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An interview with Joe P

Two weeks ago, I was able to have a chat with songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe P from New Jersey. I first saw Joe perform in Fort Lauderdale opening for Joywave and I knew immediately that I would be a fan of his music. 

Joe just released a new single last week (“She Got Me”) off his upcoming debut album, “Garden State Vampire,” which will be released on August 23 on Neon Gold/Atlantic Records. Joe will also be headlining a North American tour in the fall, beginning in September and will be appearing at several music festivals (See.Hear.Now in New Jersey, Love Letters in Utah, Austin City Limits in Texas). I got to talk to him about his upcoming album and tour as well as his growth as a musician, writer, and performer.

Hi Joe, thanks so much for meeting with me! 

You’ve recorded a large number of songs (2 EPs: Emily Can’t Sing and French Blonde; and several singles) and you’ve also performed a lot as well (a headline tour and opening sets for a wide variety of artists). Do you prefer writing/recording music or performing music?

I think they usually both come in at the perfect time. For me especially, it's very easy to get sick of writing and recording since I’m doing it fully alone most of the time. You just start getting in this feedback loop of your thoughts and it can be too much. And also you feel like you've got everything out and there's nothing left. So you feel like you're just pulling from nothing at a certain point. With playing live, I think it’s less easy for me to get sick of that. When you're little and you decide you want to play music, you don't know what recording is. You listen to a song that's magic and you see videos of concerts and you immediately can understand that as a little kid. Usually what happens is you start playing with your friends in a garage or a basement, or wherever, and you play for a show, like the talent show at school, and that's where you first truly love and connect with music. Then it's stays like that for a while - that’s all you have to do. And then someone's says, “you should record." So you record, and then you think, “Oh, this is weird, it’s lost all of its energy,” and we're sitting here overthinking it. So you have to learn that craft of how to record. But when I'm playing on stage, there's no difference between that guy performing versus the 6-year-old version of me playing in my house, which I love. Whereas with recording, the 6-year-old version of me would think, “This is boring. This doesn't make sense. I don't want to learn about all this stuff.” Both writing/recording and performing come in at good times, though, to relieve you of whatever headspace you're in.

With performing, do you prefer intimate venues or bigger ones?

I've been doing a lot of the solo, just me and a guitar type of performances. I did that in the UK recently, and it was cool. It was the most nervous I'd been, but as soon as you start playing those shows all that goes away because it feels like you’re just at a party. Everyone's in the room there, all of the "cool factor” is gone because you're just standing there. If I break a string or forget a lyric, everyone sees it happen. You can't hide behind a drummer or anything like that. So I've been really liking that. In that setting, there are so many great things built in that help your show that are on your side where it's some guy sneezes in the corner of the room and it’s a funny moment. But, when it's a big show everyone's mentality is, “Hey, we paid money to see this and it better be good. We just saw a show of another artist and they were pretty good.” You feel like you have to be at that level. So it feels like there's way more pressure in a weird way. But the goal is to make it feel like one of those intimate shows. You’re trying to get back to that guy sneezing in the corner. It won't exactly work that way, but you find your own new versions of that and somehow scale it up to that larger stage.

You record both in a home studio and the Atlantic Records Studio in NY. Tell me about your experience with this. Do you prefer recording your music at home? Do you think your location when you are recording affects how the recording comes out?

Whenever you do something in a place where you live, it's the greatest thing in the world, but it's also a double-edged sword. I could come down here into my studio and do nothing because I'm home, so it turns into me just relaxing. I'm always down here so it's not very inspiring on a certain day. When I go to Atlantic, kind of like the live-to-recording thing, it's a way to relieve myself of my home and get out of that headspace. I'll go to Atlantic and think, “Okay, I'm going into New York City into an office building to work on music,” and it really helps me get focused. I drive there and I usually go around 4 in the morning to miss all the traffic. So if I'm gonna go, I’m making it worth it. Then sometimes I'll hit a wall where I don't wanna wake up at 4 and drive all the way there. I don't want to feel the pressure of being in a proper studio. Then I want to come back home where it’s a little more intimate and private, especially for vocals, and I'll come here if I'm stuck on a song. I’ll go home thinking about why this song worked in the first place because usually I wrote the first voice note on my phone here. So I like coming back usually at the end of the process as well because it's really putting it back to the homemade test. Atlantic is nice to go gloss it up a little, but I gotta come back here and throw the dust all over it again and see if it still feels like what it started as and why I liked it in the first place. So I have a good system now where it's kind of a full-circle thing.

