An Interview With Joe Marson
This interview with Joe Marson took place on September 14th, 2011 and was proctored by station manager Anthony Saia. Marson was willing to sit down and chat with us for a little while about his record, what inspires his writing process and what his biggest influences are. Check it:
Anthony: Ok. I’m actually, I’m going to start with a very fairly obvious one maybe and that is the title of your record Postcards From Siren City. What is the story behind that name?
Joe Marson: Yeah well the story is that I did sort of a soul searching, graveling kind of a journey for about 5 or 6 years and 3 of those were spent in Boston. And I lived in this apartment sort of by Berkley’s school of music and there were just ambulances it felt like every five minutes and somewhere along the line not even thinking about music, title or anything I just threw, kind of dubbed it siren city cause that was my experience of that particular part of town and you know the post cards of siren city’s really almost like experiences from siren city or, or, tidbits of experiences from siren city so because this record has a lot of those experiences on them I felt like it was a good all-encompassing sort of title.
A: Alright. Fair enough. Now you and I’ve talked about this ad nauseum about the track And The Lightning He Will Ride because it’s my favorite track on the album and you’ve mentioned that you love to play that one live. Is it pretty much cut and dry like the subject matter as far as the lyrics go or is there some sort of experience that you personally went through that helped you write that song or I guess how do you write songs yourself?
JM: Yeah well, I think that you know stories are you know stories are obviously very powerful I mean that sort of an understanding that I mean if you look at religion a lot of, of people take are stories with morals and all that stuff and I figured that translates into you know into any sort of story. So with that particular song I was actually inspired by Quentin Tarantino and it sounds sort of silly but the beginning of From Dusk Till Dawn I’ve always just loved the beginning and then I don’t really care for that movie but in the beginning actually I’m lying but the rest of the movie is hilarious it’s just not, it’s a totally separate movie. But in the beginning its George Clooney’s character and Quentin Tarantino’s in it and he’s just his totally messed up brother and I was always sort of taken by their relationship of this one, you know George Clooney’s character always sort of like feeling responsible for his brother who’s just so, like a rapist psychopath sort of person and my version of that in Lightning He Will Ride is that story of 2 brothers who go out to rob a farm and in the middle of the night the younger one sneaks away and does some pretty bad stuff to a sleeping girl over there and the story’s told from the older brother’s perspective of you know asking the judge to take him, you know, it’s his fault for not raising the younger one right. So that’s sorta the insight for that one.
A: Alright. A little bit different from what I was really thinking about but that’s good to know. Right on man that helps me to understand it a little bit further and I appreciate that. So you mentioned that you lived in Boston but now you live in Austin Texas, are you from there?
JM: I was raised in San Diego, California but I’ve moved all over the place and we lived in a lot of different places so yeah, Southern California is where I was raised.
A: Ok. Then what about Austin has kept you other than the fact that you are just keeping it weird down there like all those Austin people?
JM: Yeah, yeah you gotta keep it weird down here. You know Austin is an amazing city you know it’s definitely hyped up to me and it lived up to it when I got here. It’s just one of my, I’ve lived in a lot of cities and this is like the coolest one. So I actually am moving to New York pretty soon and subletting my house here so I can sort of go between because I don’t want to let go of Austin you know.
A: Yeah of course. Alright, so I watched the talent loop interview and you had mentioned that you, the very first song that you wanted to learn, or the only song you wanted to learn was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge. What about that song was stand out for you and how old were you at that point?
JM: I was probably 11 or 12. I was a pretty huge Red Hot Chili Pepper fan I guess when I was 10 years old even, but yeah I remember listening to Blood Sugar Sex Magik when I actually lived in Italy and that’s where I sort of fell away from you know T.V. all the sudden fell out of my life. You know when you’re a kid you sit around watching cartoons. That’s just what you do and then to all of a sudden that became music so it was really in Italy where really I started listening to a lot of music and really getting into it and that song just filled, I feel like I’m always trying to write one version of Under The Bridge or another I mean it’s it just has all these elements of a great song and you know from the Hendrix sort of John Frusciante guitar playing to the melodic ideas in it, it’s just the perfect, the perfect song to me so I mean I’m always trying to chase that and maybe Bold As Love by Jimmy Hendrix and a couple others , well a bunch of others but yeah that song is definitely influential.
