Jerry Joseph interview
At 60 years old, Jerry Joseph questions if he can deliver night in and night out while on the road, but for someone who gives so much of himself to a conversation, it is clearly impossible that he miss the mark with his music. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, the Portland-based musician’s career has spanned over four decades, and while the pandemic slowed him down, it didn’t keep him there.
I recently had a talk with Joseph and we covered a lot of subjects in a very short period of time. Check out his upcoming tour dates that start in Mexico, and then he and the Drive-By Truckers tour Europe (Germany, Netherlands, the UK, Ireland) and end up in Paris! This tour supports the album the Truckers did together with Jerry: REVIEW: Jerry Joseph’s “The Beautiful Madness” Offers Something New With Each Listen (Tour dates appear beneath the interview.) Enjoy our chat.
AH: You spoke to Americana Highways not too long ago and there was something you said that resonated with me. In talking about the pandemic, especially in those early days of the shutdown, you mentioned how meaningful that was for you because you got to spend more time with your family, which is something that I experienced as well. I think there will be many of us who, in hindsight, will be grateful to have had that time with our families, especially young kids, because when the world speeds back up again, we will forgot how to slow down.
JJ: I agree. I know a lot of people suffered, but people go, “Well, how’d you do with COVID?” I’m like, “It was a gift from f*cking God, man.” I made breakfast for my kids every day for 18 months. That said, I think there’s going to be lasting damage for the kids, as far as being isolated from other children. I think when we look back in 10 or 15 years, people will be like, “What’s the matter what this generation?” You’re like, “They were on lockdown.” It was funny, because my daughter—she doesn’t have any real playmates in the neighborhood—but my son has a couple, and so he had a little bit more interaction with other kids. We have this massive golf course next to my house. At 12 or 13, what you get from other kids is so pivotal. And to take that out of the equation… I always laughed. Not to be crass, but when I was seven or eight, my parents taught me that a penis went in a vagina and there was a baby. All the rest of the shit I learned from my friends, at least until maybe a few years ago when I finally read a book. I think of all that kind of stuff — what to do about bullies — all that stuff is stuff that you learn from your friends as you’re growing up. And then you get social weirdos that end up being in rock bands, and you can totally tell which people didn’t have that in their life.
AH: I grew up in the ’80s so I was a latchkey kid who was raised by cable television. Now all the kids are going to be growing up on streaming and YouTube and stuff like that.
JJ: I know. And it’s really weird. I think this actually applies — I don’t think it’s getting that off of music— but we try to talk about sex naturally to the kids. My grandson and my son are about the same age. They’re both cute boys and they’re kind of in that first girlfriend thing, whatever you’re doing in sixth grade.
But you realize that they may have been getting into porn somehow on some screen. And so there they are, and they’re trying to get up the nerve to ask the girl you like in sixth grade, “You want to go out?” At the same time, somewhere you’ve seen hardcore threesomes. And how are they supposed to deal with that?
I have to sit down with my son, especially if there’s any older kids around, and it sounds pretentious, but I’m like, “Look, I’m a singer in a rock band. I know more than anybody that this is not reality.” Sex and relationships, that’s the most beautiful thing that we’re offered in this lifetime. These people are actors, they’re making a lot of money, and they’re making it crass. I just find it really sad. We were talking about it at the dinner table. I remember when I was that age, I think my dad’s best friend had Playboys. So you try to imagine the difference between a 1973 centerfold — and this was before Hustler or whatever. We’ve got every parental block that we can, but at some point, that stuff leaks through.
It’s the same with violence. I remember Sam Peckinpah movies or when they cut the head off the horse in The Godfather, things that at the time were horrific. And now the kids turn on anything and it’s just like…good Lord. Ten minutes of The Walking Dead for a young kid, it’s like my whole childhood, into my teens worth of violence and gore. And I wonder about it because we can wax philosophically all day about the idea of what that also leads to is not a well-rounded sense of music either.
I look at my son, white kid in Portland, Oregon. And I look at his Spotify playlist and it’s very limited, mostly the guys with dollar signs or something in their name and songs about their money and pussy and maybe that they got a gun. And he’s like, “Yeah, these are real gangsters.” I’m like, “Kind of goes back to the porn conversation, Judah. Some of them, maybe. A lot of it’s acting and it’s record companies.”
My kids are Waldorf kids, which essentially means there were no screens. One of the basic things in Waldorf is, if they have their way, there’s no TV at the house. Suddenly the pandemic hits and it’s, “Here’s your iPad. Here’s your Zoom.” Here’s my eight year old knowing how to operate all of that machinery. And it’s preposterous to think that they’re not going to be able to go down whatever rabbit holes that they want. And the problem with rabbit holes is that they’re holes.
