Though he hails from Maryland, singer/songwriter Joe Pug has bounced from Chicago to Nashville to Austin in his search for a place in the world. But that’s just geography. Pug, long ago, found where he fits artistically, and it’s somewhere down the line from Bob Dylan, John Prine, Steve Earle, and John Hiatt. Like those musical influences — and literary ones like Raymond Carver and John Steinbeck — Pug is a storyteller. He’s proven that, already, with two EPs and two albums, but his new ‘Windfall’ should sway any lingering doubts.
KM: The new record is produced very simply. Financial constraints for everyone being what they are these days, how much of that decision was artistic versus practical?
JP: Our original vision for the record was of a painting with only three or four primary colors. And we accomplished that, which I’m proud of. Because the ease of modern recording has actually made it a lot harder to keep things OFF an album than to put them ON. Choose a Bandcamp page at random and you’ll likely hear an album that is, in the scheme of things, amazingly recorded with string sections and the full complement. In the age of the Internet, everybody can play the musical saw and everybody has a weird friend from high school that plays pedal steel. But that doesn’t mean it all belongs on a single album or a single song. Unless, of course, that’s someone’s vision… their terrible, terrible vision.
Even in its simplicity, it never feels short-changed. If the songs can stand up in that setting — and they seem to — then you’re onto something. Were there tunes you had to set aside for a rainy day? Songs you wanted to save for a more formal affair?
Thanks, I feel the same way. And, no, we didn’t pull any punches. Anything that ended up on the cutting room floor was either thematically inconsistent with the album or plainly not good.
I don’t know what makes a recording session a more formal affair. A famous name behind the console? A studio cabinet that has the obligatory “Sinatra-sang-through-this” microphone? A bunch of guys splicing two-inch tape while they disagree about vintage compressors? This is just what the music I enjoy sounds like.
Each songwriter has a slightly different approach to the creative process. Do you feel like songs come to you or from you?
I feel like there’s a constant stream of melody and lyric right below the conscious surface. When it’s time to write, you just try to put yourself in a mental state where you can dip your cup into that stream and bring it back to waking life.
There’s a line in “The Measure” that’s “All we’ve lost is nothing to what we’ve found.” Unpack that a little more for us. It seems like a reminder to be grateful rather than greedy.
That was the original kernel for the song. It comes from a quote from Frederick Buechner’s ‘Godric,’ which we’ve actually made the epigram for the album: “The secret that we share I cannot tell in full. But this much I will tell. What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” I thought it was a beautiful phrase and tried to write a song that did justice to it.
The theme of resilience comes through in a number of the songs. What’s the distinction, for you, between being resilient and being resigned?
Great question. In fact, I think you’ve really discerned the crux of the album. The difference lies in the personal choice between one and the other, between resignation and grateful acceptance. You can’t change your lot in life but you can change how you experience it.
Joe Pug’s ‘Windfall’ comes out March 10th on Lightning Rod Records and is available – HERE