Tonight the House of Blues Cleveland will be drenched in the warm, whiskey-infused sound of The Devil Makes Three and the beautifully sincere and direct music of Joe Pug. Pug is gearing up to release his newest album, Windfall, on March 10th. His direct delivery and poignant lyricism easily make him one of the best songwriters of our time. And it’s no wonder Pug is so talented; music runs in his veins.
“My dad played in bands until I was born,” says Pug. “A couple of regional bands- back when ‘regional band’ was even a thing, and a thing that you could be proud of nonetheless- called Sky Cobb and Model Prisoners and Freeze. He introduced me to a lot of music that was older than me, including Hiatt, Waits, Zevon and the holy trinity of Dylan albums: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde.”
What was the catalyst for picking up a guitar?
After hearing Nirvana “Nevermind” when I was about 10 years old, there was only one thing to do.
Who taught you the power of lyricism?
My dad gave me a copy of John Prine’s first album, the self-titled one where he’s sitting on the hay bale. I remember listening to “Sam Stone” and having my mind expand in a dozen directions. Until then, I hadn’t known that you could tell such a vivid, detailed story with a song. It was a totally different art-form than “she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah.” To this day, I could probably sit down and sing you every word off that album. (Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not too much of one!)
When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician?
In my early twenties, I was living in Chicago and working by day as a carpenter. At night I started playing open mics and everything just kind of took a natural progression from there. First actual gigs on Tuesday nights, then Friday nights as a support act, then your own shows on Friday night. Then an agent to book you shows out of town. The next step has always presented itself to me before I had had enough to quit.
Your music is very straightforward, not overly produced like many of the acts that are emerging daily. Why is this style important to you?
I try to find a happy medium between getting my message across as clearly as possible without pandering to people or trying to manipulate their emotions. There’s plenty of indie music that hides behind abstraction and there’s plenty of pop music that hides behind focus-grouped anthems, but the substance is somewhere in the middle between the two.
What inspired the latest album, Windfall?
For me, it was a realization that my expectations for life were bordering on delusional. It’s like I spent thirty years waiting for events and rewards and recognition that would never reasonably occur in a single lifetime. The moment that I let go of those burdens, I was able to see the life that I actually had. And that realization was a windfall. In an instant, I gained it all.
Was there anything different that you did to produce this album?
We used a new producer in Lexington, KY, Duane Lundy. He shepherded us through the whole process masterfully, never lost his cool, and brought his signature sonic touch to the whole thing.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from touring?
Never miss an opportunity to drink a glass of water or eat a salad. God, that is some old-man advice isn’t it?
Are there are differences in requests from the audience depending on where you are in the country?
When I’m back in Maryland and Virginia, a lot of people ask me to play “O My Chesapeake,” which has been a staple in the set in the region for years, but we’re finally releasing an album version of it on the new album.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t found music?
Well, I really enjoy working for myself, being my own boss, profiting from my own labor. So I’d probably have tried to start a small contracting company, doing additions and new construction. Hell, I may still try that!
Tickets still remain for tonight’s show at House of Blues Cleveland. They are $26.50 and available here. The doors will open at 7;30pm and the show will begin at 8;30pm.