A couple of weeks back, Joseph Arthur performed a stripped down, solo session live on KEXP during which he performed a couple of new songs, a couple of older ones, and a song found only on the website Bag Is Hot. Since then, we’ve revealed that Joseph, along with his band The Lonely Astronauts, will be performing the 6th Annual KEXP BBQ. You’ll get your own chance to see him if you buy your tickets now. In the meantime, though, you can watch these great videos from his in-studio:
Even When Yer Blue
While sitting on the couch in the live room right after his in-studio session with Kevin Cole, Joseph Arthur and I picked up a conversation that Kevin had begun in reference to the lack of looping used on the current tour. For those of you who have seen and heard Joseph’s masterful technique, you’ll probably think as we did: “Oh, no — he’s not using the loops!?!” While I’ve seen many other musicians try to incorporate live looping in their stage shows, I’ve never seen anyone match the intricacy and depth Joseph is able to create so adroitly. And that’s where we started… before we eventually got down to talking about Joseph’s prolificacy and the Museum of Modern Arthur, or MOMAR:
JIM: I’m a big fan of the looping, but it was great to hear the songs stripped down.
JOSEPH: Yeah, you just focus on the song. The looping thing, I’m sure I’ll get back to it. It’s rich, musically, so I think it will have it’s time with me again. But I went from looping to the band [the Lonely Astronauts], but then I was like, “I can come back to the loops”, but this felt like a more inspired choice. Much easier as well. I can go out without having a sound guy, but it really felt like a more inspired thing to do. And the looping thing has gotten real popular though, too.
JIM: It has!
JOSEPH: A lot of people do it, so there’s that, too. It’s not like when I was doing it, and there wasn’t anybody doing it.
JIM: I know. People would tell me, “I heard so-and-so looping” and I would say, “But it’s not the same!”
JOSEPH: I’ve told people, it’s really down to having two loops running in tandem. Having them synched up and being able to take them in and out, that creates dynamics. That’s really imperative to it. But if you just have one loop going, it’s going to get boring.
JIM: Right, the way you could build very gradually, or even sometimes very quickly — it just felt like you were in front of a whole chorus when you were really only one person on the stage.
JOSEPH: I’ll do it again, I’m sure.
JIM: I remember the last few times I saw you, you were recording the shows and then selling them afterwards. Are you still?
JOSEPH: Yeah, we still do that.
JIM: That was another innovative thing you did. I later saw the Pixies do the same thing.
JOSEPH: Clear Channel got into it.
JIM: Yeah, that was weird.
JOSEPH: Well, actually, that idea was given to me. Peter Gabriel told me to do it, right when I released Come To Where I’m From, and we asked Virgin and they said “no.” It was at a time when they thought it would take away from record sales, which I think people would now not think that was true. You know, that wasn’t too long ago. It seems like we’ve evolved a long way since then in the way we think about music and marketing it.
JIM: But it was a little while ago.
JOSEPH: What, like 2000? Yeah, it’s just like with commercials. Even then, the idea of selling your song to a commercial then was considered a major sell-out.
JOSEPH: (also laughing) Now everyone’s looking for a commercial. It’s all changed.
JIM: But if you’re going to have to watch commercials, what do you want to hear? A good song or something you’d rather not listen to?
JOSEPH: That’s like that statement: Ethics are something you have to afford. If you’re loaded, or if you’re comfortable, then that’s a different choice than from someone who’s just up and coming, you know?
JIM: Speaking of all this, the recording and the changing market — you’ve really grown with Lonely Astronaut [Records]. It’s become quite successful. I think it started around the time a lot of those live CDs were recorded, and I remember you released your last album there for free, again ahead of the curve.
JOSEPH: Right, for donations. Thanks for noticing it. That’s probably going to come up more and more in the future, the donation scene.
JIM: Bob Mould had asked fans on his blog about doing a subscription service in which people would pay an annual fee and then they might get whatever he produced that year, which for you would have been giving like a million dollars worth of music! It seems like you put out a lot, especially this year.
JOSEPH: Yeah, I guess so. It does seem like a lot, but I think that the hype about it is more than it actually is. I mean, it is four EPs and then there is a full length… so I guess there is a lot.
JIM: And the EPs are like, what, six to eight songs?
JOSEPH: One of them is eight. They’re mostly like six. Three of them are six and one is eight.
JOSEPH and JIM both laugh
JIM: Let’s talk about the MOMAR (Museum of Modern Arthur). That opened last year?
JOSEPH: Yeah, its official big opening was, like, September 28th. So, it’s almost a year, but it was open months before that. We were just too lazy to get around to really officially doing it.
JIM: It’s in a physical space, right?
JOSEPH: A really nice space
JIM: And it’s an ongoing gallery?
