘90’s, he was discovered by Peter Gabriel and then signed to his label. The rest is history. Joseph’s unique solo performance, one where he uses looping technology to layer his own sounds, masterfully rocking through his great catalog of songs, and he paints while singing and performing.
Before his evening show in Arden, Joseph Arthur will hold a free ART Workshop at the Arden Buzzware between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm (info at the Arden Concert Gild Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/ardenconcertgild) . Joseph will be painting, discussing his art and influences and his approach: Examples of Arthur’s visual art can be found at http://www.museumofmodernarthur.com/ and his music at http://www.josepharthur.com/
Joseph has been a very busy musician over the past year or so having released a number of albums including a tribute album to Lou Reed called Lou, a haunting interpretation of Lou Reed songs. Plus, he has released a two-part concept album project called The Ballad of Boogie Christ, both albums very different, and both conceptually and musically and lyrically brilliant. Opening for Joseph Arthur is Cliff Hillis Band, a visible and popular local musician and band, who recently released an imaginative and infectious set of songs on the LP Song Machine.
During a break from the studio in L.A. where he was recently recording with his new musical project, RNDM, I was very fortunate to have the chance to catch up with Joseph Arthur for a chat :
Jon at Philthy: We are very excited to see you in Arden, Delaware. How would you describe your live show?
Joseph Arthur: I’m excited to come….I’m trying to go back to what I was doing when I started which was a one man band… , and I paint live so there is a performance art aspect to it. It’s also quite intimate, but it can also rock; so it’s a pretty dynamic show. It’s also very intimate because it’s just me.
Jon at Philthy: I understand you have been on the road a lot. Describe what 2014 was and like for you, and what were some of the highlights from last year?
Joseph Arthur: One that stands out was I got to play with Mike Mills of R.E.M., my touring bass player for a while, and R.E.M. has always been one of my favorite bands and Mike is an awesome guy and was a thrill to play with him. Also, touring with The Afghan Whigs stands out. They are one of my favorite bands as well, and Greg Dulli is a really good friend of mine so getting to tour and play with him and I’m friends with all the guys in the band, and that was really fun as it was 2 ½ months on the road, and I got a chance to perform solo in front of their crowd was really good for me because it forced me to dig in and get strong as a solo performer again.
Jon: That’s awesome. In fact, that Afghan Whigs album from last year is in my top 40 of the year last year.
Joseph: Yeah, it’s a great album. Greg is an interesting writer, and it just rocks, so it was fun. I enjoyed listening to them every night. They are on tour in Europe right now…kind of wish I was on tour with them now but stuff I had to do here.
Jon: You have been very busy recording over the last couple of years? Your latest tribute is to Lou Reed with the album, Lou, and then The Ballad of Boogie Christ, both Acts. Can you talk about your most recent releases and where you got the inspiration to record them?
Joseph: The Lou album came out of result of me writing a remembrance for Lou when he passed, and Bill Bentley from Vanguard records called me up and I didn’t know Bill at the time. He said ‘I think you should make a Lou Reed Tribute’ record, and I wanted to do it with Vanguard Records. I thought about it for a while, and I got back from a tour and I started doing strip down acoustic versions of some of his songs. It was great to pay tribute and mourn him, and I felt inspired to do it. So, it just took off. I did it and then and sent it to both guys at Vanguard, and they loved it and put it out. It was a very straight forward thing. The Ballad of Boogie Christ is something I’ve been working on for a long time. That has not been straight forward (laughs). I recorded that in different phases over the course of years. I started it out on tape. Originally, it was going to be me on guitar and Garth Hudson on organ. It turned out to be a full production record and then I started getting the idea of doing a musical around it, having acts, and there is also an Act 3 that I’ll put out one of these days but not sure when. That record is more of a story…..a character study in a way.
Jon: I have a few fan questions for you….How do you react when a woman calls you “dreamy” as it was heard the other day?
Joseph: You know there are far worse things I’ve been called. (Laughing). I’ll take it. Dreamy sounds pretty good to me. I take it as a compliment and appreciate it.
Jon: When you paint and play music, do you have a pre thought image in your mind or is it more intuitive and you are not sure of your subject matter?
