When Joe Nolan was unable to drift from club to club to support his 2020 album Drifters, he set a goal for himself to have another record locked and loaded in time for touring to once again commence. Although writer’s block struck in the earliest days of the pandemic, the Canadian Folk Music Awards-nominated singer-songwriter overcame the dry spell and emerged from lockdown with the 11-song Scrapper, a suitable title for a musician who refused to quit even when the lightning was stuck in the bottle.
Scrapper is available now on Fallen Tree Records.
I recently sat down with Nolan to discuss navigating creative droughts, turning to music in difficult times, and why he swears off palmistry, or more commonly known, palm reading.
Americana Highways: Your new album Scrapper dropped on October 15. In all of the craziness that tends to surround a record release, were you able to step back and enjoy the moment? How did you celebrate the achievement?
Joe Nolan: It felt very different this time around. Usually I’d have an album release show (which still might happen when it feels more safe to do so). I had a moment of reflection and thought about the whole process of making Scrapper. There was much gratitude for everyone involved and that I was able to put out another piece of music in these times.
AH: You had built up some incredible career momentum heading into 2020, and then the pandemic happened and the world closed up shop. Like many musicians during that period of isolation, you turned apples into creative oranges and began writing. Is it safe to say that had those closures not occurred, Scrapper would not exist today, at least in its current form?
JN: It is safe to say that Scrapper would not exist if the pandemic had not hit. I’m sure by this time I would have had a new album of some kind, but it would not have been anything like Scrapper. I was really forced to work within the confinements of my own apartment studio and do most of the production from home. It was a unique situation to be in – unable to travel truly set the tone of isolation on this album. My other option would have been to wait it out… and I couldn’t live with that uncertainty.
AH: Is isolation and loneliness good for creativity? Can that forced solitude lead to the kinds of emotional breakthroughs that audiences can relate to in song?
JN: Absolutely, though it’s not wished upon or a necessity for writing. When you’re not in control of your own isolation that’s when things become testing. One might think it would open up the floodgates, but for me, it was the opposite for a while. I had one of the longest droughts from songwriting I’ve ever experienced when the pandemic first arrived.
AH: What would somebody learn about you in sitting down to listen to Scrapper front to back?
JN: Hopefully they’d learn something about themselves before learning something about me. (Laughter)
AH: What are you most proud of with this album and why?
JN: I’m proud of the songs and the fact I was able to pull this off. With all the time being away from the road it was my goal to have a new album ready for when the stages opened back up for live shows. It feels really good to have accomplished that.
AH: What does writing music do for you that being a listener alone can’t achieve? Does that creative output also become a self-exploring outlet?
JN: Its kind of like journaling – it’s always been my kind of therapy. Writing saves my life in times when I’m feeling like I have nowhere else to go. It’s always been my outlet to express.
AH: We tend to think of the singer-songwriter label as a single, standalone thing, but for some, they’re two distinctive columns. Are you more comfortable with your voice, as a writer, or some combination of both?
JN: I would call myself a songwriter by trade way before calling myself a singer. They’re two separate things altogether. If you can be successful at both then you’re in good hands. I’ve worked really hard at my voice. Mainly just singing as much as I possibly could over the last decade (or more) has helped me find my voice. Over all of that time I feel like I’ve arrived as a singer and understand my own voice. Songwriting has always come very naturally, it’s a different kind of work than singing for me and always has been.
AH: You are no stranger to the road. What was something about touring the highways and byways that you ended up missing, but didn’t realize you longed for until it was gone?
JN: I miss pulling over and sleeping in my van. I miss the rush of being in a new place. I miss the long drives listening to music or the silence. The road is one of my favorite places to be. There is nothing like it and probably never will be anything that can compare to it.
AH: Scrapper received a vinyl pressing as well. With vinyl at play for artists again, does that force you to think about song placement differently knowing that you have an intermission midway through where the listener has to initiate the flip?
JN: Of course. Of all the records I’ve made, this always comes into play when selecting the song order and sequence for the listener. I put a lot of thought into how the album plays out from front to back, hoping that the listener will take the time to experience it that way. These days it’s hard to accomplish. I hope there are still a few people out there who enjoy taking music in this way. I know I do.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
JN: Not a chance. Same reason why I would never have my palms read. Even though I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, I’m still superstitious and would be scared to find out if some prediction were true. I don’t like knowing what tomorrow will bring.
For more information on Joe Nolan and his album Scrapper, visit www.joenolanmusic.com.