INTERVIEW : 2000-04-27 Joseph Arthur's industrial serenades (by Stuart Berman)

Joseph Arthur is a traditionalist. His story is classic Hollywood -- he was plucked from coffee-house obscurity by Peter Gabriel, who said he was going to make him a star. His albums convey the sort of intimacy that has fans initiating pillow talk with their stereos. In grand folkie tradition, he's an advocate of the cozy residency gig, like the biweekly stint he begins Monday at Ted's. He wants to make records with former tour mates Gomez, like Dylan and the Band used to do in the '70s. And he thinks big: he originally wanted his second album, Come to Where I'm From (Virgin/EMI), to be a double, before Gabriel convinced him otherwise. He doesn't have cable, and don't get him started on the Internet.

Joseph Arthur hates traditions. For him, any folk-music education must include N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. He doesn't have the patience to sit through any double album -- "not even The Wall." He never goes anywhere without a sampler. Onstage, he subjects his confessional serenades to major sonic surgery, dissecting them with piercing atonal drones and spontaneously created arrhythmic beats. And he really wishes he had HBO so he could watch The Sopranos. Will the real Joseph Arthur please stand up? The funny thing is, on Come to Where I'm From, they both rise to the occasion.

"I'm reacting to the fact that popular music today is overwhelmingly programmed and perfect," Arthur relates at Holy Joe's before his March Canadian Music Week appearance. "That makes for a more powerful sound, but it's starting to make everything sound safe and generic. You don't ever feel that something could actually fall apart, or that there's a humanity behind it. You don't feel that slightly broken quality that makes my favourite records great, like the first Velvet Underground record.

"I've learned a lot since I toured the first record, Big City Secrets, and developed a live show from that. And I'm still developing -- I'm a late bloomer. With Big City Secrets I got a lot of people who'd be like, 'I like you live so much better than your record,' and at first it was upsetting. If you're a fan of somebody live and they're delivering their heart and soul to you, it's going to be more powerful than a record. That's just a photograph of that time, and you've got to accept it and appreciate it for what it is. But, hopefully, whatever energy people are reacting to live, I'm coming closer to capturing."

He's not quite there yet -- Arthur's on-disc delivery is too heart-on-his-sleeve honest to conjure his mesmerizing onstage mystique -- but compared to the overproduced Big City Secrets, Come to Where I'm From presents a far more definitive picture of where Arthur's coming from -- specifically, Akron, Ohio. Arthur left his hometown years ago, but its air of industrial decay and Midwest rusticity is deeply embedded in T-Bone Burnett's stark production. Arthur, however, points to a more pertinent regional influence: small-town boredom.

"Me and my friends would take acid and listen to Bauhaus and the Cure and go downtown, which was like a ghost town," he reminisces. "It's weird to see a city like that. We'd put gasoline on tennis balls and light them on fire and kick them. And we'd listen to hip-hop all the time. I wanted to be a black rap artist so badly it hurt."

So you feel some sort of affinity with Fred Durst?

"Yeah!" he laughs. "You've got to give it up to him, though you can't really admit it. And Eminem is holding his own. He's giving us a little bit more credibility than Vanilla Ice. But it's just not natural for me to do that. My real influences are Dylan, Leonard Cohen -- I like melodies too much."

Still, Arthur couldn't resist flexing his freestyle flow on Come To's penultimate rant, "Creation or a Stain" -- though it sits more comfortably alongside "Subterranean Homesick Blues" than "Fuck tha Police."

"It's a white boy's version of hip-hop without trying to be black," Arthur explains. "And it's got the line 'Down and out like Eric Clapton,' which is a hip-hop line for a white boy. The best hip-hop has not forgotten about lyrics, and I think white music has forgotten that lyrics are the thing. Ultimately, that's what lasts."


INTERVIEW : 2000-04-26 Joseph Arthur: Marking His Own Musical Path (by Paul Gangadeen)

Many great acts come and go, the lucky get noticed and the others simply fade away. There is an art, however delicate, to maintaining staying power once having pierced through the fickle membrane of the music industry and this is part of the ongoing process of rock 'n' roll's natural selection. Joseph Arthur is one of those rare artists who has managed to develop and progress while maintaining a certain level of obscurity in an industry driven by marketing images and four-minute pabulum pop.

It has been four years since the release of his critically acclaimed debut Big City Secrets on Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label. Since then, he won a Grammy award for best CD packaging for his EP entitled Vacancy, opened shows for Ben Harper and Gomez and has maintained an impressive, yet hectic residency schedule playing on both coasts. He recently recorded Come To Where I'm From, a beautiful, multi-layered release that follows up Big City Secrets nicely.

