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An Interview with Joe Pug

February 11, 2010

A few years ago Joe Pug made the life altering decision to leave college and move to Chicago to start a career as a folk singer. In his brief career he has made some of the most honest and heartfelt music anyone can make, establishing himself among contemporaries and growing his fanbase. With two critically acclaimed EPs and a role in several spectacular festivals to his name, Pug seems to be on the fast track to folk stardom.

His first full length album, Messenger, will be released Tues. Feb. 16 on Lightning Rod Recordings. To kick off his tour with Justin Townes Earle (and because he understands how impatient we fans can be) Joe has graciously made a song from that album, “The Sharpest Crown,” available in advance of the release to those who have signed up for his mailing list, which you can do right here.

Joe took a few minutes out of his rare day off from tour to speak with Skinny Ankles’ Chris Davies about the road, Twittering and what to expect from Messenger.

A full tour schedule is listed after the interview.

CD: You’re out on the west coast right now, right?

JP: Yeah, we played in San Diego last night at UCSD and we just arrived in Los Angeles. We have a day off in LA today and we play at The Echo tomorrow.

CD: Off days come quite rare for you, do you find it difficult to go out and play a show each night?

JP: Actually, when you’re out on the road you’re prepared to play everyday. You get a day off and you barely know what to do with yourself. It’s good to rest the voice, for sure, but if I’m going to be out on the road I’d rather just be playing every night.

CD: I hope you’re finding some fun things to do today with your day off.

JP: I think we’re going to try and make the beach, but we’ll see.

CD: You’re doing this tour with Justin Townes Earle, did he seek you out for this tour?

JP: He did. We got to know each other over the summer playing a couple of festivals together and getting to know each other. The last one we played together was the Philadelphia Folk Festival and he brought up this tour and next thing you know we meet up in San Diego and start playing.

CD: Are you two going to be playing together or playing each other’s songs at all on this tour?

JP: Last night was the first night [of the tour] but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. But it hasn’t happened yet.

CD: Are you a big fan of his music and the music he’s worked on with his father, Steve Earle?

JP: Oh yeah, I’ve been a huge fan of Justin’s since the first time I saw him in Chicago a few years ago. I’ve been a fan of his songs for a long time and his live show can compare with anyone in the country’s, it really can.

CD: What are you looking forward to the most on tour with Earle?

JP: Um, I think our audiences are a good match. I think a lot of people that dig me will dig Justin and I hope that a lot of people who dig Justin will dig me. Overall, I’m just looking forward to being out with him. I’m not just a fan of his music, I like Justin a lot personally so it will be fun to be out with him.

CD: You’ve got a lot going on right now, I read on your Twitter that you’ll be pressing Nation of Heat on vinyl?

JP: Yeah, we are.

CD: Is that going to be a special print with extra songs or a cool color vinyl?

JP: Yeah, it is on a special type of vinyl. The whole ordering process is taking a while because we’ve never pressed it up before but it’s going to be a translucent green vinyl. We’re pretty excited about that. It’s for fans who’ve had Nation of Heat for a while who want something permanent, I suppose you could call it a collectors item.

CD: Very cool, I also saw that you have your music on Pandora now. How does that make you feel?

JP: Yep, it’s a very cool thing. We submitted to the music genome project a while ago and we finally just got the call. It takes a while with them, you know, they have several different people review it and rate it and sort of analyze the music into several different categories so they know where to put it. They finally finished that process and it’s very cool. I’ve always been a big fan of the site, yeah man, we made the big time.

CD: That’s great. I got that info from your Twitter. I’ve noticed that you update a lot, is that something that you really have fun with, keeping your fans up to date?

JP: Yeah. We try not to blast people with emails all the time on the email list. With Twitter it’s something that people have signed up for and they just sort of passively take a look at it. I don’t feel like we’re bogging them down with stuff, so yeah, I enjoy it.

CD: Let’s talk a little bit about Messenger. What was the inspiration behind the songs on the album?

JP: Oh man, Messenger was written over a period of about a year and a half. Different songs come from different places, I wouldn’t say that it was some sort of concept album or any sort of cohesive album where I had one thing that I was trying to get across.

CD: Do you aim to tell a story with each song, or just riff on some sort of theme?

JP: I think it depends. I think there’s a couple tunes on here this album that are more narrative, but I think what I really have in mind when I’m writing lines would be just to picture a theme and try to be as poetic as possible.

CD: Is there going to be more full band instrumentation on this album than was on either EP?

JP: Sure, definitely. The band plays on about half the record. The other half is just me and my guitar. I’m really experimenting with that more and more these days.

CD: Any crazy instruments you’ve added into the mix or anything wild?

JP: [Laughs] I wouldn’t say crazy. But the band that plays on it is the band that comes out and plays shows with me: you know, pedal steel guitar, banjo.

CD: Any big record release party plans?

JP: We’re playing Chicago very soon, which is my home base. It’s after the release of the record so I suppose you could call that a release party. But, I mean, we’re doing about 30 release parties around the United States in the next month.

CD: That’s nice, I hope to be there in Chicago when you swing through. Is there anything about the album that I haven’t asked that you wanted to mention?

JP: I’m very proud of this record. This one was difficult in some ways to get together and I worried about it a whole hell of a lot. But now that it’s all said and done, mixed and mastered I had the chance to go back and listen to it a few months ago, the whole thing, and I’m very proud of it. I’m excited for my band to get to listen to it and we’ll see what they think.

CD: What was the most worrisome part: putting it together or actually recording it?

JP: You know, I think you worry every time you make an album, at least I do. You worry every time you’re creating a piece of art. I worried like hell when I was writing Nation of Heat and I worried like hell when I was writing In The Meantime. That’s just my nature. I know some artists are a bit more easy-going about it, but every time I’m pulling my hair out.

CD: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, and best of luck on the tour.

JP: Sure dude!


Feb 11 The Echo, Los Angeles, Calif.*

Feb 12 The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, Calif.*

Feb 13 Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, Calif.*

Feb 14 The Doug Fir, Portland, Ore.*

Feb 15 The Tractor Tavern, Seattle, Wash.*

Feb 16 The Biltmore, Vancouver, B.C.*

Feb 18 The State Room, Salt Lake City, Utah*

Feb 19 The Bluebird, Denver, Colo.*

Feb 20 The Sheridan Opera House, Telluride, Colo.*

Feb 23 The Mill, Iowa City, Iowa*

Feb 24 Canopy Club, Champaign, Ill.

Feb 25 The Turf Club, St. Paul, Minn.*

Feb 26 High Noon Saloon, Madison, Wis.*

Feb 27 Lincoln Hall, Chicago, Ill.*

Feb 28 The Magic Stick, Detroit, Mich.*

Mar 1 The Horseshoe, Toronto, Ontario*

Mar 2 The Mohawk, Buffalo, N.Y.

Mar 3 The Starving Artist, Keene, N.H.

Mar 4 Great Scott, Alston, Mass.*

Mar 5 Bowery Ballroom, New York, N.Y.*

Mar 6 Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, Pa.*

Mar 7 The Birchmere, Alexandria, Va.*

* With Justin Townes Earle

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