And it’s the same thing with doing that musically. When I was a kid in the ’70s and FM radio was just starting, I think of all the variety of music that would’ve been on an FM radio station before I went to school. And you’ve heard a lot of different stuff. That’s even where you heard The Wailers for the first time or whatever. There’s the Foghat hit and there’s Led Zeppelin and there’s the Joni Mitchell song. And it was all kind of coming to us at this… I hate to quote Bob Lefsetz but he’s kind of right about that thing, that we all grew up with this pretty wide variety of music that we were listening to. And now with our kids, we play a lot of music at the house, but I think at some point when you become 12 years old it doesn’t matter what the f*ck your parents are playing.
AH: For sure. They’ll find their own way.
JJ: Yeah. All my commune, hippie friends when I was young in Northern California and living in hippie communes, all those kids grew up listening to Slayer. They were like, “How about f* you, Tree Bear?” (Whatever their dad’s name was.) (laughs)
AH: There is more music available than ever, but if you listen to the radio, those playlists are so limited.
JJ: Sure, of course. I could usually sit in on a conversation about modern music. And I don’t care if it was the Bjork’s Icelandic recordings with a symphony or something, but if I heard a bit of it or something I could have the conversation. And I look at a top 40 list now, I haven’t heard any of it. I actually have all of Taylor Swift’s latest records. I go, “Well, I’ve got Taylor Swift’s…” They’re like, “Dude, you’re a dinosaur.”
It’s going to be funny to see where this all goes because you can make music in your bedroom, and you can do all this incredible stuff.
But what I don’t see—the stuff that I was doing when I was 12—in a bunch of kids with loud amplifiers starting a band in their garage.
AH: I don’t hear my kids’ generation talking about live music at all either. It’s non-existent, which is unfortunately because that’s where I discovered a lot of different bands and genres growing up.
JJ: Absolutely. I’m 60, so when I think of the bands that I saw when I was nine or 10… there was an older guy in our neighborhood that was allowed to take us to concerts. Fuck, man, we saw everything. I was talking about one the other day. It was Cheech and Chong opening for Alice Cooper or something. I must have been nine years old. And Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Three Dog Night. I wonder about that, and I wonder about it with Americana music and this kind of tag, where I just did this six-week tour Europe. And that demographic, 70% is older men, 60 to 75, who know every goddamn word to my new record. The only problem with that was they were also the “most likely to die of COVID” demographic. Seems like the “likely to die” demographics followed me around (laughs). I don’t want to be touring if somebody was going to die.
AH: Was it more difficult to go out on the road again after having that time at home with your family?
JJ: Leaving home, and granted this was six weeks—rarely did I do a six-week tour in a couple years leaving up to COVID—that was the hardest leaving home that I’ve ever had. The kids are old enough to know exactly how long six weeks is. You used to be able to go, “Oh, I’ll be back soon.” And they’re like, “What date? Dad, that’s six weeks.”
And the other thing that makes it hard is that my father was a big international travel person. He was in international fisheries, he was a scientist. And he would leave sometimes for two months. And when he’d call, it would be maybe every couple of weeks on an operated assistant call from the Maldives or something. He wasn’t even talking to us. It was to talk to my mom for three minutes or something. And it almost made it easier, I think.
They say there’s a new PTSD thing that goes on with combat military guys, with the advent of FaceTime and Skype before that. They say that it actually made everything worse. Because for example, a guy’s back from a day in Kandahar or shooting at Taliban, and then it’s morning time in Lawrence, Kansas. And all the problems of home and all the home sickness are back and so the guy’s been doing whatever he’s been doing all day, and then there’s his wife going, “They’re going to foreclose the house. Little Timmy’s got the chicken pox. And uncle Tommy’s been here every day.” I don’t know. It was weird because once you can connect, then it doesn’t matter where you are. If you’re not checking in every day and then in the certain timeframes, before school or before bed, then there’s this whole other thing like, “You didn’t call yesterday, dad.” And now there’s no excuse as far as it’s not a money thing. I think I paid 10 bucks a day for my international data.
So I was back on tour. Before the pandemic, I would always almost need to get out of the house. I was not that homebody guy. But I liked being home. I liked for once having some idea of what it looked like to have one of those jobs where you come home every night and you kiss the kids on the way out the door. I thought it was lovely.
AH: There’s something to be said about a routine. Yes, when you’re on the road, you have a routine, but it’s a different beast. Just to have roots that you can feel comfortable in… that’s a comforting thing.
JJ: Sure. And I’m sure some guy working in a cubicle over at Nike over here would be like, “Yeah, try to do that every day.”