A: Ok. Have you listened to the new record yet?
JM: Yeah, I have. They’re doing their own thing. My sort of, the stuff I love was Blood Sugar, One Hot Minute, Californication era. You know I’m not really into their last couple of records so much. And I have the Chili star tattoo on my arm and it doesn’t really matter what they do from here if they put out a kids record you know it’s still, it still means something special to me because it’s just, I’ve been drawing that Chili Pepper’s star on my wrist since I was like 10. And for anyone who doesn’t know what that is both Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante have it on their right arm.
A: So anyways it kinda, we kinda digressed a little bit there for a second but what I was really interested in especially when I got your one sheet and then I listened to your record, is that you go through Kickstarter and you have kind of a collective help as far as the record goes. Can you explain that process, why you kind of chose to go that route or anything like that?
JM: Yeah, mostly just because I don’t have any money [laughs]. I’m a starving artist. Kickstarter is great. You know it really it felt like with everyone contributing to it, it just felt like I was doing this alone and I had a lot of support and those people that contributed are really the core financially emotionally. You know, they are the support. So the Kickstarter thing was great and you know I reached my goal and because of that I’m doing a radio campaign and talking to you right now.
A: For sure man. Definitely. So you’re mentioning that you’re moving to New York. Is this specifically to expand your music or is it to, just to, kinda live somewhere different for a while?
JM: No it’s definitely for my career. I really just want to get my band together and you know the area out there is a lot of boring and you know it’s just a lot of people a lot of the industry is either in L.A. or New York and it’s not going to be L.A. for me. That’s the last place I want to live. So you know, I do love New York and I do think that you know it has a lot to do, you know it’s tough but I’m all about that. I’m all about sort of that I mean I’m in the career mode of my life right now and it’s a good place for me. I’m in a very good place with my music and trying to make it into a career cause I’ve been playing music for so long but you know you can only close your eyes and pretend that you are playing to a lot of people for so long before you just want to play to a lot of people with your eyes open. So.
A: So you mentioned that you actually have a live band. Do they travel with you to shows or do you do solo shows or?
JM: I will I will be doing both. Yeah my tour that I’m doing from Austin to New York in November will, I think it’s mostly going to be solo when I’m playing venues I’m playing house concerts. There’s a part of me that loves that as much as I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers you know, I love, you know future singers song writers you know Cat Stevens, Ben Harper’s huge for me. Ray LaMontagne. I like a lot of bands that’s some crucial stuff. So there’s definitely a big part of that so. I love that I’ve been doing that for a while and I definitely want to turn on the electric guitar and stuff more like songs Float With It on my record And The Lightning He Will Ride which is sort of a harder one, you know. The part that’s aching to get out right now.
A: Speaking of, you just mentioned Cat Stevens and that just reminded me of the cover of Trouble on your album why that one in particular?
JM: Because I was in a lot of trouble when I was in Boston. That whole spiritual for a journey I took because I had very, very severe depression that almost ended my life and I was looking for a lot of things but you know, the main thing was sort of secure to that and I eventually found that in a whole other interview that’s a whole other interview thing I made a miraculous recovery. That’s a topic in its self but you know that, I was very much feeling that song. I just knew where he was coming from. The version on the record was actually a pretty, it’s actually the oldest thing on the record. I probably recorded that 3 years ago but it, it just needed a place on the record because it’s sort of, besides the song called Postcards From Siren City, it’s probably the ultimate postcard. From Postcards From Siren City. And the version on there I think I basically did live and I, I did it live and then I tracked I mean I did some harmony over it but if you listen real carefully it’s funny because at the very end you can actually hear a siren at the very end and it’s sort of, it’s sort of I guess ironic or…
A: Yeah. Do you feel like recording that song was kinda like a catharsis for you, or do you find that when you record music that it is that whole thing is cathartic?
JM: No. Not really. I’m not, I haven’t found, I’m getting closer and closer to recording in a way that I will like, but so far it’s sort of a sterile experience for me. It’s not my favorite I would; eventually what I would like to do is track all of the instrumentation live you know. That’s what I would like to do. Recording, you know, what’s any sort of catharsis is that I enjoy playing live cause I feed off the energy between people, that give and take of that. And it’s hard to do that when you are sort of in a room looking at a computer screen with headphones on. It’s really hard to get to that place but you know, the later songs, the more recent songs that I’m doing that are on the record like Float With It, Lighting He Will Ride, God Damnit Julia, those were recorded with my buddy Jared Marshall from he’s from recording and those were getting closer and closer to my sound and tone and you know, my process of recording with him. So that’s been a real good experience.