Joseph: I tend to do a portrait of some sort of being or person. In that I try to veer away from that but I tend to like doing that. In that case, I do have a pre-thought thing, but in terms of what that thing will ultimately look like or color palette, I really leave it up to chance. Also, I don’t really have a pre-conceived notion typically, but sometimes I do. I’ll have a strong idea like I want to do this, I see something I want to do, and then I’ll do it and usually when that happens, I really like the result. It’s kinda good to have that happen, but I don’t wait for that to happen, a lot of times that doesn’t happen. It’s fine if it doesn’t happen, but it’s cool when it does happen.
Jon: Who or what are you channeling on the song “Diamond Ring?”
Joseph: I think the Rolling Stones. The Lonely Astronauts which was the band I was in, I formed on my own with myself and various people but not with this band, and we started touring around an album called Nuclear Daydream , and then we found a sound during that tour which was psychedelic rock, but also a “Stone-sey” kind of element to it that we embraced. That song particularly is unabashedly embracing that influence. I think is a fun thing to do for artists. Of course, you don’t want to be a “copycat” band of anybody as that would be very boring and sad. Every once in a while I think it’s just great to let an influence just completely reveal itself in something you do. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. That’s fun. Sometimes people use that as a weapon against you, but you got to allow people their weapons (laughs). I say we are channeling “The Rolling Stones.”
Jon: Tell us a little bit about who you have collaborated with over the years and what that meant to you?
Joseph: I was just in the studio just now listening to a mix of my collaboration with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam and Richard Stuverud, which is our band together called RNDM. That’s an awesome project. The album we are working on now is really really strong. I’m excited about it. I also have a side project with Dhani Harrison and Ben Harper called Fistful of Mercy, and that is exciting too. That has been on break for a long time, but I think we’ll end up getting back together and doing something one of these days. My whole music career has been one of collaboration because I got signed to Peter Gabriel’s label when I was really young, and he sort of mentored me. So, in a way, my early records were all collaborations. I’ve done stuff also with Michael Stipe before which has been amazing…. Peter Buck.
Jon: What are some of your musical and non-musical influences?
Joseph: Musical influences are (my early ones) I was into jazz fusion, and then I got into Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was one of my earliest and maybe biggest influence ….his freedom and sense that everything is possible, his experimentation with music it was just so inspiring to me, his whole character. I’ve gotten into everything: Led Zeppelin, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Sly and the Family Stone, The Four Tops, (a huge influence on me) probably because my parents only really were listening to two records and one was The Four Tops and the other one was Jim Croce but you could really break it down to The Four Tops and Jim Croce. That is basically me in a nutshell (laughs).
Non-musical: I think of painters like Picasso and Jean Michel-Basquiat, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky…
Jon: What kinds of music are you listening to today? What is on your turntable right now?
Joseph: On my turntable at my home in Brooklyn, OutKast Stankonia is on there now. Well, I’m in the middle of making a record right now; so, I don’t really listen to that much when I’m doing that because I usually program a beat while I’m trying to go to sleep before I go to bed. I have my laptop and start programming a beat. I usually fall asleep while that is just looping in my head and I’ll wake up and shut it off. I do that a lot!
Jon: What kinds of things can we expect to hear or see from you by the end of 2015?
Joseph: I’m planning to put some records out this year. I’ve made a few records that I haven’t put out yet. So, I’m figuring out how to put them out. I don’t have any expectations for them. It feels very liberating to put things out, release it and not worry about it. I feel more liberated in music than I have in a while. I don’t have to adhere to anything that I have done in the past to protect any kind of identity and can actually have fun with it like the liberation to create the things that might suck. That’s what people who do stuff for a long time, they need that. The truly great stuff also almost sucks. You have to allow yourself to almost suck in order to be great. In other words, you don’t want to go down the ‘middle of the road.’ You want to be on some kind of edge, but what is truly on some kind of edge also has the most potential of really sucking, but one of the great things about getting older is that you care a lot less about what anybody thinks about you or says about you. That is a really great place for an artist to find himself. I’m getting to the place of wanting to take more and more chances not a nihilistic or challenging place, but more out of fun, joy and love of what people would enjoy and to find that new inspiration about what you are doing again like finding the fun of discovery. That is also the most exciting art and music is that it has a lot of that fun of discovery.