RADnotBAD: John Jack Joseph

30 Sep

John Jack Joseph-Optimized.

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I was sitting at The Blackheart back in February, finally having made my way out to see Jack McBrearty (The Electric Friends, Partyy Dress) perform a solo set as John Jack Joseph, the project had just begun to grow legs and the awkwardness of having not acclimated fully to the absence of  having three friends to draw strength from as he had been doing for years with The Electric Friends was obvious, probably not so much to the laymen observer, the dude has clearly been playing shows for the better part of a decade, for someone who has seen him lose himself on stage as long as I have though it caught me off guard.

Near the end of his set he seemed to shrug some invisible chip off his shoulder and went into this slow driving song “Open-Ended, Middle-Class Blues,”  all the effects he had been using throughout the set to create some idealistic wall between he and the audience had been torn down and for the first moment in all the time I’ve seen the guy play he took complete command of his sound and forced it all into its proper place behind him as demons no longer allowed to torment him but instead to be used through some ancient spell as puppets to sway before the audience at each twitch of his hands. The bar hushed and turned to the stage, the bartenders, the other bands, even the traffic outside stopped to allow the presence of John Jack Joseph to speak.
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Every set I’ve caught of his since that five minute magnetic moment you can see him honing in on whatever IT is. Each set the moment grows longer, each set he becomes more of a presence than a person, something about the way he has gone about his path leads us to believe he has always known it was there, like when Don Juan speaks to Castaneda about learning to know the precise time to dig up the plant so it will bring about knowledge rather than spiritual death, “a man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it will live to regret his steps.” It is as if that fear, not so much of failure but instead of self-destruction, had kept him trying to find a way around it, as if through his own abilities he could find a different way. He seemingly has come to the crossroad where he is both ready to accept the weight of such knowledge as well as confidently moving forward without contrived results to allow the songs to come into themselves as they themselves desire  rather than an act of will.

Believing this about his music there were still reservations about how it would all turn out in the form of an album. He had played me a few demos over the winter where the songs felt constrained by good intentions, I suspected having not yet realized himself how the veil was being torn back during his sets that the recordings might continue to bring those results for some time to come. The first solo album looked to be just one more step towards his future rather than a landmark along the way, and maybe in the end that is all Electric Life will amount to be, time and fate make their own decisions, from my vantage point though, this looks to be a place we will be revisiting for years to come.

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Jack had spoken to me at length about wanting to cut this record himself; every artist on the dark-side of twenty feels this need to prove the independence of their art and the entity of the artist themselves from all outside constraints of other’s imposed good intentions cut from a different cloth. Artists always tend to believe they can do anything better than anyone else, in a general sense artists do tend to excel far beyond what an average human-being does at whatever they commit their effort to, the problem arises though in the misconception many artists have with engineers and producers and studios themselves where they get pigeonholed alongside the true chicken-hawks; production-companies, managers, and venues trying to take credit (read:money) from an artist who would have succeeded without them having been involved at all. I’m sure there are studios all over the world who would fit the mold but the difference between an incredible record and a lukewarm dribble is faulted as much by those adjusting the levels and pressing record as the artist themselves. Out of that awareness most artists would rather fail at their own hands rather than take the risk on someone else.

There has to be a balance between Anton and Courtney , those two are extremes between artistic integrity and capitalistic ambition, to be an unsigned dude in Austin,TX and feel the weight of a decision such as that upon making a record is ego fueled delusion. If you are the one paying for the record, if you are the one trying to get people to put it in stores and share it with their friends, then the only choice you have to make is ‘how can I make the best record possible.’ We cannot negate the fact that sitting in the right studio with the right people pushes you to make a better record than you could ever have done on your own. I love The Brian Jonestown Massacre, each of those records find much of their strength in the DIY nature, but anyone who tells me those records would not have been a thousand times better if done in an incredible studio, with people riding the same cosmic wave as Newcombe himself, is completely wrong. The entire Electric Life album testifies to what making intelligent choices with one’s art can accomplish over ignoring logic by subscribing to some childish urge to control everything about it.

Over the years I’ve spoken quite highly of Superpop! Records and its owner Seth Gibbs (Bobby Jealousy, The Shame and the Waste, Rolland Hazzard). Last fall it was announced that Superpop! would be no more and that the future of everything Gibbs had built would remain in limbo. Now a year later he has teamed up with Travis Beall (Rocky and the Wildcat) and his brother Jimmy Gibbs (The Bad Lovers, The Wolf, Rocky and the Wildcat) to form Sweetheart Studios on 4th street in downtown Austin. When Jack mentioned he would be recording with those dudes I knew he was taking one more step in the direction of letting these songs speak for themselves as I had at that The Blackheart show just a few months ago.

