Joe Pug returns to New Zealand with two shows: Wednesday, July 19th at San Fran in Wellington and Thursday, July 20th at Auckland’s Tuning Fork.
Last time Joe was here, he was opening for Robert Ellis. This time around he is headlining, with another promising artist, Courtney Marie Andrews, filling out the bill.
The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda caught up with Joe Pug as he was touring Australia to find out what the Texas-based singer-songwriter has been up to since his last visit.
Click here to listen to the interview with Joe Pug:
Or, read a transcription of the interview here:
MD: You were here last October, was it?
JP: Yeah, I was here just about a half-year ago, playing at Tuning Fork, opening for Robert Ellis.
MD: Do you have much memory of that event? Was that the first time you were in New Zealand?
JP: That was my first time in New Zealand, it was… and when we played Auckland, my primary memory is: we took a ferry out to the island of Waiheke, with the idea of riding mopeds – renting mopeds and driving them around – but I had never ridden a moped before – or motorcycle, or anything like that – and I almost a killed a bunch of tourists in the parking lot of the rental place, and promptly had the keys taken away from me by the rental manager; so, that’s one main memory of my time in New Zealand.
MD: Excellent! Hopefully, you’ll get up to something a little safer this time around. You’re here for a couple of dates. You’re playing in Wellington as well; is that right?
JP: Yes, Wellington and Auckland.
MD: At the time you were here last year, Windfall had been out for a little while, and I think you’d been in the process of writing some new stuff. What’s the progress been, as far as new music goes, since then?
JP: Very poorly! I’ve been writing a bunch of songs, but none of them have been very good; so, I’m continuing to chip away, writing for that new album, and in the mean time, I’m doing this monthly podcast called The Working Songwriter, where I interview other song writers.
MD: Yeah, I see you’ve been doing that – you’ve been doing it for quite a while. The most recent one was with Matthew Logan Vasquez; is that right?
MD: Are you doing some while you’re in Australia?
JP: I did, last time I came down – I did Kasey Chambers – and this time around, I had a few people on the line to do it, and they all just fell through at the last moment; so, no, I’m not doing anything, unfortunately.
MD: We can try and hook you up with some Kiwi song writers, if you want.
JP: Yeah, man! Who you got?
MD: Well, there’s Nadia Reid, there’s Aldous Harding – I don’t know if she’s still in the country at the moment – but there’s quite a few young, up-and-coming people that are getting quite a bit of notice; and Marlon Williams; people like that.
JP: Oh yeah! We played a festival with him in Melbourne, during the last run that we did. He had headlined a festival called Out On The Weekend, and it was very good.
MD: Doing these interviews with all of these song writers: does that have any effect on your own song writing…?
JP: No, not too much. It has an effect on it, in the sense that it gets me excited to write songs – hearing about other people’s process amps me up. Sometimes it will give me different tricks or different ideas, but, more than anything, it’s just an inspiration thing: keeping me excited and engaged.
MD: When you say you’ve been writing songs, but there haven’t been any good ones: how do you come to that conclusion? Do you play them for other people? Is it up to you to decide? How do you go about making that decision?
JP: Really, it’s up to me to decide, because… at the end of the day, that’s my job: to curate; but there’s definitely some people I’m close to – an inner circle of four or five people that I’ll throw songs out to, and get a reaction back from them – but that’s only one part of the puzzle. I think I’m at a point in my career, where there’s no point in putting out an album that is ninety or ninety five percent; it should be a hundred percent, because there’s so many albums being released every day, every week. It’s like this huge torrent; so, unless you have something really to say, and said well, there’s just no point in releasing anything besides that, these days.
MD: I noticed that there’s been quite a bit of – for want of a better word – hype around you these days: where people are comparing you to Jason Isbell or Steve Earle, or folks like that. Does that weigh in on your decision on how to approach this next, upcoming album?
MD: No. No, no it doesn’t. I guess, because I don’t read too much of that stuff…. There’s the old adage of “don’t read your own press”; and I guess it’s supposed to be that you don’t want to read bad press, but I think it’s even worse to read good press about you, because that just leads to terrible, lazy habits; so, no, I’ve always had an idea of a world view that I’d like to put into songs, and that I try to get across; and that hasn’t ever, really, wavered in the ten years that I’ve been doing this. Sometimes, it’s more successful than others; but a lot of that isn’t up to me.
MD: Are you finding that you’re getting frustrated, or is it just part of the process? Are you kind of used to it at this point?
JP: I’m actually super comfortable with it at this point. I really feel like if I show up and do the work, and the work just doesn’t come out to my liking, there’s not much else I can do, besides sit down and have done it. I think a younger me would be a little bit more frustrated, but I’ve just accepted that it’s not always up to your conscious decision making process as to when something’s going to be good or not.
