INTERVIEW: Joe Gideon

I’ve been a big fan of Joe Gideon’s amazingly eccentric mix of sinister and sarcastic music for the best part of a decade. You can hear me rant about how good his Harum Scarum album is in particular on our blind taste test from a little while ago.

So I’m excited to tell you I got a chance to grill Joe about his process, his musical taste, and his accidental (subminal?) foray into political songwriting…

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Nick: Thanks for talking with me, Joe.

I’ve been following your career for quite a few years now, and we wrote about your 2009 Joe Gideon and the Shark album, Harum Scarum, because it was probably my favorite album of that year. I’ve been really enjoying this new album Armagideon, and when I listen back to HS and then to this one, I think there’s a pretty big development in your sound over the intervening years. Do you agree with that, and how would you describe how your sound has evolved over the last decade or more?

 

Joe: Great of you to unearth ‘Harum Scarum‘! Amazing you enjoyed it so much.

In relation to the development of my sound over the years from Harum Scarum to Armagideon, I think it’s not so much about development as being down to who you’re making the record with. It’s what I love about making records. It’s all about the musicians you’re with and trying to develop an understanding of where you want to go with the record. Admittedly, I’ve discovered that, in the main, musicians are strange, strange creatures. So finding that understanding can be an interesting proposition.

In terms of evolution, perhaps it’s less to do with the sound and more to do with the songs. I still seem to be forever chasing the song-gods who are always just out of reach. And they’re cruel gods, they make me think I’ve written a good song until I write a new one, which then shows up how bad the old song was. It’s kind of perpetual evolution / devolution all rolled into one.

 

Nick: That’s a really interesting way to put it, about the evolution being a kind of frustrating process in itself at times. Funnily enough I’ve heard Lou Barlow of Sebadoh similarly say he only likes his newest song, only to be replaced by the next one as it is finished.

In terms of your new band mates, I was excited to hear that Jim Sclavunos [of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds] was one of your new collaborators on this project. I understand you met on tour a few years ago. When you decided to get into working on a full album together (along with Gris-De-Lin too, of course), how did that song-writing process work? Did you find it easy to get things off the ground with these new people with you in the studio?

Joe: Getting things off the ground with them was effortless. The thing that Jim and Gris-de-Lin have in common is that they are both reactive / intuitive musicians. They work brilliantly off the cuff. And ultimately, this is what I don’t have in common with them. I don’t have the music-chops. Which is probably why I’m a songwriter. I need things to be pre-prepared otherwise I’m lost. So in answer to your question: How did that song-writing process work? We’d set up our recording gear, I’d present the songs to them and they’d just go for it. The core instruments being Gris on piano, me on guitar and Jim on drums.

 

Nick: That sounds like a great working relationship! A few interconnected questions about the album then…

As I’ve got more into Armagideon, I’ve got the feeling that it’s overall a bit of a more dark and sombre album than Versa Vice or your other previous work. Were you intending that to be the case? If so, why do you think your music has taken this darker turn? Is it explained by our political landscape at the moment (because I haven’t had the impression that your music up to this point has been extremely political)?

 

Joe: Interesting the record is coming across to you that way, since I was attempting to write songs that were more fun and fantastical this time round. Ha!

I’ve never regarded my music to be political, and most of these songs were written during more innocent times, before Brexit’s ugly head loomed over us all.
One thing though, I’ve noticed that the chorus of ‘Berit’s Cliff House’, now sits well in these times, as it’s refrain is, “It’s time to leave this green and mean unpleasant, pleasant land’.
This song though was inspired by my Swedish mother who, despite having lived here most of her life, has never truly stopped yearning for a return to her native land.

Nick: Fascinating that you can see even unintended things in your tracks, like in the unforeseen Brexit references there, after they are finished.

I can see what you mean about some of the more fun tracks, like “Scaredy Cat” and “Comet Coming Down” (I particularly love the hilarious line “Make your peace with the lord/ or at least with your in-laws” from that track). That said, I really found a lot of the album quite moving: “Liquid Sky”; “Somewhere South”; “Salty” – all great tracks that I find very emotionally charged and tender. There also some of your best vocal performances on those tracks too, IMHO.
Anyway, I wanted to ask about you about how you think this new music translates into a live setting. I know you’re gigging off this album. How has that been for you, compared to previous tours? Is every night different, or do the same songs make for a similar live set from your point of view?

Joe: Cool you’re picking up on the vocal delivery of those particular songs. ‘Liquid Sky’ was painstaking in that we started recording the vocals at noon, then our recording gear started to malfunction and it wasn’t till midnight that I finished the vocals. In that time though we came up with the idea of layering the end of the song with harmonies which I think worked really well.

The vocal for ‘Salty’ was done in one take, live with the band. It was ‘now or never’ since my voice was on the verge of collapse, along with the rest of me, since I’d been suffering from an infected False Widow spider bite.
As far as performing these songs live, it’s a challenge since it’s just the three of us. But we’re finding it surprising how much of these songs can be portrayed with just 3 musicians. Though we’re very methodical, so once we’ve figured out how to play a song live, it stays pretty much the same after that. One thing I’m noticing is that since we wrote the music for these songs together, it’s much easier to get to the essence of what parts of the music and arrangement are essential for the stage performance.

Nick: Sounds like some of the recording process was arduous! Perhaps that’s a part of what comes through as a listener – something quite intense in these recordings.

One last question then: we’ve recently done our best albums of last year podcast. I was just wondering what you’d say was the best music you heard in 2019?

Joe: Reckon probably my favourite releases of last year were Cate Le Bon’s Reward, Kim Gordon’s No Home Record and Tinariwen’s Amadjar.

Thanks Nick, it’s been a pleasure.

 

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Joe Gideon’s new album, Armagideon, is out everywhere right now, and Joe is touring the UK at the moment, with a date at Gullivers in Manchester just this coming Sunday (16th Feb). See you down there!

 

Words by Nick Parker.

 

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