Joseph Childress Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, October 24, 2008 12:41pm | Post a Comment
Joseph Childress is a drifter-- the kind of artist I had heard about months before actually meeting and seeing him perform, because he had been hitchhiking and rambling around the country. His reputation preceded him, and it was rumored that he was coming to live here in San Francisco; and indeed he has, becoming a solid part of the SF scene within the 2-ish years he has been here in our fair city. His voice is strong, burbling like a stream, and it's one of his greatest assets; and then there are the songs -- melodic stories about landscapes, both inner and outer. Though he has settled down for a while, he is still one to keep an eye on: Joseph will release a highly anticipated first album in the near future. Here, he chats about working on cattle ranches, seasons changing and his upcoming record.

Miss Ess: So, what have you been listening to these days?

Joseph Childress: Well, besides the obvious classics, I have been digging almost everything I've grabbed from Sublime Frequencies and Mississippi Records. Also, Lucky Dragons, White Rainbow, the Yaala Yaala label, Los Increibles, Melodii Tuvi, and the George Mitchell field recordings, mostly country and world stuff. 

ME: What inspires you to write songs? Do you write the lyrics or the music first?

JC: With the exception of maybe three songs, I write the music first. I let the melody tell me the story. I will usually get an image if the part is doing its job. As for inspiration, a whole lot of things inspire me, from nature and women to politics. The weather plays a huge role, also seasonal change. When the air starts to change I get an overwhelming feeling to write.

ME: I love that. When did you first pick up the guitar?

JC: I started playing guitar when I was around twelve or thirteen. I played the drums first, and I played the trumpet all throughout school. My parents bought me a bass, and my brother a guitar, and I would sneak into his room when he wasn't home and play it. I think I wanted to be like him more than actually playing guitar. But it eventually hooked me... a blue Strat. My folks still have it. My father, who is a wonderful musician, taught me my first chords, and I figured the rest out on my own and with the help of friends.

What did you hear playing around your parents' house while you were growing up in Colorado?

Christian and Gospel music. My father is a "minister of music" and choir director at the church I grew up in. The church is non-denominational, but has very Pentecostal roots, so they were heavily influenced by Southern gospel, and southern choirs. I have discovered over the years that a lot of the songs they sing come from traditional songs from the south. My Dad is also a very prolific writer, and they continue to sing a number of his hits.

I know you worked on houses some before moving out here.  What records would you blast on the boom box to keep yourself happy while you were doing electrical work?

Yep, electricity and cattle ranches. I worked with my brother and we would constantly be searching for new things. I think it started out with classic artists like Dylan (GOD!) and Neil Young, also the recent indie records of the time. We would drive to Denver, which was a couple hours away, and shop Wax Trax and this little shop called Double Entendre, which sold exclusively independent artists. We eventually moved to playing mostly classic country music. I still remember the first time my brother played me Hank Williams. It was a profound experience.

Despite the fact that my grandparents lived in upper class suburbs here in Northern California (far from the range!), they all absolutely loved country music! That's how I first heard Hank Williams. What was it about the Bay Area that made you decide to move here and play music?

I wandered around the country for a couple years, and San Francisco was always the city that I missed the most. The music community has always been strong here, and fairly welcoming. There is also somewhat of a balance between concrete and nature in this area. There are breathtaking places to visit that are less than a half an hour out of the city.

I completely agree. We are so lucky here. Who are your favorite singer-songwriters?

Tuvan throat singers.

What is your favorite local band besides yourself, of course?

Have you ever heard that band ShipSnowblinkFamilyTraeJeffMansonLazarusMarieeSiouxVetiverOhSeeSWhyspHacklesPortOBrienD
SareesSonnyandtheSunsetsOkayMassatDawnJefferyThoresbyEmilyJaneWhiteDrySpellsYogaLazer? That band fucking rocks.

Oh, that that little band!? Somehow it contains nearly the entire sound of the city! What is the best live show you have ever been to?

Hmm...A handful of Dylan shows, Ten Grand in Denver at Monkey Mania and a hundred more there, the Angel Island show, and every show that David Wilson and Frank Lyon have ever put on, Gillian Welch at Hardly Strictly a few years ago when the mist was blowing over the stage, the early Quiet Quiet fests, dance party in a church in Boston.

Tell me more about your new album, who produced it and when it may be available. Was this your first time in a studio? How was it for you?

It was recorded this last summer in an attic in Portland, Oregon by Mike Coykendall. He is most known for his work with M.Ward and She and Him. I was blessed to be joined by my friends Aaron Robinson and Joey Ficken from the band Seawolf. It was a wonderful experience. The songs came so naturally. I have attempted to record in the past, and have had some very frustrating attempts. It's all about comfort. I think that Mike's personality and experience plus the high quality of musicians that contributed made it flow very smoothly. I mean we recorded a full record and mixed a good portion in a week! Now in SF, it has slowed a bit. We have gone back and filled in some of the more barren valleys with some sprinkles of moisture and vegetation. My dear friend David Wilson has drawn the cover art and we should be done by December 1st. After that I don't know...Hopefully someone will want to release it!

What's your favorite Michael Hurley record or song?

It has to be Armchair Boogie, which I heard is being reissued on vinyl by Mississippi Records soon! So good.

What's the best Townes Van Zandt record or song, in your opinion?

That's too hard. It's a dead tie between The Late Great [TVZ], High Low [and In Between], and Our Mother the Mountain. They all have distinct flavors, depends on what I am craving.

What about Gillian Welch?

I LOVE Gillian Welch! I have always dreamed of playing with them. David Rawlings is one of my favorite guitar players. That parlor guitar he plays is so beautiful.

Oh yeah, that guitar is perfect for their songs too. What album do you think is the greatest Will Oldham has ever made?

I think it would have to be Ease Down The Road. It's so funny and pleasant. Yeah, that's it.

I love to ask that question of Oldham fans cause the answer is usually different for everyone. Name an esoteric record that you love that you think everyone should know about.

I have been really digging this country/rockabilly singer named Johnny Horton. He was around in the fifties and sixties, and died tragically. The songs and words are very simple, but have this really nice beat that makes you want to shake it. His voice is SO good. Check out the record Honky Tonk Man.

What is your favorite venue to play here in SF?

I would have to say the Warfield. Kidding. There are so many great spaces in SF. I like the Make Out Room. The acoustics of the space go well with my voice and people show up. Adobe Books is great too.

Will you be touring any time soon?

I hope so. I have been taking it easy with shows lately to work on the album, but when the record is released I am hoping to get out for quite a while. Nothing's certain yet.

What has been your best find at Amoeba?

A mint original pressing of the soundtrack to Rockers for a buck.

Thank you so much for your time! Can't wait to hear your record when it arrives.

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