A: I wanted to ask you about, your cover of Alicia Keys. I’ve always found that covering her has been very difficult but you do it very, very well was that something that you did live too, or did it take a couple takes or, like what…
JM: I don’t really remember the process on that so much. I just know that I recorded that, that was when I was in Southern California and you know everyone is listening to this sort of reggae thing and its real cool like that. I used to play at this bar every Tuesday. It was like 100 bucks for like 3 hours for a bunch of like covers and so, but whenever I played that one you know, people would get really amped and into it. I had a band there and we would play it people really liked it so. It’s sort of another postcard if you will from that one from San Diego. Postcards from San Diego so you know it also deserved a place on the record. That’s the story behind that one.
A: Ok. You mentioned earlier that you’re doing a Jeff Buckley tribute. Correct?
JM: It’s looking that way yeah. I had an opportunity to sit down with Jeff’s mom actually in New York…
A: Oh wow.
JM: Yeah we ended up talking for a long time and I said , you know how really, how much I was inspired by him, by Jeff. You know we talked about the Chili Peppers, Ben Harper but Jeff Buckley is probably up there in the top 3 or top 5, 10 or whatever. It’s sort of hard to say but I basically told her just how much all that meant and she was just like the sweetest woman ever and told me these amazing stories about Jeff and I geeked out about that.
A: Wow. Are you going to play your own stuff or are you going to be playing one of his songs?
JM: I’m going to be playing one of his because it’s not confirmed yet. But it’ll be pretty, pretty great. If it’s, you know, being involved in general with, in any capacity is going to be great. There’s not one song that I would be afraid to get stuck with. But if I’m gonna if I could do a song that is my favorite of his then it’ll be pretty special.
A: Yeah of course. I discovered Jeff Buckley personally through the double disc legacy edition of Live at Sin-e. And I loved that album. It’s so good.
JM: Yeah. That’s the, that’s an inspiration because I used to play that record every time I was about to do a solo show. Just look, this is what if possible and in the universe for one man to achieve with just a guitar and his voice…and it’s just, you know it’s a big mountain to climb but it’s always been inspirational. Not only that his voice but he does this cover of Strange Fruit that I think was originally done by Nina Simone. – And his blues guitar playing on that is just, it has inspired my guitar playing a lot. So it’s just crazy. Just absolutely. He was on another level for sure.
A: I fully agree. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah breaks my heart every time.
JM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what everyone knows and for good reason you know. I’m not saying oh… but for good reason. It’s amazing but some of the covers on Live Sin-e like the Van Morrison cover he does of The Way Young Lovers Do is probably one of the most mind blowing things. I mean, it’s, it’s crazy.
A: For sure man. So I’ve got one final question for you. This is a question that I ask everybody that I interview. And if you can’t answer the full question I fully understand. But for you at this current moment in time, what are your top 5 records of all time?
JM: Ahhhh, [laughs]. Ok. The old 5 record question huh?
A: I’m a big High Fidelity fan if you couldn’t tell.
JM: Yeah. No I think I can answer that. I’m just going to start listing them and I might go a little over 5 but…Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Grace from Jeff Buckley, Graceland from Paul Simon, the Fugees was 4, the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. And then there’s just pretty much any live record from Pearl Jam, oh Super Unknown from Soundgarden. You know P from the Killermen. Cat Stevens, there’s a Harry Connick Jr. record called She that no one knows about but is possibly one of the coolest records of all time. It’s like a rock record, it’ Harry Connick doing alternative rock with funk. It’s crazy, it’s amazing.
A: I’m writing that down right now so I can find it [laughs].
JM: Yeah. There’s some pretty amazing stuff and I mean probably Live From Mars from Ben Harper. Live From Mars is up there definitely because of the electric set on the one cd and then the acoustic set. That’s been pretty inspirational. I don’t know how many of those there were but I know I’m going to kick myself later for forgetting you know a little one but uh that’s all I guess. That’s all I got for you.
And that will just about do it for our interview with Joe Marson. For more information about Joe or his album Postcards from Siren City check out www.joemarson.com