Tick Interview — Jerry Joseph photo by Jason Thrasher
Jerry Joseph Delves Into Demos and Live Tracks For Tick
Jerry Joseph and “The Stiff Boys,” aka Drive-By Truckers recently released an album of demos and live recordings titled Tick. If that team up rings a bell, it’s because their previous collaboration was Joseph’s 2020 album, The Beautiful Madness, and there are further relationships between the two albums. What we get with Tick are some demos of songs that didn’t make it onto The Beautiful Madness but were recorded with Patterson Hood, and also some live performances that Jerry Joseph and Drive-By Truckers managed to deliver before Covid shut down touring for that album. Lastly, Tick is also being released by Matt Patton’s Dial Back Sound.
Something to keep in mind is that the songs described as “demos” feel as realized as many of the tracks that were released on the previous album. Likewise, even the live tracks are as energetic and polished as you might find on a full live album. In the end, Tick is far from an afterthought to The Beautiful Madness, but rather an extension of that time that Jerry Joseph and the Truckers spent together, serving as an excellent companion piece. I spoke with Jerry Joseph about aging in the music world, the idea of legacy, his feelings about the songs on Tick, and more.
Americana Highways: How have you fared since the release of The Beautiful Madness? You’re another year or two further along this strange road.
Jerry Joseph: I’ve just been dropping off my kids and also my grandkids at school. Boy does that make me feel old! We were talking about age and listening to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” My mom came to Oregon to go to an assisted living place and one of the residents in the elevator recognized me. The girl that Cat Stevens wrote “Wild World” about would be 75 by now. It’s crazy when it comes to music and love songs. The Stones themselves have good doctors and have a lot of money, but they are all still pushing 80. Youth isn’t perpetual!
AH: Music seems so timeless that these contrasts are a head trip.
JJ: Even when we hear the song, we don’t think, “They are singing about someone’s grandma!” I was thinking recently that when I was 12 and 13, I was very concerned with Mick Jagger’s dick. You couldn’t get around Mick Jagger. He was the sex symbol of that era. People constantly wanted to know who he was sleeping with. Now, the most recent time I saw the Stones, I would really like to not think about that! You think of some of this stuff that was steeped in sexuality and that’s what made it dangerous and cool, and the songs hold up on the radio, and they certainly hold up being played, but the singer is in a very different place now. It’s such a strange thing.
AH: Your music tends to be more wide-ranging. Is that something you’ve thought about, that you don’t want to date your music in a particular way? Do you see yourself in this narrative where some songs of yours feel old?
JJ: My bass player’s wife is a vibrant, capable human being, and she got really sick, so she’s been home-bound with heart issues for the past couple of years. She actually got a new heart a couple of months ago, so I just did this massive fund raiser. For that, I got all these old bands to get back together, bands who swore they’ve never talk to each other. To do that, I had to play with my band from the 80s, Little Women. As far as numbers, it was a successful band. There’s all this material, which was really political, really Reggae, and a lot of it was about eye-liner, sex, and heroine.
We’re pulling out some of these songs, and what doesn’t really hold up are the political references. It’s whoever the fuck was in power in ’88 and the rhymes are all around that, so you can’t replace some of that stuff. It’s funny like that. It’s the same with glorifying a lifestyle back then that literally ended up killing me a couple of times. [Laughs] I don’t think I should go back and change that music, necessarily. Some political songs still resonate from the days of Nixon, but it doesn’t work that way further back. We don’t have political songs from 1910 that resonate. It’s super weird.
AH: It does feel like this is the first time it can be like this. That we can listen to older pop music and still find the social elements relevant. I don’t mean to sideline older folk songs, but if we’re talking just about pop or rock music, this is true.
JJ: I was talking recently to someone about how many times we can buy Revolver. It’s like, “Oh wow, there’s a new Revolver! I’ll put that with the other 20 copies of the fucking thing!” [Laughs] It’s still in the Top 10. It’s massive. I don’t think a lot of music will hold up like that. Some things you just thank God that the music has come and gone! You think, “Maybe there is a God who actually has taste!”
AH: A lot of people feel that way about pop songs that go viral. You just get over-saturated to the point that you never want to hear them again.
JJ: Some of it holds up. I’m infatuated with Taylor Swift’s song “Snow on the Beach” with Lana Del Rey. My nine-year-old loves these records and sings along even though Taylor puts the word “fucking” in the chorus. It’s hard to tell what has legs in the future. We’re seeing that in terms of people selling their catalogs. Someone thinks they are worth something.