Joseph Arthur is not only a musician, he is also a sculptor and a painter, displaying his work on his album sleeves. During our interview, Arthur had been working on sketch for a fan. He explained that it allowed him to think with some clarity and it gave insight into how his creativity operates. You'd think such multi-tasking would make Arthur a risk for artistic burn-out, but it's actually beneficial.

"When you get burnt out on one then the other one can sort of take over and then you're not pressured. It's important to take the pressure off of what you're trying to do in a way because when you put all of your being into something, you suffocate it. If you put some of your love and energy, but not your obsessive energy, it can really grow. You have to step away from things and let them just take their time," says Arthur.

The key to Arthur's success is rooted in his own honesty and it appears through the purity of his music and voice, a blending of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Karl Wallinger (World Party). It's this honesty which has helped him go from being a guitar salesman to a critically- and artistically-acclaimed professional touring artist.

"It's outrageous. It's starting to get more tripped out but I think I'm still connected with who I am," says Arthur. "I don't think it's going to my head any more than a necessary amount in order to do all of these things. It certainly isn't eating my humanity away. I think it's cool. I think it's healthy in that it's allowing me to expand in a positive way. I feel really lucky that I haven't achieved any real fame, being relatively unknown. I think that's like a real blessing because it's kept me hungry, it's kept me striving and it's allowed me to learn over three albums what keeps things vital. I don't want to lose that and I don't think I will."

It's a surprising and engaging experience seeing Joseph Arthur play live. On the stage he can be seen wearing dark glasses with his self-painted acoustic guitar and a harmonica neck stand. The surprise is in the sound coming from the speakers, an atmospheric blending of drum loops, bass lines, ghost vocal melodies with echo, delays and pitch-shifting. All of the sounds are sampled live and the audience is treated to witnessing the building or layering of textures evolving into a song.

"Human error needs to come back into music," he says. "It's as simple as that. I have a few drum machines, I do loops onstage. I like technology. I'm not like an old hippie that wishes it could be like it was in the old days. I'm just saying that what we have to do to make music interesting again now is to step away from technology. It's been overdone and I'm bored with it. I want something different and exciting."

Joseph Arthur will be performing residency clubs dates in Canada sometime in May. The show that he puts on is in fact, "different and exciting" and it is closer to performance art than merely a singer/songwriter waxing lyrical about love, social injustices and having a crappy 9 to 5 job. He'll captivate with his voice, his words, his songs, and most importantly, his honesty.


2000-04-17 - Stadtgarten, Koln

On Stage :

Solo concert

Setlist : 

ashes everywhere
in the sun
big city secret
bed of nails
the real you
termite song
invisible hands

Recording :

Sadly, there's no audio recording of this event. 
If I am wrong, thank you to inform me by email.

 Poster :

known recording : no


2000-04-15 - Arena, Geneve

On Stage :

Solo concert, opening for Ben Harper.

Setlist :

bed of nails
in the sun (with ben harper)
big city secret

Recording :

2000-04-15 Geneve


2000-04-05 - Palacisalfa, Rome

On Stage :

Solo concert, opening for Ben Harper

Setlist : 

in the sun
big city secret

Recording :

An audience recording exists.
If you own a copy of this show & want to share it, please send me a email.


2000-04-03 - Palasport, Modena

On Stage :

Solo concert, opening for Ben Harper

Setlist :

In the sun
Big city secrets

Recording :


INTERVIEW : 2000-04 Joseph Arthur comes to town (theraft.com)

'This is me and this is me sitting in a room with a guitar crushing down onto my head. This is where I dream'

This is an unexpected start to the interview, Joseph Arthur holding up his guitar to camera and reeling off his first of many intriguing sound-bites. Still I am a professional and am not phased (yet !) I had recently been reading through Joseph's diary extracts from life on the road. He has been touring round the globe for some time now with the likes of Gomez and Ben Harper and chronicles his experiences in his on line tour diaries. Prolific and expressive they deserve publication in their own right.

I begin with a Paris extract - In Paris - It's easy to become.......

"Oh you're just going on about the bad ones !!!"

Are you going to publish any of the diary extracts.

"Well it is published on to the web which is great because we can publish and it so doesn't have to be good ! Even our shit - which is bad probably - I say fuck it - it's more fun to take a chance !"

