Canadian Joe Nolan was very much the wild card at Static Roots Festival in Germany earlier this summer. An artist unknown to the many of attendees, his solo showcase set was mesmerising, delivered to pin drop silence to the packed hall. Far from being an industry newcomer, the Edmonton Alberta resident has been recording albums for over ten years, including Goodbye Cinderella which was nominated for Canadian Folk Music Award Emerging Artist of the Year in 2011. After a gap of five years he released Cry Baby in 2018, the material in the main performed by him at Static Roots. Lonesome Highway met with the engaging young man in Germany back in July and more recently at AmericanaFest in Nashville to get the low down.
Your performance at Static Roots Festival in Germany a few months back was thrilling. You appeared to be in another world on stage?
In moments like these I never really remember the performance, I remember getting on the stage at the beginning and off the stage at the end. Everything in between is almost like a trance.
You told of being inspired to write a song the previous evening following witnessing John Murry play on stage. Tell me about that?
Yes, John Murry’s vibe and performance transported me somewhere, I hadn’t seen real, true rock n roll like that in a long time. His pure artistry alone was so strong that it compelled me to run back to the hotel and write a song. “How I Used To Be”.
Is the song a stayer? Will it be recorded?
It’s a stayer, and I’ve already recorded it. Will very likely be on my new “secret” record
The music industry is a mineﬁeld at present for emerging artists. With such meagre ﬁnancial pickings on offer, how difﬁcult is it for an artist like yourself to essentially self manage, promote, write and perform. And do you have available support to assist and advice you?
As Tom Waits says, it’s like riding down the river, in heavy currents, on the back of an alligator. There aren’t enough hours in the day to manage it all, I’ve got some help, but mostly I’m operating the majority of the ship myself.
Your current album Cry Baby reads like a diary of a difﬁcult and turbulent period in your life. An exorcism of sorts?
It is a diary in many ways, and delicate to talk about, that’s why I like to put it in the music, sometimes it’s my only path of expression and freedom to release whatever is going on internally. The album is a statement album about coming out of a long, dark period of my life where I couldn’t see any light. Climbing out of the water… It also reveals many of my colours, I love blues, rock and roll, soul, punk, and sad sad songs. My vision was to create a story that could highlight all of those sides of me within one album.
You had a huge amount of material to choose from when selecting the songs that would make the cut. Is there a Cry Baby 2 in the offering or will those songs stay on the shelf?
We cut 15 songs when recording Cry Baby, so there are 5 songs that never made the cut. I’m not sure if I will ever release them, maybe they will be B-sides someday. In terms of carrying them over to another album or a Cry Baby 2, I don’t see that happening. My next album will take a different and new direction
The track Music In The Streets features Lydia Loveless. How did that come about?
I used to spend a lot of time in Toronto, I would pretend I was a university student and break into the prestigious music school where they had private rooms with grand pianos in them. I wrote this song on the piano one of those few days before getting busted. Lydia and I toured Europe together probably 6 years ago now, I did about 30 shows opening for her and her band. It was one of the greatest times of my life and Lydia is one of my all time favourite writers and performers, she is the real deal. After Music In The Streets was recorded, I asked her if she’d like to sing on it and she gladly agreed to do it.
Your set in Germany featured a poetry reading, an art form less common by musicians today than it was some decades ago. Is this a feature you generally include on stage?
It all depends on the vibe, the room, and how I’m feeling that day, but It’s deﬁnitely something I want to include in my shows, I’ve got lots of prose!
Tell me about the track Another Dead Poet?
This song is about my own personal experiences, feeling lost in the music industry for years, after being in a terrible record deal, a toxic relationship and drinking way too much. It’s a song for any misplaced artist, poet, painter, dancer… any ﬂower in the concrete. I won’t get into it much more…
Canada continues to produce outstanding artists in the folk/ Americana genre. There appears to more ﬁnancial support there than most countries through agencies like Factor. Has this been of beneﬁt to you?
We are very lucky, although it is still very difﬁcult as an independent artist to be approved for most of this available funding. I have been fortunate enough to receive some help a couple of times.
You recently performed at a The Edmonton Folk Festival. A dream come true?
A dream come true, as a kid I always envisioned myself being on that stage, so it happening was pretty surreal.
You appear to be in a much better place presently. What inspires your song writing these times?
I don’t have an answer for this, it’s never changed regardless of the situation, you always have to be open to a song, if it’s ﬂowing through you, no matter what.
What artists currently performing do you most admire, or do you get the time space to listen to others?
I’ve been really digging another couple Canadians at the moment - Andy Shauf and Leif Vollebekk. Jeffrey Foucault, Chuck Prophet are a couple that have been on heavy rotation this tour.
You have recently got your visa to perform in The States for a year. How do you intend spending the time there, primarily touring or are you considering recording there?
I’ve had the greatest time here, I’ve got one more show left with The Long Ryders tonight in Washington, DC. Then I drive home to Alberta, 42 hours, in my 2003 dodge caravan with a makeshift bed in the back that I built.
You most certainly turned heads with your showcase in Germany. Any plans to return to Europe and Ireland in particular?
I’ll be returning to Europe in February and March 2020 with the release of the the 7 songs I recorded in Sweden this year. It will be a limited edition run on 10” inch Vinyl. I’m also hoping to return for some summer festivals, I’m truly hoping to make it to Ireland for Kilkenny Roots at some point.
Interview by Declan Culliton