When you're recording, do you play all the music in the recorded versions? Or do you have your touring members or others help you with the instruments?

It depends. Everything is like 98% me. A drummer is the only thing, I sometimes call in my friend Chris. I can fake drums pretty well and I’ll spend tons of time on it and I can get through a song and play what's right for the song, but there's so much personality that can go into drums. Sometimes I'll make a song, and I’ll think, ‘I should have so-and-so playing on it,’ because it'll be something that I really can't do. Whereas, with instruments like bass guitar and everything else I can sit here long enough and figure out how to do something with it and do what's right for the song. It’s nice also to just get someone in here, even if I could do it. They’ll see it differently and hear it differently than me and I’ll get a whole new perspective just because I let someone else listen to it. I could have a demo that's been around for a year that I've kind of hit a wall with it, but then I invite someone over here and I play it for them. I’m not alone anymore and even without them saying anything, I hear it totally differently. It's a whole new perspective. So there’s obviously so much value to someone's presence being in a spot where you're usually alone. Just having one person say, “That sounds really fast.” Just one little word, and now I’m thinking about it differently. I like having people come in and play at times, more as a jam thing, just to have a back-and-forth.

Describe your writing process and your approach to your first album.

It was really funny. The way I did this was just like I did everything in my life, like in school or a science project. There's a due date and when they first tell me what it is I think, "That's so far away, this is great." Then the deadline starts creeping up, and not that I wasn't doing anything, but I was just really taking my time on songs. I would get every song to around 80% done and be like, ‘Cool. I'll go back and finish that.’ Then I started seeing that deadline creep up and I thought, ‘Oh, no!’ So I actually ended up losing my mind for 2 weeks straight in my home studio until the deadline. I didn't even go to Atlantic because I didn’t have time to drive in and out. I needed to wake up here and go to sleep here and just work, work, work. I did the last 20% of a lot of the songs in 2 weeks. And it made me super hypersensitive because I was trying to write lyrics for certain things. It felt fast at the very end. So when I hear these songs, it does kind of feel like those 2 weeks laid out my whole life. Just kind of pulling every square inch of my life apart. At the beginning, you feel like you can always come back and and fix it or add to it later. So because of that, you procrastinate, if you're me anyway. And then I needed someone on the outside to say, ‘Hey, you gotta finish this in 2 weeks, so please do it,’ and then I was able to be responsible for myself as an adult and get it all done. The songs usually started as a voice memo with some acoustic guitar and vocals. I'll just stumble into a quick idea and most times that sits for a while and I move on to something else. It’s a lot of leapfrog - just a little spark of an idea, move on to another spark, go back to the first spark, and try to move it along. I'm just fully trying to push things as I go.

Birthday Baby had excerpts released on TikTok back in 2021, is your writing process what made you decide to hold off on releasing the full song until now (on May 31 of this year)?

Yeah, that's the thing about TikTok. I wrote the first verse in 5 seconds and posted it. Most things you see of me on TikTok are my voice memos from 10 minutes earlier. I get excited about this new idea, which leads me to post it, which is great, but then, if it blows up or enough people see it now it's no longer just a voice memo that I can get back to. People will start saying, “Let’s go. Where is it?” And I’m still at the beginning stages of working on the song as a whole.

Can you talk more about how growing up in New Jersey impacting your growth in music (since you reference New Jersey frequently in your music)?

I used to think I wanted to be somewhere like New York, or LA, or even Nashville because it felt like that's where everyone playing music was. I used to feel left out. And then I started embracing where I am from. Here you could go out and get a coffee without seeing someone that might also be making music or seeing a person who looks like they play guitar. Here it doesn’t feel as in your face, and I think that helps me. I would just be in my own head in this competitive thing feeling like I need to keep up. And that's why going into the city is great, cause I go in and then I come out and can go to my quiet place and work on my music. So I think it's allowed me to be in my own head and not focus on what other musicians were doing. There has never been a music scene the way all the other bigger cities and main cities have it. So I felt like my influence was always whatever I was writing. I would listen and think, “Okay, I like that,” or “don't like that,” and move on to the next thing. 

