2003/02/26

INTERVIEW : 2003-02-26 Come To Where He's Been (by Hobart Rowland)


Come to where he's been
Atlanta and beyond -- Joseph Arthur's expanding universe



LIFE LESSONS: Atlanta made a lasting impression on onetime resident Joseph Arthur. Too bad the reverse wasn't true.

"It was the first place I lived outside of my hometown. I was just really thrilled to be ... away. I didn't go to college, and just wanted to gosomewhere."

That somewhere was Atlanta. And from there, it was as if Joseph Arthur had been shot out of cannon. His career trajectory is a marvel of breakneck efficiency. In a matter of months, the nobody musician went from eking out demos in a basement apartment behind Fellini's Pizza on Ponce to indulging his copious muse at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios in Wiltshire, England. What followed was a string of compelling and eccentric releases -- 1997's Big City Secrets, the 1999 EP Vacancy, the full-length Come to Where I'm From a year later, and his latest,Redemption's Son -- steeped in a darkly flamboyant, preternatural singer/songwriter aura unlike anything since Jeff Buckley.

Arthur spent four years in Atlanta, and he might've stuck around longer if it weren't for that life-altering answering-machine message from Gabriel. One of Arthur's tapes had found its way to Sir Sledgehammer, who promptly made the Akron, Ohio, native Real World's first rock signing.

Most of the details of Arthur's stay here are less than compelling; some are even embarrassing. "I got a couple of bad write-ups along the way -- like, in the Music Menu. I never made any sort of impact in Atlanta," says Arthur.

He worked at Clark's Music on Ponce (now a pawn shop). He played bass ("slap-and-pop style," he giggles) in funk-rock band Ten Zen Men. He played bass in rock band Bellybutton. Finally, he started writing his own songs on an acoustic guitar, and things started opening up.

Arthur wasn't new to songwriting. "I was writing songs, but it was the early '90s, so the main key of the song was getting people to rock in the mosh pit. Then I realized that if I just divorced myself form that scene, then I could be free to write what I wanted to."

Ultimately, that meant divorcing himself from Atlanta entirely in 1996. Yet Arthur, who spent a year in London before moving to New York, still has a soft spot for the city -- even if the Big Peach wasn't always a doting host. "It was like growing up," he says from his apartment on Manhattan's East Side. "I spent my college years in Atlanta smoking pot. ... No, not just that, I cleared my head. I transformed in Atlanta; I got straight in Atlanta. I met a lot of really great people."

One of those people was poet/spoken-word artist Mikel K, who was the first in a long line of artist/musician types to pass along the demo that found its way to Gabriel.

"I never even knew Peter Gabriel had a record company," Arthur says. "Mikel K gave it to Joe B, then he gave it to Harvey S, then he gave it to P.G. It just crawled through the system."

"Sorry, I'm painting right now."

Joseph Arthur apologizes for sounding distracted. He's salvaged some old dresser drawers on the street and is busy painting them as he talks. "Damn, dude, I've got some old art supplies," he says with mild disgust. "I haven't painted in a long time."

Anyone familiar with Arthur's albums knows his painting abilities go beyond furniture revitalization. His artwork -- colorful, brash, often disturbing self-portraits rendered in a manic slash-and-burn style -- lend an epic peculiarity to the album covers for Come to Where I'm From and Redemption's Son.

"With Come to Where I'm From, there's a self-portrait with two cockroaches with eyes facing off in a war with the self," Arthur explains. "On Redemption's Son, there's a humanoid figure that's grown wings and is moving from the dark into the light."

A nourishing optimism pervades not only the album's artwork, but its content as well. In both its lush production (by Arthur, with Tchad Blake) and the grainy warmth of Arthur's vocals, Redemption's Sonis restrained and somewhat conventional, its refined pop melodies bathed in a refracted glow like sunshine filtered through a cracked stained glass window. Arthur elaborates on how Redemption's Son came together:

"I had shit-piles of material and went to go mix it with Tchad [Tom Waits, Paul McCartney]. I just picked songs that I wanted him to mix -- and when we ran out of time and I had to go, that was it. Then Tchad went through a lot of the other material and put together four EPs [the limited-editionJunkyard Hearts series]. It was nice to turn the shit over to him at that point because I'd been living with it for so long."

