An interview with singer/songwriter Joel David Weir


(Interview conducted by Bill Mallonee)

The new Ep is Tell the Truth.

1. Joel, judging from my familiarity with your previous work, I was expecting a barbed and unrelenting political diatribe, one with “teeth.”. Instead we’re treated to very restrained, almost gentle collection of songs. Explain!

Tell the Truth ‘happened’ in the midst of recording the upcoming, big, full band studio album “The Last War”. We got done with the tracking for TLW, I took those songs back to my home studio and did additional work on them, but in the midst of that process, there were some songs that emerged that I quickly figured out were a different “thing”. The debut JTS EP was “Closet Songs I”, which I wrote and recorded in one week as an antidote to my procrastination problem. The idea of that one was, one mic, one guitar, in an actual closet in my home. One song a day, write it and record it. I ended up adding some textures on that, but all acoustic guitar. On TTT I ended up capturing what the late night sessions of writing on ideas (some songs are actually older, but had not yet found a home, while some are brand new) and exploring not only lyrically ‘risky’ areas but sonically as well. I think its pretty fragile and vulnerable, but in a different way that Closet Songs was. I open with “Liar” which is sort of a ‘laying bare’ the idea that, while on the record I explore themes of mortality, politics, fear, doubt, even sexual assault culture, I cannot even state with certainty my own purity of heart or motivation. I like to introduce “Liar” live as “the most honest song I’ve ever written”. But, to get back to the initial question. I think its interesting that the ‘barbs’ don’t come through more sharply. I actually feel like some of the songs have among the sharpest lines i’ve written, almost hard to perform live. Especially on “Boys will be Boys’ (based on experiences of women very close to me concerning the ‘ol boys club’ culture of campuses and corporate america), and on the closer “The Heretic”. That’s one that I actually think could get me in trouble in certain venues (lol!). But it just flowed. I see, though, how it could be heard at first as gentle, based on some of the arrangements. Its a weird record. Maybe the gentleness sensed is more of a woundedness- these songs have a theme of wounds – of being at a place where telling the truth is the only way for the wounded to find justice, but also the only way that those in power can realize their humanity – to admit their own wounds, their own fragility, their own mortaility.

2. The instrumentation is wonderfully sparse.
Acoustic guitars with minimal treatments, keyboards supply melodic underpinning, a few drum loops and vocals. all giving way to a wearier vocal delivery.
It’s a significant departure for you.
Thematically, what were the truths you wanted highlighted here?
What are your inner reference points here?

Joel: So, musically I love understated arrangements. I love when you wait for that one little ‘bit’ in a song that only shows up once. I also felt that the songs demanded a fragile treatment – it should sound beautiful, but it should also sound like it could fall apart at any moment. So, a reference point for me, in the type of music I write will always be records like Jay Farrar’s “Terroir Blues”, just ones I listen to and think – ‘man, that’s a whole world created there, but its not “BIG”, its got a strong anchor, but its gutsy, weird, surprising, and takes some commitment to “get”.

“Tell the Truth” is a very purposeful them. In the ‘post-truth’ era I wanted to dive deep (or, more accurately, I would say, it just kind of showed up that it was the theme) I wanted to explore what it was to tell the truth. First there is the willingness to say ‘i don’t know everything.. I could be wrong’ (Liar), then a spotlight on the courage it takes for someone who is victimized, never believed, and up against the odds to speak a truth to power (Boys will be Boys), “Laserbeams” is a transition – a moment of questioning one’s preconceived ‘truths’, wondering what is going to remain if that ‘truth’ is questioned, what are the repercussions? What remains? “Fragile” is a contemplation on mortality – once all is broken down, what do we have left? What still connects us? And then “The Heretic” is a post-script – what does one do when one must speak the truth even if it means losing everything?

Inner reference points? Well, I’m not a “christian artist’ (I actually despise that term), but my reference point is Christ. What I mean is that I still try to refer to the one who always found himself among the broken, the lost, the failed, the abandoned, the loser, and spoke that good news to them – to us – ‘I see you – I know you – you are more than what you are called, what you are labeled, what you are seen as. Man, to me, there’s nothing else. But it has to be connected with the real, felt, experience of the wounded.

I can give a few specific examples for this record — “Boys will be Bcoys” is directly connected to stories from women I know who were vicitmized by sexual violence. That violence affects every aspect of a person, including dignity and sense of worth. I believe Jesus is with the survivors of that and calls the perpetrators (including those who idly stand by and do nothing) to repentance. “Fragile” is very personal. I lost my sister in law, Naomi this year – a week from her 33rd birthday she succumbed to her battle with colorectal cancer. I also lost a dear friend, suddenly, at the beginning of 2017, to a heart attack – way too young, way too sudden. I believe Jesus is with the ones suffering, for whom pat “Christian” answers bring no relief.