MD: Speaking of good: I know Steve Earle – who you have mentioned as kind of a mentor to you… has come out with a new album recently. Did you check that out, at all?
JP: … He recorded it in Austin, when I was living there, and I went over to the studio and heard a couple of mixes one day – I brought my son with me to meet Steve, and he played a couple of mixes for us – but I haven’t sat down with the finished record, itself, quite yet.
MD: When you come over here to New Zealand – I don’t know if you’re touring with her in Australia – you have Courtney Marie Andrews opening for you. I’m wondering how much you can tell us about her. She’s kind of an unknown quantity.
JP: She is from Phoenix, by way of Seattle now; and this is a songwriter at the start of a very, very special career. Her latest album is called Honest Life; it’s great! The solo, live show, that she’s doing right now, is wonderful; and she is the real deal and the full package: she can play guitar, she can sing – I mean, her voice is amazing – and she can write songs. I’m just so impressed with her!
MD: Are you touring with her in Australia as well?
MD: And do you do anything together…?
JP: Yeah, we’re doing one cover at the end of the show, just to tie the whole night together…. When you’re touring with a bill – two people presenting their songs – I do like to wind up the show together, at some point. I feel like it puts a cap on the whole evening.
MD: Well, I’d ask you what the cover is, but I don’t really want to know, because I want to be surprised!
JP: Okay, sounds good.
MD: I find it’s much more interesting that way. Are you both touring solo…?
JP: Both solo.
MD: One thing that I ran across, when I was checking to see what you were up to, is that I found that, at one point, your father was in a band called Sky Cobb… which was described as the east coast’s Grateful Dead, back in the early ‘70s. I hadn’t heard of them, and I’m old enough to have heard of them. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about that: if you have any memories of it, or if it has any influence on what you do.
JP: Well, yeah, he was a musician until he had me, basically. His band… was a regional band on the East coast. He was the keyboard player in the band. He also taught me how to play guitar; got me into a lot of different – he got me into John Hiatt and John Prine, and stuff like that, when I was younger than I would have otherwise found that stuff – and he’s a huge inspiration and influence on me, obviously.
MD: Did he give you any advice on how to deal with the music industry in general?
JP: No, he didn’t. I think he did a really good job of just letting me meet it with a clean slate and have my own relationship with it.
MD: How do you find dealing with the music industry these days? It seems to be changing from minute to minute….
JP: I think it’s really great right now! I think it’s been so amazing. The fact that I have all these different platforms to communicate with people that listen to my music; anything from Instagram to the podcast to this monthly… I do a mailing list that goes out to about twenty five thousand people once a month – and, of course, it’s a list of tour dates, and stuff, that I’m about to do; and at the end of it, I just rattle off some different recommendations of music or books or places that I’ve been. But anyway, I think the music business is in a great place right now, because, for me, I really feel like I can be an independent owner/operator, and easily have access to anyone who wants to hear the music – and I can do that through
Facebook, I can do that through Instagram, through the podcast, whatever – so that if I come through Auckland – whether people come to the show or not – anyone who would have wanted to come to the show, will know that the show is happening – they might not be able to make it, or might not want to make it, but they’ll know that it’s happening – and that hasn’t always been the case in the music business, or any business; so, I’m very bullish on it right now, man! Also, I only own one of my albums. The other ones are licensed to a record company, but the one that I own, does very well for me on Spotify. Spotify’s always paid me very fairly… so, I’m pretty bullish, I’ve got to say.
MD: It’s nice to hear some positive feedback about the streaming thing, because usually, you just hear about the miniscule amounts that some folks get; but I have a feeling that a lot of that has to do with the deals that their labels made for them.
JP: … Someone’s making the money…! I can’t speak to other people’s experience. Probably some people do feel like they have been wronged, but from my own experience, I’m certainly not aggrieved in any way.
MD: You also off up a certain amount of free music on your website, don’t you?
JP: Sure, and always have, but that is becoming less and less useful as people don’t want to download. Of course, that’s there, but we’re finding that that’s just simply not how people consume music at all, in meaningful numbers.
MD: I assume that you’re saying that most people do things by streaming, these days. Is that true worldwide, or are you mostly talking about the US?
JP: It’s more true in the US. People do buy more CDs down here in Australia and New Zealand. People do buy more CDs in the UK and] Europe, but it is trending the ay that the US trended. It reminds me of the US, in that regard, three or four years ago, when people were still buying CDs in the US, and then it dropped off. I mean, we watched it drop off in a matter of just a few months; so, when it happens, it can happen fast, but it’s more than made up for by the streaming platform, if you own your own stuff.
MD: Alright, a lesson for any budding musicians down here to pay attention to. You’re going to be here in less than two weeks; so, we look forward to seeing you and Courtney…. people should come early and catch both of you guys, because it sounds like it’s going to be good one.
JP: Please do! If you’re going to come, please catch her set; it’s wonderful!