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Published: 2003/08/29
by Jake Krolick

‘There are no lighter notes… ‘ A Conversation with Jerry Joseph

Jerry Joseph and I had crossed paths for the better part of 4 months before I had the opportunity to talk with him. Three shows in North Carolina during April were powerful and thought provoking. Then in July things came together and I set up a somewhat informal interview at Mid-X. We sat down in the mid afternoon sun of West Virginia and I listened to his views on a variety of different subjects. Please take some with a grain of salt and let others sink in. Jerry has a great sense of humor and a very dynamic personality. I hope that this conversation will help reveal a bit more of whom he is.

Jerry Joseph & Jackmormons will celebrate the release of Mouthful of Copper on September 23 with a stretch of show. For details visit www.jerryjoseph.com

JK: With a huge tour schedule what keeps you entertained and motivated?

JJ: With music it's always something …I buy a lot of records and have maybe five twenty-something friends around the country… whatever they tell me to buy I buy.. Lately I have been getting motivated by a lot of political hip-hop bands like Dead Prez. Maybe there not singing issues directly to me, but its refreshing to see bands not running from causes. Its funny these guys can say "fuck the police" and "fuck the white guys," but when I say political things it's for the most part preaching to the converted.

JK: How much of you’re inspiration comes from imagination and how much comes from real life experience?

JJ: It's pretty much all real… sometimes I hide it by putting it in the second person or sometimes I like to write from the point of view of a woman. Something like "Mountain Home" I write from the point of view of a Militia guy up in Montana. It's funny with those things because they ultimately become part of me. It's easy to get behind the word and deliver them with some sort of meaning, but after a while you're going "I am really saying this with some conviction I must be a lot more fucked up then I thought!" [Laughs].

JK: Do you ever write short stories?

JJ: I keep a journal that I write in every night something that came out of my rehab days. I have a couple screenplays that I would really like to do. I would like to put together a song book that includes the stories that I tell… a couple of paragraphs of prose and then lyrics. A lot of it's been time. We tour so much because its the only way we make a living. I can't just say oh I am gonna go to Costa Rica to write my memoirs. I always wanted to do that if I was at my last days.

JK: It would be a shame to wait to do that…

JJ: Yeah it would… Get hit by a truck and never have done it.

JK: Do the Jackmormons collaborate with you in songwriting?

JJ: We just kind of started to do that the last time we rehearsed. Musically we are all over the map as far as tastes go. The process for me is I write stuff on the acoustic guitar first. Then they figure out what they will do and we are usually playing it that night. I know we have talked about augmenting the band with a pedal steel or drummers. The three piece thing is rewarding, but it's a lot of work. You can never really relax because you're trying to fill a bunch of sound and be focused. I would love to have a little more slack.

JK: Is that what you were doing with Oil? ...As I understand you had quite a few musicians you were working with.

JJ: I met this guy Danny Dziuks…. He is like the Warren Zevon of Germany. What's unique about him is he writes in German. The Germans are funny, they say we will not sign him he is German, but you are German, but he sings in German and no one will get it. So playing with him was cool. It was with his guys and the whole thing turned into this jam that was recorded. Then I left after doing a bunch of songs and I come back and they had filled in all the parts around them. That whole record was just kind of a happy escape. I have four or five records I would like to get done before I am fifty.

JK: You seem to have a lot you want to do.

JJ: That just brings us back to the first question what keeps me interested. I just haven't gotten tired of what I like to do. I would like to write some more uplifting music that is not sappy. I am in a new relationship so maybe some better love songs.
I guess what I really would like to do is writing for other people. It would be fun to write for people I don't really like…"It would be fun to write Bob Weir's next record." Make it really cool. I would just like to work with a really familiar voice.

JK: Would you write pop songs?

JJ: I would write Pop songs, I'd write country songs, I'd write reggae songs… Shit, I would love to do a Burning Spear record. Now that I am not as scared as in the 80's… we were…

JK: Little women?

JJ: Yeah, then I was scared of the spirituality of reggae. Now I am not scared of the spirituality. I am in a place where I can write that stuff better. I am just not as frightened of some of those subjects.

JK: At one point you were quoted as saying that a lot of the reggae artists aren’t really true. There just into drugs and women.

JJ: That quote is in relation to why we quit playing reggae in the 80's. Instances of women cooking and people finding out they were menstruating and all the food was thrown away. We just felt that it was bullshit. I think the same of this jam thing it's all put in to terms of family and community. Really I think it's much more rigid with many more rules. It's much more arrogant. Well, some would say "that's because you just haven't made it Jerry," and there is some truth to that. I get nervous with any of these movements. I don't know what constitutes this movement "Jambands." It's such a weird idea cause when I was a kid you played in the garage and you'd jam. I played a show that my hero Steve Earl was at in the front row and he invited us on his bus afterwards. He said great songs, great delivery, but why do you want to do all that Phish crap in the middle of it? I sat there just mortified… He had just chopped my fuckin balls off.

JK: Sometimes slaps like that are good… You give the audience a slap at points when you play.

JJ: Not everyone in this community likes to be slapped.

JK: Were you surprised by the reaction you got after steamboat {Joseph receive some negative response to comments regarding American troops in Iraq- here is a bit more on this Joseph’s web site ]?