3. The record has a rough hewed dynamic; as if the songs were written very quickly and then recorded as quickly, thus capturing a magic and instilling a sense of urgency. Am I onto something?
The delivery and “work ethic” here seem to be part of the EP’s themes as well.

Joel: Its interesting, because all but “The Heretic” were written and even performed for some time before the recording of them. In that way it is different that “Closet Songs”. The immediacy was more in the arrangement. “Hey, see what that Casio MT68 sounds like there — cool! Go with it!” Now -I’ll admit that, more than on other records, I did obsess a bit over some panning, effects, etc. But never in order to make a ‘clean record’. The idea was it to be weird, even unsettling at times, I guess.. Fragile is really the best word for it. I didn’t want it to be ‘guy with a guitar’ at all. I wanted to evoke a space different than that. So, except for “The Heretic” its a bit of fun with sound, within my very limited, very ‘indie’ home setting. I mean, I’ll be honest – it was recorded on free Audacity software on a super old Mac, using a couple of mics, a keyboard legit from the 80s that my father in law gave me, and, well… of course my tele, vox, and martin. But its great fun to work within limits. I find it exhilarating. I’ve been encouraged by quite a few folks I really admire to try to never lose the sense of urgency – of capturing the take – of worrying less about perfection and more about the feel the ‘it’ of a song. I’m still learning. And what you hear on TTT is me pushing some of the boundaries of my own knowledge and equipment – so, I could listen back a few years from now and think “Oh, man! I wish I would have done that this way.. It would have sounded cleaner”or whatever…. But… I dunno… in the times we’re living in I just decided there’s no guarantee of anything.. And.. well.. Nothing new under the sun, so there never is… so go for it.. Try at least.. To tell the truth while you can.

Tell The Truth is up for a listen and or purchase at: https://joeldavidweir.bandcamp.com/album/tell-the-truth

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2 New Albums by Americana singer-songwriter Bill Mallonee; Liner Notes to “Beatitude” & “Heaven In Your Heart”

Aside

THE BEATITUDE COVER_2_2_2

Before we get started:
I’m flattered if you, dear reader, even read 2 paragraphs here. You owe me nothing. And God knows, our worlds are cluttered with “type” everywhere you look, all demanding your attention.

So yes: I’m glad you’ve stopped in, even if it’s tentative.
There are two sets of liner notes here. They are connected with the 2 new albums I’ve released in the last 2 months. If you’d like some “background music,” you can roll over to Beatitude & Heaven in Your Heart/WPA 18 at the bandcamp site and listen as you read. Let me know what you think.

Making music is what I do & writing about what’s under the skin of each album (There have been 55 albums, now) is what I do, as well. As a few of you here may (or may not) know, I’m a singer-songwriter. “Americana music” is the genre critics place my work in. So be it.
Yes: I’ve been at it a while. And “yes”, I’ve got some national “cred.”
I’ve released near 55 albums over 20 years. Myself (and a few bandmates) have been through all the glorious stimuli/response dynamics of various label deals as a recording artist that played out in a band-in-a-van ennui for 12 years (1991-2002)…and then on into my current world that is more solo acoustic driven.

The road is a friend. Most of the time. Usually the silent type. Spend time with anyone for a spell, and they change you. The road is no different. Days on the road from the inside of a van; Nights on beer soaked stages, or in small town cafes; the occasional theater. Playing original music. Dragging it all back home to wife & kids just to say: “Well, the folks seem to like what I do. Here’s my take.”
A fool’s errand to some. During the “locust years” you try not to think about it too much.

No, it was never riches, but it was always good enough to get by to the payment, the next trip to the grocery store, the next doctor’s visit…the next album.
All part of my schooling.
Off the grid.
Out of the box.
Making it up as we went along.
…that part of the road that changes you.

Maybe it takes years of doing something long & well before you “wake up” and realize that you’ve put your own style, or own imprimatur on it. Perhaps it took years of writing songs, recording albums & then laying the wares in front of folks every night for me to “spark;” to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Here’s where it went:
Eventually, one comes to that (glorious, liberating) place as an artist where you can leave the hipsters to their hip-ness, be amused by the cultish-ness of the blogger/critics, and walk away from trends.
Eventually you can say: “Hey, this is what I do. Maybe not for everybody, nor is it meant to be. But, it’s good and it’s what I do.”

Maybe that’s how an artist is “born.”