I continue .... In Milan ; the audience are crowding like snakes and when the voodoo sticks are rubbed together nothing happens.....

"I was trying to describe different states of performance but there are some more positive one in there ! (Joseph reiterates for about the 3rd time.) They are probably just not as fun to read."

Correct, we English just love to love the negative side. I finally deliver the line that I have been trying to get to ; Do you find it hard putting on performance after performance ?

Usually no, it kicks ass !! But it happens. It's interesting to document what happens inside the performers head - when you do interviews typically you are not being real as it is so posed. In a way - I give more of myself - like interviewing myself."

So have you got to know any of your touring partners well ?

"We recorded a song with Gomez in Los Angeles called 'I Donated Myself to the Mexican Army' which came out really well."

The new album in entitled 'Welcome to Where I'm From' so it is only right that I should enquire into where Joseph is actually from !

"I used to live in London so it's strange walking round as you see a lot of ghosts. I had a life here. I'm from Ohio originally from but live in New York now."

So....."The album is like an invitation . I am experimenting with being open as opposed to experimenting with being closed which I did before - but that didn't work. I am trying to connect with people but that is very dangerous to do as people often resent it when you try and connect with them. Some people resent it - some people appreciate it. The people that do try and connect are usually very sensitive and so when they stumble upon the people that resent them trying to connect they sometimes get hurt. So it's dangerous to try and connect. But you only live once."

Well one thing is for sure - Joseph is fond of the word 'connect'. Maybe I'm on to something ?! Maybe it is time to turn the conversation around to philosophy. So what is your outlook Joseph ?

Nonplussed in the slightest he points to a hanging picture behind us : " Roses embalmed in gold pictures." Errrghhhh ? " I think that means I'm trying to value life. I'm just kidding !!....I'm trying to trap life into it's value.I believe in god. I don't think that he is particularly punishing. I do sacrifice lambs though !

OK right, so who do you look up to ?

"I don't have any heroes except for anybody ! I listen to a lot of Miles Davis, Nirvana, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Beatles and I love Andy Warhol and De Kooning in terms of art."

Well that was reasonably straightforward. Music or art - one choice please ?

"I get obsessive about the music and the painting at different times. Music is more my wife and paintings are more my girlfriend on the side........... not that I condone that sort of behaviour.. I'm not suggesting that !"

Joseph Arthur was recently nominated for a Grammy for the packaging to his previous release. Did you enjoy the Grammies ?

"It's fun. I should have start writing the tour journal then. It was a gas. I didn't expect that we would win, to get nominated it was just sheer outrageous. I knew in my heart there was no chance we could win - well 95% sure... I didn't prepare a speech - it's daytime - no one really cares. It was late and we were dressed up as we were going to the parties afterwards any way. It was funny though as we found out after about 5 minutes that we had not won so we left as there was no other reason for us to really be there. And then we went to eat some Mexican food and went to the parties. It was an honour. I didn't really think of it until I saw the programme and then saw how much attention they had given it. It wasn't til after we had not won that I felt honoured by it."

What got you in to it in the first place ?

"Some way to redeem my life.....I was full of terminal self- hatred right from Kindergarten on. I just remember like being really heavy when I was really young I never was a kid. I was just really young but I was always an adult. I think I had a strange upbringing but I think that I am just a strange person with a strange upbringing but then I think everyone has a strange upbringing. They're all fucking nuts ! Mine was no exception to that rule but I think there was something a bit strange to begin with like with my mind - a bit unusual .."

Time was nearly up but I had to ask the seemingly obvious....Do you take drugs?

"I don't take drugs. I used to take drugs but then found out that they are really bad for you. Somebody said "Hey they are really bad for you" so I thought "Shit, I better stop taking them".

Finally after the most surreal but engaging 20 minutes I asked what he had got up his sleeve for the rest of the year ?

"I'm gonna go to New York and see if she'll go out with me (points to girl on magazine).... If my girlfriend sees this I'm just kidding !... I'm going out on the road forever...I've been on the road forever which is why I'm so scattered and weird.."

At the end Joseph asked if we could take out the bit that he had a strange mind. For someone that had been stranger than any one that I had ever spoken to I found that really endearing. Joseph Arthur composes music, poetry, sculpts and paints all with a depth that someone with just one of those skills would be willing to accept the artist's sufferance for. If that meant that Joseph Arthur is in turmoil I wouldn't like to say - using the foil of abstract comedy I was kept well away from his true persona. But you can draw your own conclusions from his notes from the road.