JJ: I was surprised cause it was a crowd of 50 people. I still stand by what I said. You can support them getting home safely, support them not being involved. At a certain point saying I support the troops means I wish them success. No, I don't support the occupation of Iraq. The most interesting supportive mail I got was from military guys. One guy wrote saying I am stationed on the Kitty Hawk. I heard what you said and I don't agree with it, but we are over here fighting for your right to say it. Thanks for saying what you believe and can you please send some CD's to … All the nasty stuff I got was from the hippies. My mom asked me if I said this in front of the Daughters of the Confederacy. I told her "No mom I said it at a hippie band show." Most of the really heavy hate mail is coming out of that world. My friend Woody Harrelson, even he is really controversial sometimes, was like, "Dude I cant believe you said that." I called him because I didn't know how to react to it. People threatened my kids and as a man I wanted to be like I'll fight, but email would come in from office computers and I was like I know where you work. Woody said just don't respond to the good or bad just take a position and don't change. I am not the Dixie Chicks. I am not this big huge band. I guess that I never thought that what I said would be that important to anybody. It's interesting to me because I think it represents the climate of this country right now. I think we are fortunate that we have free speech. To say I am unpatriotic because I don't support a war effort is insane.

JK: I am surprised you say that you never thought that what you’d said would be that important to anybody.. I would think that your fans especially like you cause of what comes out of your mouth.

JJ: yeah that's true. I guess I feel I have a responsibility to say what I think. I think we should be politically aware and try to be well read. I have a platform…The stage…that's a platform to use for more then just saying "hey everybody lets smoke a joint." It's like what Richard Thompson said "far be it from me to criticize someone for being an entertainer." You can nudge people a bit to get some kind of reaction. The only thing I accomplished was to make people think. Make anyone think, one person think do I support the troops no matter what. Then it was probably worth it.

JK: On a lighter note…

JJ: There are no lighter notes with me (laughs)

JK: OK here’s a heavier note…Between Dave Schools and Vic Chestnut who’d you get into more trouble with in Europe?

JJ: (Thinks for a bit…) Schools. Vic was so helpful to me. It was a funny tour. I was given a car and a map and told be in Copenhagen tomorrow. I was doing the tour by myself. Those guys really helped me get the respect of the promoters. Me and Schools on the other hand, the point was to go and have a creative time together. Being creative all kind of stuff happened.

JK: Can you see more Stockholm Syndrome on your horizon?

JJ: I would love to. Dave has a lot more responsibilities musically. I would like to do more of those types of collaborations… Life is short…

JK: What do you think about blending genres?

JJ: Well that's such a weird concept cause that's what rock and roll is in the first place blending r & b and country, whatever… I love real bluegrass and some blues. Junior Kimbrough, Earl Burnside, some roots reggae. Mostly I like it when a bunch of kids get together and fuckin throw it all in the sink. That's what's the most exciting. I could stand to never hear a rap metal band again, but I like metal and rap. I can't imagine going home and only having one genre of record… I tell those folks to go buy some records. Its funny people hear the White Stripe's and say that's so novel. Blended music… I thought that was the task in the first place. Use everything you like. At least when I read my manual when I was a kid that's what it said.

JK: Who are your favorite artists in this scene…people you have been enjoying?

JJ: I obviously love Panic. They are like comfort food for me. I just feel good when I am around it or listen it. You know… know who I like now… and I told them this last night and I hope they didn't take it insultingly but I like moe.. The past 3 times I have seen these guys I was like is this the same band I was looking at a few years ago? I was trying to figure out how to say that to them… I used to not like you, but now I do. Now me. are just fuckin burning!

JK: Are you thinking of bringing out any more of Mike [Houser’s] tunes?

JJ: I would like to. I would like to pick out three or four more. I would make sure that these were ones these guys aren't gonna play. I think he was a great song writer. There's something about the simplicity of his songs, almost childlike to me they have this beauty. It would be almost a waste to not have these songs played. I would actually like to record "Airplane." We've been playing it a lot and it just really good. It's funny all my punk rock friends that just hate the hippie band stuff just love that song.

JK: Have you read either of Eric Schlosser’s books?

JJ: Fast Food Nation and I bought Reefer Madness for my girlfriend. I like to give my kids shit about what they eat.

JK: Maybe you can sing to the audience next about what they eat. (laughs)

JJ: Yeah we live in a fast food culture. Weather its music or food or sex anything we do. In the lives we lead I don't have time to go home and cook good meals I am just as guilty as anyone. It's all Big Macs and blowjobs and terminator 3 and bam! bam! bam! We are starting to become more aware but elsewhere they are more excited about eating the Big Mac.

JK: It’s an interesting time to be alive…

JJ: Yes it is

JK: It’s an interesting time to be part of music in general with the internet and the music companies suing internet users…

JJ: Yeah and even more interesting is that my 16 year old son can get together with his buddies, go into the basement, pull up his acid program and get his sampler and make a record. Go to high school a week later and say "hey man here's my new disk." I didn't make my first record till I was 25 -26. The whole process of vinyl, money and recording was so far away from my reality. Now for my kids to say hey were gonna make a record at Johnny's house this weekend, that blows me away.

JK: Do you feel that all electronic music is any less legitimate

JK: It's legitimate, it has still emotion, it's still entertainment, and it's still gone through the process. Everyone can make a record … mom can go down to the knitting circle and make the knitting record.

JK: I am gonna have to get that knitting record…

JJ: Is some of it shit? Sure, but it's probably more real then the latest Korn knock off that some a&r guy is gonna try and sell. The last thing we need is another cool, sensitive Jack Johnson type emoting to a bunch of middle aged women. I would rather hear some teenaged kid and a beat box any day. What Sony thinks is cool and what my teenager thinks is cool… I am betting on my teenagers any day.

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