Also, when you're in New Jersey, you really are in New York, Philly, DC, Baltimore, and Boston. Everything is right here. I've spent so much time traveling and playing in those places because it only takes a few hours by car. It does feel like I'm from a few different places musically and scene-wise because I've seen all of that happening. But I definitely think being from this state, especially one that everyone makes fun of and gives a terrible reputation to, I’m just gonna embrace it. When you grow up somewhere, you never think it's that bad. You think it's bad for different reasons - you wanna get out of this town or you wanna go somewhere else. But then enough time goes by where you come back, and you realize your home is pretty cool.

Who would be your dream artist/group to tour with? Whether you’re opening for them or they’re opening for you?

Well, my favorite band is Radiohead. They’re not really playing anymore together they’re all working on individual stuff. Otherwise, I’m not really sure. I always love the direct support/opening acts no matter who they are because you only have a short amount of time and you can just go all out - go crazy. I’ve opened for different artists that have had very different fanbases. When I opened for Beabadoobee, the fanbase was pretty young where with opening for Cold War Kids and Spacey Jane, the crowd was older, so the atmospheres were very different. Anyone who I have had open for me, I've never felt like genre mattered too much. It just really depends on the overall artistry of that musician and the fan base, because that's what you're going to get out of it. I'm always up for anything. I really have no dream person to tour with. Plus, I wouldn't want to tour with anyone I love in the sense that, because of the competitive nature I have where I feel like I have to be better, which isn’t great. So I wouldn't want to watch Radiohead. I probably wouldn't want to be better.

What and who were your influences?

When I was little, it was all the cliché stuff like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and AC/DC. A lot of the big rock band things that, as I was saying before, you see a video of them and you just get it immediately and it sounds like so much fun because you're seeing adults act like kids running around on a stage and having fun. So I think it was a lot of the early classic rock, like sixties, seventies stuff. Then it went into the first 2 records of Kings of Leon, which was the first music on the alternative side of things that I was turned onto. That’s what helped me realize you don't always have to play guitar solo and it's not about being a rock god. Like The Strokes where it's more song-based. I started picking up on it and realizing I don't want to be the best guitar player in the world, I want to be the best guitar-part writer. I want to write the perfect part for the bridge. My brain started changing and then The Beatles were my favorite. It’s funny because I wouldn't say I listen to The Beatles every day, but no matter what I do or what anyone does, you can always reference back to one of their songs and one of their recordings. So I think the Beatles are the biggest one, because they've combined everything: all that great guitar solo stuff that I was talking about, the best songwriting ever, and then also, the recording and production before that was even a thing. Most bands at the time were just recording live in a room like it was at a show and then moving on. The Beatles were the first band to approach recording differently, thinking about things like, ‘how we can make the guitar sound weird.’ So I'm always referencing them. And then Radiohead is my new version of The Beatles. They kind of took everything and ran the opposite way that everyone was going in the nineties. You can always push things a little further, and you don't have to necessarily copy something. There’s always another avenue to go down. It's just a little harder and you're gonna lose people on the way because you have to take risks.

What are you most looking forward to on your upcoming tour this fall?

Whenever a tour comes, I have to spend some time figuring out how to play these new songs because the vocals and guitar are separate processes for me when I’m recording them. So I have to get down a whole bunch of muscle memory and learn how to do that. So I'm actually excited and afraid to figure all that stuff out and see how it evolves. For the last tour or two it was a lot of the same songs from the first tour. So we already have those songs down. Maybe there's 1 or 2 new things, but for the most part everything is already ingrained in us. We know how to play it. For this tour, I don't know how to cut that many songs. Now, I have enough songs that there's enough to cut some and people will get upset if I don’t play their favorites. I gotta figure it out because before this moment, there was just enough to know exactly how to craft the set, cutting maybe 1 or 2 songs and that’s fine. But now, I will have to cut 6 songs and I’ll have to get rid of ones that I just started playing because there is not enough time. I don't want to play for 3 hours. So I'm excited and afraid to figure all this out. I love going around the country. It's so fun!

Check out Joe P’s new single “She Got Me” here and find out more about his upcoming album and tour on his website here!

Written by Morgan


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