The weeding-out process resulted in a 75-minute album whose many dips and turns make the journey somewhat protracted, though ultimately worthwhile. Still, Redemption's Son is a far cry from his '97 debut, Big City Secrets, a tortured gail-force blast of cleansing self-confessional air that manifested itself in an eccentric avant-folk style. After the album received only cursory attention, Arthur kept quiet until 1999's Vacancy EP, whose bleak cover art earned Joseph and pal Zachary Larner a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.

Then came 2000's Come to Where I'm From, an album so wracked with inner torment it seemed its protagonist might bleed himself dry (if he didn't hang himself first). Fractured sonic webbing, experimental flagellation and uncompromising stylistic extremes conspired with Arthur's vocal histrionics to give the effect of an extremely creative soul bouncing off the walls to be heard, whether it meant serenading a fickle public with crafted pop melodies or ripping the front door from its hinges and screaming until his face turned purple. The dichotomy worked: Perhaps swayed by their own millennial neuroses, critics connected with Arthur's antsy volatility in a big way, and Come to Where I'm From made it onto many year-end best-of lists.

Redemption's Son invites human contact in more obvious ways, even as it details the sometimes-toxic reaction of skin on skin in unnerving detail on tracks like "Favorite Girl" ("I've been so happy being unhappy with you"). And "Dear Lord," "Let's Embrace" and the title track suggest Arthur is becoming increasingly at ease with his own spirituality, comfortable in the resolution to heal thy sorry-ass self through love and faith.

It's never easy to address such subjects without listeners feeling they're being spoon-fed someone else's pat recipe for salvation. But while the potential turn-offs could've been many, Arthur averts disaster with a mixture of imagery and impulse.

"I write from the unconscious, so I don't really think about it," Arthur says. "I don't know what to think about all that stuff. But I use it to help me in life. And it does help me."

hobart.rowland@creativeloafing.com

2003/02/25

2003-02-25 - Fordham University, Bronx



On Stage :

Solo concert
This show was broadcasted on WFUV Radio.


Setlist : 

vacancy
birthday card
honey and the moon
i donated myself to the mexican army
in the sun
favorite girl
mercedes
bill wilson
innocent world
speed of light
crying like a man 


Recording :




2003/02/14

2003-02-14 - Cabaret, Montreal




On Stage :

Solo concert


Setlist :

favorite girl
vacancy
birthday card
redemption's son
i donated myself to the mexican army
you are the dark
blue lips
nation of slaves
in the sun
bill wilson
tattoo
the real you
innocent world
straw dogs
invisible hands
echo park
mercedes 


Recording :

This concert was officially recorded, and sold on CDr after the show.

2003-02-14 Cabaret, Montreal






2003/02/13

2003-02-13 - Carson Daly TV Show, New York


On Stage :

Solo concert
with Pat Sansone on keyboards


Setlist : 

inocent world


Recording :

A recording of this performance exists.




2003-02-13 - The Rivoli, Toronto


On Stage :

Solo concert


Setlist : 

favorite girl
vacancy
birthday card
nation of slaves
bill wilson
innocent world
straw dogs
speed of light
honey and the moon
devil's broom
i donated myself to the mexican army
blue lips
you've been loved

Recording :

This concert was officially recorded, and sold on CDr after the show.


2003/02/10

2003-02-10 - WFUV Radio, New York


On Stage :

Radio Session


Setlist : 

you are the dark
honey and the moon
favorite girl


Recording :

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


2003/02/07

2003-02-07 - Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield



On Stage :

Solo concert


Setlist : 

toxic angel
vacancy
birthday card
honey and the moon
devil's broom
history
september baby
bill wilson
dear lord
in the sun
you've been loved


Recording :

2003/02/06

2003-02-06 - Middle East, Boston


On Stage :

Solo concert


Setlist : 

nation of slaves
bill wilson
tattoo
innocent world
straw dogs
i donated myself to the mexican army
evidence
evil will
in the sun
crying like a man


Recording :

This concert was officially recorded, and sold on CDr after the show.











2003/02/01

2003-02-01 - 400 Bar, Minneapolis





On Stage :

Solo concert


Setlist : 

Innocent world
Straw dogs
Vacancy
Bill Wilson
Mercedes
Evidence
Evil will
I donated myself to the mexican army
You are the dark
In the sun
Cockroach
September baby
Favorite girl
Tattoo
Ashes everywhere
Honey and the moon
Devil's broom
The real you


Recording :

This concert was officially recorded, and sold on CDr after the show.

If someone could send me a FLAC version, it will be great.


2003-02-01 MP3