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I count myself blessed through all the little let downs of life that add up to a mountain of unfathomable regret, for somehow I remain one of the lucky ones, for drowning in the expanse of time is far more bearable when superseded by my somehow landing in this nucleus of artists, unaware of the poetry they write on life, unconscious of their place far above this dull gray world, where I walk around in Kerouacian awe of the filth and beauty, the bipolar highs and lows of a meaningful life most of existence will forever remain blind to. To walk among brilliant minds, to feel as if I belong in this den of lions more often than not goes unvalued, I take it for granted, I worry about the future, fear loneliness, dread age, my eyes covered by scales of self-doubt, and such as every other slub in the history of this confusing yet simple world I forget that none of those negatives amount to an ounce more than self-imposed bullshit and suddenly like ten-thousand volts to my dormant soul I’m listening to some incredible record on my phone at work and it dawns on me, my bud made this, he sent this personally just to share it, expecting as any decent unpretentious dude would, that the best case scenario amounts to me appreciating the record on a friend level with a few nice words and will continue on with my life more or less unchanged.

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What I’m getting at is, how in the hell in all of this dark cruel world we all experience am I one of the lucky few to be surrounded by such absolutely beautiful people, not that Kardashian garbage plastic disgusting attempt at beauty, true beauty, the kind where someone can take every single negative I’ve just mentioned and turn it into ten tracks of rhythmically driven clarity and  it dawns on me… Mick Jagger probably still owes some homie ten bucks he borrowed to cop some drugs back in 63’… to someone Bob Dylan is just some dude they would invite over to party with and he’d play his guitar over all the records non-stop until people got annoyed and left. Those dudes are real to some people ya know. Knowing that Jack will most definitely read this, as I would have listened to his entire record even if it sucked completely, I would clearly like to state he is neither Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan and to some of us he never will be.

The fact of knowing John Jack Joseph’s ambitions were reached on this record is not what stokes me, I enjoy Pet Sounds but couldn’t care an ounce less about dissecting it, that Achilles heal for critics disgusts me, it is how art affects you personally that matters, whether a song is taking some Phil Spector format and moving in a new direction does not mean shit at the end of the day, the process is not important for the average person, nor should it be important to them, what stokes me is how this album embodies the internal battle of one’s own limitations, rises out of life’s perpetuating toxic sludge, and builds alters, stone by stone, to them.

Having each track dripping with pop undertones and bold instrumental breadth makes this a novel pill to swallow while remaining at the core equal parts Ryan Adams without the intense constructive self-awareness and sixties surf-pop without leaning Brooklyn, this record staples itself above the negation of labels for the fact it is alive with unique wild contemplation. If anything, Electric Life ultimately is brave, for each entity of the experience, listener and creator both equally must admit their own faults to experience it properly, you have to see all the unfair mounting blah of existence in all its harsh truth and be willing to dance with it as two long lost lovers embracing in the frantic yawn of morning.

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I lay back with my headphones on, the high of a night hanging with friends feigning, trying not to dwell on it being too late to sleep and too early to drive in to work, I press play once more on Electric Life. There is this Nietzsche quote I have found myself running over and over whenever this album is playing, a quote I would like to send to Jack but can’t, that is the downside of being friends, the right words, the ones which bring it all into perspective just seem like false pats on the back, they feel forced, contrived, still for the thirtieth time I find myself digging each song and knowing the perfect words were written ninety years ago summing up exactly what makes this collection of experiences in the form of an album so affecting, I’ll leave it here instead;  “I see here a poet who like so many men, exercises a higher charm by his imperfections than by all that is rounded off and takes perfect shape under his hands…. he appears to have had the foretaste of a vision and never the vision itself…. with this he raises those who listen to him above his work and above all ‘works’ and gives them wings to rise higher than hearers have ever risen before, thus making them poets and seers themselves …. as if he had reached his goal, and had actually seen and communicated his vision. It is to the advantage of his reputation that he has not really arrived at his goal.”

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John Jack Joseph – Bandcamp | Instagram

One Response to “RADnotBAD: John Jack Joseph”

  1. Anonymous October 1, 2015 at 5:34 am #

    I want you to review one of my albums.. Good goodness!

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