I think I’ve been always having this existential crisis over the past couple years. “What am I doing? Why am I here? What am I delivering?” It’s probably an addiction to too many Ron Dass fucking broadcast pieces. But I was always struck by everything you hear by that guy. He brings it into the room. He brings God or higher consciousness or something, every goddamn time. And I’m like, “How do I do that?” I don’t want to be standing here wherever I am and be struggling so hard to feel like how to bring something meaningful.
AH: But for your fans, you are. You may not always realize it, but they’re there because you are giving them something meaningful.
JJ: Well, again, not to sound like I’m super pretentious, but what was good about the Europe thing was because it was a different group of people. They were successful shows, whatever that means to me in England—75 people or something.
There was something about having this different audience every night that it didn’t have a whole lot of preconceptions about what I was going to do. I had a friend of mine who was with me, who had taken me up to Mount Everest years ago. People thought that was a great idea, “Jerry could kick heroin by going to 19,000 feet.” And he summited Everest a couple times. He’s sort of a spiritual guide for me sometimes. And he came to do the tour with me. And we talked about it a lot. “Did you really bring love into the room?” Everybody talks about it, but he was sitting there fucking spiritually checking me, like almost reading the thing. And he’s like, “So now you brought it.” Or I’d come off and he goes, “It wasn’t really honest. You didn’t really love them.” I wasn’t even joking. I was looking at the crowd of strangers and I go, “Look, my task here is to learn how to love you, and to really love you. And in return, I want you to love me.” And then I’d go, “Love me.” And they’d all cheer and go, “We love you.” And it was so easy compared to if I tried to do that here at home. But I swear to God, I keep reading these things and it seems like every damn interview there or any clip I read by any artist, they’re talking about that a lot. “It’s just about loving each other.” I don’t know if I believe it because I don’t know myself, if I can deliver it. How do you do that?
AH: You put it out there into the world, and you can’t always control how people attach to it. They find love in different places and for different reasons. What you hope to deliver is never what you actually do.
JJ: Sure. It’s a weird trick, but at 60 years old, I guess what I’m finding is nothing less is going to be good enough. Before I started that tour I was worried about it. And a lot of that tour was 20 nights in a row and how do you get over the, “I’m tired. I don’t feel like being here.” Nick Cave in that 20,000 Days on Earth described it better than anyone that I’ve ever heard talk about it, how an hour before the show you’ve got nothing. You just want to curl up in a little ball. You’ve got nothing. “How am I ever going to pull this off?: And then in his thing, when the lights go off and they go, “And now in Melbourne, Australia, Nick Cave.” Your ego or the people just fills you up and you walk out. I know a lot of people in the faith business and the key to that business is accepting that losing faith is part of the deal. You get up to deliver the sermon. These people are dying, they’re grieving, they’re sick, they’re sad, they’re lonely. Nobody’s got any fucking time. You have to deliver.
To find where Jerry Joseph will be delivering next, visit http://www.jerryjoseph.com.
Find our earlier interview of Jerry here, on his album with the Drive-By Truckers: Interview: Jerry Joseph on the Beautiful Madness, Drive-By Truckers with Jason Isbell
APR 28 THU
Jerry Joseph & Jackmormons @ Zamas Hotel @ 7:00pm
APR 29 FRI
Jerry Joseph & Jackmormons @ Zamas Hotel @ 7:00pm
APR 30 SAT
Jerry Joseph & Jackmormons @ Zamas Hotel @ 7:00pm
MAY 24 TUE
Tavastia Club @ 8:00pm
MAY 26 THU
Berns @ 7:00pm
MAY 27 FRI
Rockefeller Music Hall @ 8:00pm
MAY 28 SAT
Amager Bio @ 9:00pm
MAY 29 SUN
Train @ 8:00pm
Århus C, Denmark
MAY 31 TUE
Markthalle @ 7:00pm
JUN 1 WED
Kesselhaus @ 8:00pm
JUN 2 THU
Die Kantine @ 7:00pm
JUN 3 FRI
De Roma @ 8:00pm
JUN 6 MON
Paradiso @ 7:30pm
JUN 7 TUE
Chalk @ 7:00pm
Brighton, United Kingdom
JUN 8 WED
O2 Forum Kentish Town @ 7:00pm
London, United Kingdom
JUN 9 THU
Stylus @ 7:30pm
Leeds, United Kingdom
JUN 11 SAT
Vicar Street @ 8:00pm
Merchants Quay, Ireland
JUN 12 SUN
SWG3 @ 7:00pm
Glasgow, United Kingdom
JUN 14 TUE
Poppodium 013 @ 7:00pm
JUN 15 WED
La Maroquinerie @ 7:30pm