Joseph Arthur is an ‘artist’ in the truest sense. Not only has been releasing material for over a decade and a half, his sheer poetic nature and obtuse motivation has delivered a acclaimed reputation. Not only is the singer-songwriter back with a new album for Real World Records, The Family, but he informs us about a new book he is working on, and this time it’s not his online poetry. It would appear that we will not be subject simply to his beautiful acoustic melodies in audio format, although being a great champion of the audio book. We will soon see them written, his prosaic literature.
Interestingly, he has based his new album around the acquisition of a Steinway Vertegrande from 1912 that he had acquired, and wrote all of the material around the notion of the family. The way family dynamics shape us and make us who we are.
TF: So you have a new album out in June and you are touring now? You must be excited about that.
Yeah, I am really looking forward to getting out there. I played a show in New York City a couple of days ago and that was pretty good.
TF: So this new album was mostly inspired by the new acquisition of the piano, the Steinway Vertegrande – how did you obtain that?
I was walking through Brooklyn and I came across a music store. There was a Fender Rhodes electric piano and I had the idea that this would be nice to have in the studio. I could sit down and just play whenever instead of turning on computers and all that kind of garbage. When I went into inquire about it, the guy inside actually restores old pianos and I started looking at upright, and started thinking that upright pianos don’t actually take up that much room. He went about looking for one for me and about a week later found that Steinway in Connecticut. Stenway, 1912 and it was a lot of money, so I got it, I got it dropped off and had it tuned. And that’s about it. It didn’t need any repair or restoration at all. It was just kind of a magical thing.
TF: Was it nostalgic sitting down to this instrument, having flashbacks of your old piano lessons, and practising?
For me, making a whole record around the piano was a bit nostalgic. I don’t even know if nostalgia is the right word. A little bit haunting but that would be way too over the top of a word. Somewhere between nostalgic and haunting.
It was a little daunting. I’ve enjoyed playing the piano around the time I have been a recording artist. I have written a song here and there on piano, I’ve used it as a production tool and I can always play a little bit, but I’ve never really written a whole series of songs around that. When you have been doing this for as long as I’ve been doing it you have to find new ways of approaching it I think.
TF: And thinking of the family and your tour, is it true that you have family from Scotland? How will it feel to be playing back here soon in early November, will that history of your grandfather resonate with you?
My grandfather comes from Glasgow, my last name is Arthur. Glasgow, Scotland, that’s my roots.
I am sure it will. I can’t help but think about these things especially when making music. If you’re coming from a place where you’re attempting to come from your heart, which for better for worse I tend to come from that place. Regardless of where I am when I am playing particular songs, it’s kinda nice in a way, cause all of my grandparents have passed away now, some of the people who I am singing about are tired songs on the record, they are passed now. It’s nice when I am performing the songs, I feel like they enjoy it. I don’t know if this is just in my head or not but it feels like they like attention.
TF: What are your thoughts on Bob Dylan being given the accolade of Nobel Prize for Literature? For music to be recognised and poetic and lyricial within such prestigious circles must have some impact on you, especially with your own book published?
I appreciate you thinking of me in that regard but I don’t really know what to think about it. I don’t have enough of an understanding. To me, it’s like winning an Academy Award or something like that. The way he has handled getting this award is kinda funny, the way he has ignored it. It’s probably self-serving. The Nobel Prize possibly people need a bit of a rock and roll flair, they probably needed a controversial move, give it to Leonard Cohen next year (sadly not). You would be hard pressed to find anyone that’s inspired people like Bob, fair play to him.
TF: Tell us a bit more about your own book you have published.
I have been writing a lot of poetry on the road, ever since I started doing the stuff, and whether it is ill-advised or not, I get to post it on social media. The books I have published so far are more collections of stuff I have written online. I am actually though working on a book right now, as I find long-form fiction pretty compelling and fun to investigate. In fact, just before we started this interview I was about to sit down and listen to Stephen King’s book on writing. And I like audio books. I want to give a shout out to audio books right now.
With the new album, The Family, Joseph Arthur is presently on tour and will be hitting Glasgow tonight at the intimate King Tuts. And with his grandfather from Glasgow, it might be fascinating to take a gander up Saint Vincent Street to witness this gig.