It’s time to forget about sleep and hit the streets for this annual musical takeover of Toronto. I’ve done it for many years and always recommend getting a festival pass that allows you entry to most of the 600 plus shows, with the exception of a few bigger name concerts.This way you have the option of doing a bit of research on who you might want to catch, or just roam the streets and go by chance as to what you might stumble upon. I typically go for an equal combination of both and always end up with new discoveries.
This year is no exception with the amount of talent that will be passing through the city. One performer that I only recently discovered this year is Joseph Arthur
, who will be playing at the infamous Horseshoe Tavern on Thursday March 22nd. One evening while sitting at home surfing the web, one of my clicks brought me to a posting stating that he was offering up his latest two-album release, “Redemption City’, for free as download. I couldn’t resist at least taking a listen.
The first song I heard was “Travel As Equals”, and I was hooked. What caught me and kept me were the lyrics that resonated deep within. I let the album flow into the next track, then the next, right through to the end. As someone who hears a lot of music, I hadn’t been mesmerized by songs like this in quite some time. He was also scheduled to do a performance on Letterman the next night, and performed “Travel As Equals” with a great band that only made me dig it that much more.
Upon further research I learned that Arthur has been putting out music for years, has played many of the top festivals around the world, has published books of his writings, designs t-shirts and does all his over album cover work, and composes most of the songs entirely on his own. Born in Akron and now living in Brooklyn, his musical destiny may well have been capped when he was discovered by none other than Peter Gabriel. He’s since collaborate with many other well known musicians, and has shared the stage with numerous others as well.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with the mystical man behind the music.
You tend to write, record, perform, and produce pretty much solo for the most part nowadays. I read that this was particularly the case for your latest release. Can you briefly explain what was involved and who assisted you in releasing the final product?
“I spent the last three years making this record on my own, all the playing and sounds and mixing. In the last two weeks of final mixing I had my friend Merritt Jacob come in and help me make final mix choices and basically help me bring it home. This is the most solitary album I’ve ever made and it’s restored my confidence in my ability to produce. I trust my instincts more than ever. It’s a good feeling.”
What musical instruments do you mostly play live, and how much is done digitally or electronically to produce your songs?
‘On stage I mostly play guitar, but in the studio I’d say I’m fifty-fifty between live instruments and electronic. On this record almost every track starts with drum machine beats and evolves into live drumming. I play a lot of guitar and keyboards too. I usually run synths through some kind of distortion and/or reverb and equalize the brittle top end off so they sound warmer. This album has lots of Moog on it.”
I read that “Redemption City” was something that was a long while in the making, as you had an idea to put something out under this name, but weren’t sure what that would entail. Can you confirm and explain?
“Well the title was given to me in 2002 or 2003 and I held onto it. I finally started working on it in 2009 but I really didn’t know what it would be until a few weeks before it came out and it evolved a lot in that time. I was ready to put it out after working on it for a few weeks, but in this case I’m really glad I didn’t because time really helped it evolve into something much deeper and even more unhinged. The tendency is to think it’s best to put things out fast and without thought so that something pure is captured, but in this case the opposite was true.”
You chose to give your latest album release “Redemption City” away for free digitally. What’s your reasoning behind this?
“Mainly because I want to be free myself, and because it was fun and immediate. There seemed to be less pressure on the process and I was excited for people to hear it. I wanted to take advantage of the Internet and to acknowledge that music is basically free now anyway, so why not embrace it. It’s kind of fun to just let it go and see what happens. I can testify that its good for the mental health of an artist to get their work out there, it frees you to move on.”
“You also had a previous release with “redemption” in the title. Is there any meaning behind this?
“It’s a common theme in my music. I think it’s the pulse that drives us all as we are put on this plane of existence seeking redemption. For what, we do not know. It’s the mysterious thread beneath us all. Only we can give it to ourselves. I remember in the first grade thinking I really needed to redeem myself in a serious way. I felt that intensely and I believe it’s that same thing that drives me still.”
As an accomplished writer of published works as well, is there a separation between the shorter song lyrics and the longer written text, or does one often meld with the other?
Well this album is driven by the words. Each song came from words first and in a way is a break-through for me. I’ve written songs words first before, but never an entire album. It all seems to be one big project with different avenues to manifest. I wake up and work on stuff and try to address the things that are most impending. It’s only work when what’s impending isn’t interesting you at the moment.”
You also are a credited painter and designer, creating all your own artwork for your albums, and were once nominated for a Grammy. Do you see your music and art as complementing each other, or is one more the inspiration for the other?
“They work in tandem. I’m thankful for painting in these tough times for music makers. I may not have been as free with my music if I wasn’t making money painting.”
You’ve crossed paths, recorded, and toured with many different musicians. Do any of these encounters stand out as particularly more memorable in your career, and why?
“Meeting and jamming a bit with Joe Strummer stands out. It’s a place I visit in my memory and thank him for his spirit. I’ve been incredibly blessed in this regard so I can’t really just pick out one but yeah, Joe still had the real enthusiasm for it. It’s like he went through ambivalence and came back ready to give it his all again, or at least that’s the impression I had and it’s great to see that it stuck with me. As shit as everything may be at times you basically only have three options: give up, proceed with ambivalence, or enthusiastically go for it. The third seems to win every time.”
You’ve played Toronto several times in the past, always at different venues. This time you are performing at the historic Horseshoe Tavern. What can fans expect at your upcoming Canadian Music Week show here in the city?
“I wish I knew. Greatness doing jumping jacks through loops made of living hearts connected by fishing line and desire.”
Do you still release live recordings of your stage performances after each show?
“Every chance I get, when those damn machines work. The truth is it requires a lot of energy and assistance, and the older I get the lazier I get. I may try to rope one of my deadbeat friends to help me load those damn burners into the van before I drive north.”
Catch Joseph Arthur live at the Horseshoe Tavern at 930pm, also playing with The Pack AD
, another band I discovered from Vancouver a few years back and highly recommend.
Enjoy discovering other great musicians playing Canadian Music Fest