JOSEPH: It is. There are some ideas of getting some photo exhibits in there. I’ll be talking to Danny Clinch (photographer and filmmaker) about that. I’m just trying to figure out how I can expand it as a proper gallery, rather than just a home for my own arts and crafts.
JIM: Do you show any other art?
JOSEPH: That’s what this next year with it will be about.
JIM: You’ve done your own album covers since the beginning, I believe.
JOSEPH: Since Vacancy.
JIM: How long have you been doing art?
JOSEPH: On Big City Secrets there are paintings of mine, on the inside. So, yeah, I’ve been doing that ever since I’ve been playing music. I don’t know when it carried over and it became “Okay, I can take this seriously” or not. I think I took music seriously first, but I always painted.
JIM: More and more you seem to be releasing more of your artwork to the public, besides the albums. Is that something to plan to continue to do? Obviously, MOMAR is a good vehicle for that. You also mentioned there will be other galleries that will be showing your work.
JOSEPH: I’m excited about that. I think as MOMAR becomes a gallery for other artists, I’ll start showing in other galleries. There’s an art show (I’ll be doing) in Montreal in mid to late October. Then at MOMAR I’m having an art show in August.
JIM: Did you have a gallery showing before MOMAR opened? A year or two before?
JOSEPH: Yeah, in London.
JIM: Was that your first?
JOSEPH: Yeah, pretty much. That was it.
JIM: And that helped moved things along?
JOSEPH: Yeah, and now I’m getting pretty comfortable with the idea of it. I like it.
JIM: Do you produce your visual artwork as quickly as you produce music? Do you find yourself working every day?
JOSEPH: You get into the flow of it and it’s fun when you get into that space with art. It’s great. It becomes a focus point, and I love that.
JIM: Your influences seem to be along the lines of Primitivism, like Dubuffet.
JOSEPH: I love him.
JIM: And Basquiat.
JOSEPH: A big influence.
JIM: Miro even?
JOSEPH: Yeah, I guess so, but I like the Abstract Expressionist stuff. That’s what turns me on. I like De Kooning, Rothko, Jackson Pollock…
JIM: There even seems to be a little of Picasso, at least in your drawings.
JOSEPH: Him too, and he was just open to everything.
JIM: Any newer artists that you’ve been keeping your eye on or come across?
JOSEPH: I’m kind of ignorant. I need to explore the art scene more. I’m a little out of it because I’m doing so much music all the time and touring a lot, so I really don’t know the art world that well.
JIM: Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
JOSEPH: Yeah, I suspect that it’s not. I’m more familiar with the music world. I think it’s good to switch between working in your own little box and not looking out, and then I think it’s really healthy to look out and check out what other people are doing.
JIM: You do collaborate as well? At least on your guitar!
JOSEPH: Oh, yeah, with Angelbert [Metoyer]. He would be one.
JIM: He did some work with Saul Williams on his latest album.
JOSEPH: Yeah, and he did that stuff, and then he came on the road with the Lonely Astronauts. He was an early member of the Astronauts, he was our painter.
JIM: You seem to have taken over that.
JOSEPH: Well, I was the painter before him. When I did the solo show I painted, and then when we can through Houston we were like a celebration on a bus. We created the 60s! We really got there, you know? We convinced Angelbert to come with us and get on stage and he became the painter. It was a lot of fun, and a great experience and he’s brilliant and great painter, and a great friend of mine.
JIM: What did you end up doing with those paintings? Cloud Cult paints on stage with two canvases and afterward they auction them. They use it to help support their band because they do almost everything themselves.
JOSEPH: I wonder how much they get.
JIM: When they did the BBQ for us last year, and I think that was one of the highest they sold at over $500. Last time they were in town, about March or April, they were getting about $400 to $500 a pop. At the end of their show, everyone puts in their bid and they do it right there. It varies night to night, of course.
JOSEPH: That’s awesome.
JIM: One more question — it seems like every time I see you, you have a different guitar or at least a differently painted guitar. What’s with that?
JOSEPH: I started working with Gibson and I’ve been loving playing these things.
JIM: And each time you start one like a new canvas?
JOSEPH: Well, this one they rented to me. I fell in love with it, and that was funny because I was with Angelbert, and I was like, “Man, I love this guitar but they’re only lending it to me and I really don’t want to give it back.” And then he started painting it. So then I was like, “Oh, man, that’s messed up,” and then I started painting it. I kind of claimed it, you know.
JIM: I bet they’d take it back and display it. They have a great showroom. You should offer to paint one and just leave it there.
JIM: They may actually be thanking you for this.
JIM: Okay, so a new exhibit at MOMAR this year?
JOSEPH: Expect something at the end of August, coming up real soon.