AH: There seems to be another big catalog sale every other week lately. Do you ever think in terms of legacy when you’re writing, or are just trying to be there for that moment? Are you thinking, “I want my kids to hear this in twenty years and get something out of it”?
JJ: It depends on the song. The idea of legacy is a funny thing. I’m 61 and somebody asked what my legacy was the other day. I thought, “I have 350 songs that nobody has ever heard! That’s my legacy.” That’s why I do this thing of going to warzones [to teach kids music]. That’s far more what I’d like as my legacy, or at least as a footnote. Mojo Magazine has this section called “They Also Served.” Maybe I would get a blip?
My friend Danny Hutchens died, who was from this band Bloodkin, and think Patterson Hood would agree that he was probably one of the finest writers ever. Widespread Panic play a lot of his songs, so they did this set of Danny’s tunes at Red Rocks. I looked at my wife and said, “That’s what you get. One set of your shit at Red Rocks.” Then the world moves on.
AH: That’s so real and that is what happens.
JJ: That’s one thing about art, paintings, songs, and books. In a lot of ways, that’s as close to immortality as you’re going to get. Even political powerhouses don’t really last much beyond a generation as far as memory goes. The art itself is what stays. It’s conceivable that a hundred years ago there will still be things that represent your body of work. Whether anyone cares or not, who knows? I don’t write like that. I don’t think, “This is for the next generation.”
AH: How do you feel about preserving your live recordings? Are you glad that these performances were captured with Drive-By Truckers and are being released on Tick?
JJ: Even though I’m not a rock star, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that hasn’t been taped. I remember watching some thread because there was a show in Italy in 1988 where no one made a tape, and it was this big deal. It’s the same thing with photography. I’m a little bald fucking troll, but I guarantee that I’ve had more photos taken of me than the next supermodel. I’ve been constantly photographed and recorded and my whole life is available. I quit a long time ago not getting paid for that.
All my music is, for the most part, available. I think because of The Grateful Dead, we’ve always had tapers. I don’t ever listen to my own music, but at this benefit show the other night, people were asking if I’d heard tapes of our old performances. I didn’t listen to it then and I’m certainly not going to listen to it now. It was really good, but it makes me sad because we were always going to be the next big thing.
AH: Did you have to go back and listen to the demos from The Beautiful Madness to decide which ones to put them on this Tick collection?
JJ: I think those were pretty clear. It was weird why “Quiet” didn’t get on the record. Patterson had his own thought process. When I was writing all those songs like “Tick” and “Sometimes a Great Notion,” I was in South Africa. I was thinking that “Tick” was going to be the big song of my next record. Even the English label said that no one would care about companion pieces. I rarely listen to demos of other artists. But this one ended up differently because the songs really mattered to me.
It was the same with that “South of South” song. I was thinking, “If this was anybody else, this would have been the single.” But people were worried it would Southern-up my music, though I’ve always been connected to the South. My first record was made with a bunch of Muscle Shoals guys, with Patterson’s dad playing bass. I’ve always had this connection. For years, my favorite state was Mississippi. I always compared it to Nicaragua, with this crazy amount of beauty and this crazy amount of horror.
AH: These songs are clearly not after thoughts in comparison to the songs that went on The Beautiful Madness. They have an equal amount of attention to the songwriting and to the thought that went into them. I feel like it would have been a shame not to release them in some way.
JJ: It’s funny because there was a list of thirty to forty songs when Patterson and I first sat down. There’s a bunch of them that didn’t even get to demos. So there are still a handful of songs. I don’t know what will happen with my next record, though I actually have a record coming out in the spring that I recorded with Eric Ambel. Eric had put a New York band together, and I had spent a lot of my life living in the city, but I’ve never recorded in New York.
AH: Is that studio called Cowboy Technical?
JJ: Yes! I was making fun of this band of New York guys and their Springsteen records, and it turned out the guys had been on Springsteen records, and one was in the E-Street Band! But we made this record called Baby, You’re The Man Who Would Be King. But there may also be a follow-up to The Beautiful Madness. Making a record with Drive-By Truckers was really exciting for me, so I’d love to do it again.
The music industry has really shifted, though. I have some friends who careers I really covet, but I ask them how they are doing and they say, “Eh.” Maybe everyone is feeling that way, like we lost something. Maybe it’s like me, since I just spent two years with my family, and I’m thinking, “How in the world is this gig more important than that?” These guys have thousands of tickets sold, and they are going “Eh.” It’s really weird.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Jerry Joseph. Find more information and tour dates here:
and here: https://dialbacksound.bandcamp.com
Enjoy our review of the album here: REVIEW: Jerry Joseph and DBT “Tick“