16 May, 2017Print
Joe Fox Q & A
Q: Could you give us a few sentences how "Aftershow" came to be and what it was like recording it with band members from the El Michels Affair and the Dap-Kings?
A: When I write a song, I don’t always know what the song is about until I finished it. I spoke to someone once who paints and apparently a lot of people they title they’re paintings when they finish painting. I think it’s the same with songs. I like to finish the song and then I take a look at it and say, ‘What the hell am I saying?’ Or (laughter) ‘what am I talking about?’ With “Aftershow” I think, it’s kind of a nice song to play on acoustic guitar and then to take it to the band. Leon Michels from Truth & Soul and his guys from The Menahan Street Band, as well as The Dap Kings kind of helped find a soul for the song.
Q: Are there any other artists who’s sort of careers you’d like to emulate or who’s music you really gravitate towards? You've mentioned that you don’t listen to much contemporary music so is there anyone else you could name?
A: David Bowie.
Q: Do you have any inspirations outside of music itself?
A: Meeting people, literature and books. I like to read, and I like to go out walking at night. In cities, I like to travel. I love '1984' by George Orwell, 'First Love' by Ivan Turgenev, and the playwright David Mamet. 'Sexual Perversity in Chicago' by Patrick Marber is my favorite play, and I like 'Closer' [by Marber] as well.
Q: What are some of your most vivid memories performing in front of people, or any experience that stood out in your mind in your history performing and busking all around the UK?
A: A lot of people would say when I was busking I kind of go to sell someone a CD and I think because I was a stranger to them and they’re a stranger to me essentially I always took to music and a lot of people would share quite deep secrets. I might have a man telling me they’re having an affair and he doesn’t know what he should do or I’d have a wife talking about how she’s a widow and she’s come to London because it’s the anniversary of her husband’s death and he passed away in London.
I meet a lot of soldiers. I remember a guy who returned from Afghanistan and he bought a CD and he kept giving me money. We spent the night together and he was just telling me about his time at war. I’m really interested in war poetry from the Second World War, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.
I love to meet such a broad spectrum of people because it allows me to write songs…when you’ve met so much of society. But you know, everyone, all kinds of people of all religions. I found that it was a good way to become a musician. I think Ed Sheeran did a similar thing. I like to think of myself as a ghetto Ed Sheeran.
Q: What about artists from the sixties and seventies do you find inspiring?
A: I think they existed in a time before technology was so developed so we talk about artists who I think have a lot more wonder when they’re playing something, take The Rolling Stones for example. To get there, to get their blues record they had to go to a store and go through all the racks to find those little cuts to know the “Red Rooster” the first Rolling Stones single, you have to really sift through the racks to find that.
Whereas now, there’s so much all of the recorded musical history is at the fingertips of every young person. So I think what happens is that it’s hard for young people to kind of feel inspired because they are just overwhelmed. You got things like everything else that’s on the Internet and all the crazy stuff going on and I think if the artists from post-war basically the fifties, sixties and seventies you could hear in the music a lot of wonder and a lot of innocence.
Even when you had songs by The Velvet Underground, which are dark subject matter, or you had people talking about or even when like David Bowie you know he was taking, he was taking inspiration from Kabuki Theater in Japan. For David Bowie to do that, he’d have to walk around and meet people who have been to Japan. It wasn’t as simple as just Googling stuff.
I think because of that, it really affects the music and that's why now with all the technology we have, and all the kinds of computers we have, I think the song writing becomes a little bit less important. Why write a song when you can make everything sound kind of amazing for a short time? The technology wasn’t so advanced so you know it goes to everything, even the way musicians have to play. To play with Hendrix, to be a drummer and play with these guys, you have to be amazing. Now with computers, I feel like anyone can do it.
I'm not a negative person, and I'm not saying it's a bad think, I'm just saying for me personally, for the kind of music I like, artists like Amy Winehouse or Gnarls Barkley or even Adele, you know people who write their own songs from their own personal experience, I think it's just harder to do that now. Tech has replaced show business. Smartphones have kind of become more important than the art, basically.
I feel like in the sixties and seventies, people identified themselves with records, like punk and noise movements or hip-hop. Do you see a new movement happening? Can you imagine a new genre like punk or hip-hop being such a strong, organic genre? It feels like we're almost at the end of culture and we've stepped into a post-modern age where it's everything referencing the past.
For me as a songwriter, I'm trying to write original, melodic great songs. I think I'm succeeding, but at the same time, I have to remember that the artists I like -- Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Joni Mitchell – they didn't have the internet and access to all of this. I try to keep my world very simple and organic, and I try not to use the Internet as much as I can because I try to meet real people in to get inspiration.
Q: Do you recall hearing an album or song for the first time, or reading a piece of literature that set you down the path of writing and performing music the way that you do? Is there a light bulb moment?
A: I think 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' was an album I fell in love with. She expressed herself so well in that album to the point where she almost didn't need to make another album. 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks is such a beautifully painted picture. And 'A Day In The Life' by The Beatles, I lived inside that song for a good year and a half when I was younger.
Q: Are there any sorts of stories from your youth that find their way into your music, or a person or place that inspired your new songs?
A: I moved around a lot when I was younger. I moved around always from families and I must have gone to at least ten schools by the time I was sixteen. I think that the lack of home really did affect me I think.
Music really did actually really save me a lot. I would be doing music if I was signed or not. I would be doing it just as passionately, you know? I wasn’t writing songs because I wanted to sell them. I thought maybe I could one day, but I was writing songs as therapy as a way to kind of deal with these emotions.
Q: What are some of your favorite albums?
A: 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' by Bob Dylan, 'Ziggy Stardust' by David Bowie, 'Nevermind' by Nirvana, 'Is This It?' by The Strokes, and 'Transformer' by Lou Reed.