Joseph Arthur (exclusive interview) ‘The Ballad of Boogie Christ’
By BERLIN LOVES YOU . November 15, 2013
So last week BLY caught up with established American singer-songwriter/painter/decorator (illustrator) Joseph Arthur. Discovered by Peter Gabriel in the mid-nineties he has a Grammy nomination to his name and is now 10 albums deep in to his music career.. He even has his own art gallery in Brooklyn, ‘The Museum of Modern Arthur!’…
Venue: Privatclub – Skalitzer Straße, Berlin
‘The Ballad of Boogie Christ’ is your 10th studio album to date.
How involved would you say you are in the production process?
JA: A lot. Sometimes I’ll sit and play all the instruments and sometimes I’ll turn some of that stuff over. I’ve done both. On my first record I worked with Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork). I was 25 so I kind of wanted to turn some of that stuff over to him. On records I made after that I started getting way more involved. I wanted to mix/produce things etc.
Do you find it hard to ‘let go’ of the recording process and say something is finished?
JA: Yeah it’s hard to let go. That’s where a producer can really help.
Ultimately – no matter who you’re working with, the artist sort of wrestles it away from the producer in the end. And usually in that dynamic there is some kind of ‘fall out’.. Hopefully it’s a friendly fall out. Inevitably (with creative projects) it becomes emotional, you know?. If the producer is an artist and the artist is an artist etc. Everyone has different aspects that they’d like to bring forward.
When you approach the writing of a new album do you devise a concept first or simply piece together accrued material and deduce a theme afterwards?
JA: With ‘Boogie Christ’ I had a the theme first. I had things/characters within that theme and concentrated on trying to flesh out the story whilst writing.
Your career began when social media (youtube, facebook etc) was less prominent/almost non existent.. Do you embrace the current situation?
JA: Well social media didn’t exist!.. I used to play shows in Europe when I started out and there was no twitter feed dialled in to your hotel room. You just walked around and felt lonely. I guess it’s way easier now but I do occasionally feel sorry for people who don’t get to have that lonely experience – not that loneliness goes away, but you have less moments of despair to write about when you can tap right in to facebook
as opposed to saying ‘Oh my god, I’m alone’.
Do you think that some of an artist’s mystique is lost?
JA: I’ve never really been big enough to ignore the current climate. When I was asked to use ‘Honey and the Moon’ on the O.C soundtrack – that was something that artists didn’t really do. You’re like ‘aahh I don’t know, we shouldn’t do this.. It’s like selling out or something’.. Nowadays that’s the new radio. It would be like asking the radio to NOT play your music. I mean of course you don’t want to give your music to something completely insane or evil or something..
What’s your cut off point?
JA: uhhh (laughs) I don’t know I’d have to think seriously about that..
Like tobacco or beer or something.. Something that was actively trying to destroy people. Somebody told me that ‘integrity is something you afford’.. A big artist told me that one time and there’s a lot of truth to that. Like some well established artist’s preach about not selling your songs to commercials but if you’re established you don’t need to. I think if selling a song enables you to continue living your dream then sell it.
Are you interested in writing entire soundtracks like Jonny Greenwood or Jon Brion?
JA: I would love to do that. I write all kinds of instrumental stuff.
Any particular director?
JA: Uhhh I mean the first one that came in to my mind, which is weird cos he would never hire me, was Woody Allen!. And the second one is Quentin Tarantino!
And finally, have you ever spent time/lived in Berlin, aside from performing?…
JA: I actually recorded Nuclear Daydream in Berlin.. it was right after I made ‘Our Shadows will Remain’… I’d like to mention a few of my favourite places here but it’s pretty hazy.. I was partying a lot around that time so I don’t really remember! But I love the city – I should probably come and visit some time. It’s a Mecca for artists..
Text: Rob Bravery