I’ve never had much to offer except perspectives gleaned from exploring the human predicament through the windows of a songwriter’s life. Most of it has been lived below the poverty level. I count that as a feather in the cap of  something like “authenticity.” Calluses on the hands. The work, and the groundswell of folks who have been listening for a long time, has been enough to outsmart the wolf at the door, so far. Never had to go without a meal or a roof over my head. God, be thanked.

For me, the song, the story, and the “delivery” is mostly what I’ve always “been about.” That’s what you’ll hear on these two recent recordings. “Beatitude” was recorded with my old band, Vigilantes of Love, in a classy studio.  “Heaven In Your Heart” was recorded  in our home, a small adobe casita way back in a canyon in the high desert of New Mexico, where my wife & I live when we’re not touring.

Here we go on the liner notes. Let me know if the songs & work speak to you. That’d be cool..and, if you’ve read this far, generous thanks for your attention!

Grace & joy on the journey,
bill
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART”/WPA 18. by Bill Mallonee
"HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART"/WPA 18 cover art
~  “HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART” LINER NOTES ~
(Album released July 4th, 2013)
“Bruce Springsteen released Nebraska in 1982. Sparse, brutal and passionate it was (and has continued to be) a record that both repels & compels.
I think “Heaven in Your Heart” might be my “Nebreska.”
Musically? A 1947 Gibson ES-125 and my old Martin D-35 carry the weight of the 10 songs & their arrangements. The battered guitars, the dull strings,the ghost-ing of our porch chimes in the high desert wind, dogs barking, and the creak of an old wooden chair…these combine to paint a mood even before words & stories are sung.

For the characters in these songs life has become harsh & unpredictable. They wrestle with their fate like Jacob with the angel. Outcomes are up for grabs. Everything is tainted with failure & fear. Belief is strained. For these characters, salvation is elusive.
Grace, if it surfaces at all, might just be luck-of-the-draw.
And just why is it’s Face so often a hidden one?
And why, if it exists at all, does it visit some and not others?

But, doubts are not only born of external-ities.
Often they are the sons & daughters of our own inability to be true to ourselves. Creatures of perpetual compromise. We fail to stay aligned to our own deeper principles, tossing compasses overboard.
For these characters here a sort of inner integrity has died.
Those sorts of little inner deaths are confusing, lonely.
And still, and still, such epiphanies have there own salvific and bracing work in our wayward hearts.
That’s some of what this album is about.
Dust & rust homilies of sorts.

And so, here’s “Heaven In Your Heart.”
I hope you’ll find a place for it in the collection.
And if not? Well, maybe some day under a different set of circumstances these songs will make contact and “have their say.”

Courage,
bill
Summer 2013

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Beatitude” by Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love. Released June, 2013

"BEATITUDE" Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love cover art

“Beatitude/Field Notes”
Loneliness. The earmark of the 21st century. You can only wear it like a badge for so long. Loneliness is what makes you listen for a voice inside yourself. We’re tweaked for a transmission of sorts; some thing like a “contradiction” to the cut-off-ness you sense.  A search, an inventory of what is within or with out, that you are not as alone as you feel.
A word about the characters in these songs. I know ’em all. In my line of work, you tend to meet so many folks who are “just holding on.” I dunno if it’s representative of what’s going on in the rest of the country, but after 20 years on the road, it’s hard not to take the stories told me as some sort of “pulse” of the nation. And even if my “field research” is suspect, you get the feeling that even if the lines of our lives have fallen in pleasant places that all of that comfort zone is vulnerable to being “rearranged.” Life’s web hangs very fragile. Some of that spirit is what’s going on here on this album.

If we’re all living in the same skin, the “sighs & groanings” of the spirit are our “vernacular.” Our “everyday tongue.” All of the characters here have some desperation as the common thread of their existence. Probably just like you & I.
The characters are the usual unsung saints: coal miners, small farmers, grieving spouses, burden-bearing letter carriers & boxcar transients down on their luck, looking for work. It’s all very close to home.
I hope you enjoy these places these folks go, what they have to do to survive…and, more importantly, think about how they got there. It seems we live in a day & age where all the old templates are shattered and all the formulas are up for grabs. “Beatitude” was recorded with a full band in the studio, this collection is the best produced group of the songs I’ve written in the indie-folk/country-alt delivery. Many of these songs we play a lot in our current “live” set. We went for a “live-in-the-studio” feel on these songs. There are some famously grand moments here. It is always a joy to play & record with one’s own friends. And, if you find some aspect of your own journey reflected here in these songs always take comfort in the fact that you are never alone. peace,
bill

personnel on “Beatitude” (released 07 June 2013)

Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, harmonica
Muriah Rose: piano, vocals
Kevin Heuer: drums, percussion
Bill Pratt: pedal steel, banjo
Bert Shoaff: bass, double bass
Jake Bradley: bass, guitar