Passion. Voice. Where'd you go?
You'd think that with the exponential growth of music listener's in the world, that the music industry would take the empirical data to understand the difference between music that makes a difference in people's lives and music that goes great with a shitty Bud Light commercial. Music 'business' has been epitomized, and with the lack of sales revenue, comes a greater search for one-hit-wonders. There are more and more people with access to music and yet, EDM and Trap reign supreme. Don't get me wrong... Each person has their own preference and their own passion for different music... but does a Skrillex song or a Migos song really seem like it's going to last the test of time like a Beatles song, or "Hallelujah"? Nah. I digress... Sort of.
Cue Joseph Huber, founding member of .357 String Band, turned pillared solo artist; who has his head in all the right head spaces (at least for a songwriter). Huber is a person who understands that music needs feeling to survive, no matter what genre it is. We talked with him about the life of a 'roots' musician making it work in today's world, and how the finer moments in life, no matter how small, can impact you in the biggest way. Those are things that he writes about... now if only "Lil Pump" could do that, let's just say that "Gucci Gang" wouldn't sound quite the same...
Huber has a huge solo catalogue that you can listen to via Bandcamp, Spotify, or learn more about at his website. But take a listen to "Souls Without Maps" as you read our interview with him. Be sure to catch him on NYE at The Pabst with Horseshoes & Handgrenades.
MM: How are you doing outside of music?
JH: All is going well here. Winter is setting in and I'm currently working on a new batch of songs for another album next year, while working on other custom furniture projects for folks. Always staying busy on something, but honeslty there's not always a lot of things 'outside of music life' when you're trying to do almost everything by yourself. Rough biz.
MM: It's clear to see that music has been a big part of your life for some time, founding The .357 String Band, and then solidifying a great personal repertoire of songs under your own name. Where do your roots come from (no pun intended)?
JH: Well, I remember my grandfather playing the piano at Christmas and deciding I wanted to do that, and I think maybe my parents just started defining me as the musical one, so I just went with it perhaps. I was certainly a late-night MTV kid always attempting to stay up the see the "good" and "rare" bands that were off-the-radar and more interesting. So I naturally switched to guitar early on and never really looked back from music. I started attempting to write songs by 6th grade and just kept with it since. It's sort of always been a natural desire with me from that early age.
MM: Your music has been referred to the likeness of John Prine, and I must say - as soon as I heard "Souls Without Maps" form your most recent release The Suffering Stage - an image of Prine's distinct and humorous grin popped right into my head. Obviously it's one thing as a songwriter to be influenced by artists like that, and it's another thing to be compared to them. Could you talk about how you've found your own voice and style in the music that you create?
JH: Finding your own voice is always the hardest part early on. I really do believe there is rarely anything truly 'new' and everything is just old things mixed with other old things by new people. So, in music, I'm a giant mix of everyone I've loved in music, but I'm the only door it can come out of, so over time and exposure, it just becomes "your" style. And certainly even over time, finding that people define you as having a noticeable and recognizable style is something that is simultaneously an achievement and suddenly a giant wall. It means you've achieved a good enough amount of people knowing your music, but it becomes a point of people expecting "your" sound from you now. So, it's actually natural to fight that too... which I certainly do. "Oh, Lord, please don't let me be understood" is something I would like to stick to.
MM: This being a Milwaukee-centric platform, I would feel remiss if I did not ask you about your song "Hello, Milwaukee" from 2012's Tongues of Fire.
JH: I was leaving town on tour with .357 out west for about a little over a month, and was simultaneously attempting to make a relationship work again after a short break, and it couldn't have been worse timing. So, I was interpreting all this new visual beauty of the landscape in places I'd never seen through eyes that were a little skewed to the dark side. So that was what the song was generally about. Knowing you're going to be gone for 5 weeks and waiting and waiting to hurry home. It certainly didn't make the time go any faster. It was a rough period, but folks still seem to request that song almost every show and I attempt to play it at every Milwaukee show for sure.
MM: Obviously "Country" music in popular terms, is not what is used to be. It has lost its identity; and although there is a great resurgence and respect toward budding Americana and Roots artists, it still feels like there is a barrier that the genre cannot break - no matter how many Grammy's Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton win. And maybe that's the point of the genre - to be gritty, and necessarily almost making artists' play with a chip on their shoulder. In a world where EDM and Trap music hold the reigns, it seems like any semblance of passion and reflection get lost. Do you feel the genre is still well received?
JH: Well, you're probably going to get my reactionary side with this question. It's just my current mood. "Folk" music is just underground be definition. It's 'everyman' music. As soon as it enters the pop charts, it actually loses something. I've gone to folk "conferences" and left so jaded and annoyed of the money and marketing and superficiality behind it that I'll never go back. It's not folk. It's mildly hilarious to me despite anyone peripherally involved in sincere efforts. And if that sounds mean, I think that it would be not huge news for the folks on the business side of things to know that, 99% of the time, the best of the musicians are rolling their eyes. Good and innovative art is rarely good business in the music world. In terms of "country," honestly, I just don't think I care that much about it. So many people in 2017, and I assume for at least 2018, are flocking to modern traditionalists who are bringing the "real" country music back. I haven't found any I give more than one or two "listens" to. Really I just think, "Well...that sounds better than the radio I guess." or "Yeah, that sounds like nice classic production." And then I move on. For me lately, I guess I just want some sort of avante garde that isn't traditional and not pop. In the end, folks just need to write better songs. Ha. The end.
MM: You recently finished touring in the Netherlands, which is allegedly, a hub for Americana fans. Is it true that the good people of Northern Europe show respect to a genre and culture that has been disregarded in it's home country?
JH: The Netherlands (and Germany and Belgium too) were great to us. They're smaller countries, sure...but I just think a larger percent of the population is paying attention. They're too smart for American pop country, and they have zero cultural appeal and reference to the things that these cliche 'backwoods' anthems are even superficially trying to exploit, so I think the 'underground' roots artists are there only real vessel to even give a damn about roots music. And they do dig it thankfully. They get it and they treat you well too. Don't get me wrong, we tour all over the U.S. and are always treated well, but the the music world over there is well-supported in ways that aren't always 'a given' over here. It's stressful touring over there, but there hospitality and accommodations make up for it.
MM: Something you would like the world to know. Anything at all.
JH: Everyone should take a class in 'Logic and Reasoning' in their lifetime.
If you ask someone for a plain glass of water and they pour some coca-cola into it and tell you the water's corrupt and then say you can fix it by just drinking a coca-cola instead, you probably shouldn't trust them.
Van Morrison's 'Veedon Fleece' is a perfect album. Why didn't anyone tell me that in 34 years.
MM: Is there a spot/place in MKE that you hold near and dear to your heart?
JH: Circle A is a hidden gem that I always still love going to after all these years of living here. Small intimate setting, good folks, and it's where I first got together with me gal.
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