Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.
Just a few months after his latest album, singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur has recorded nearly 80 new songs in Los Angeles in recent weeks with his band the Lonely Astronauts and plans to release a host of them spread across two new albums in 2007.
Arthur tells Billboard.com the first set, "Let's Just Be," will arrive April 17 via his own Lonely Astronaut label. The second, tentatively titled "Abwoon," is due before the end of the year. "This is the main reason I was excited to start my own label -- to put records out near the rate I make them," he says.
Arthur says he and bandmates Kraig Jarret Jonson, Jennifer Turner, Sibyl Buck and Greg Wieczorek recorded to two-inch analog tape on a 16-track soundboard, "just to set limitations. We had just come off seven weeks on the road, so we were in really good shape. We were completely inspired to do this. There was this real air of openness and brotherhood amongst us, and I think you can really hear it."
Among the tracks earmarked for "Let's Just Be" are the title song, "Cocaine Feet," "Precious One," "Lack a Vision" and "Lonely Astronaut," which runs more than 20 minutes. "We, like Black Sabbath, have a song that is also our band name. It was live," Arthur says of the latter cut. "It's almost like Can or something."
The try-anything spirit even extended to the album's running order. "The work CD from the mastering plant came back to us in no specific order," Arthur recalls. "One day I listened to it all the way through, and I was like, that totally works! F*ck it. Let's just put that out. That was the spirit this was made in anyway. A lot of the mixes, I would leave the board up from the mix before. When you keep everything simple, it makes everything easier on down the line. And drums so much better on tape than digital."
Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts plan to return to the road this spring in support of "Let's Just Be."
M. Ward, Jewel, Badly Drawn Boy, Steve Earle and many more artists are scheduled to perform the music of Bruce Springsteen at a benefit concert for Music for Youth tonight, April 5, at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. Among those who will try their hand at the Boss' oeuvre are singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, who spoke to Spinner about the opportunity to perform at the event.
As for his song choice, Arthur is keeping mum, wondering, "Is it supposed to be a surprise?" But he did give us insight into his favorite Springsteen music. "I'm not doing anything off the ' Nebraska ' album, but I think that's my favorite Springsteen album in a way," he says. As for favorite Bruce songs, "I think 'I'm On Fire' is his best song. And 'Born in the U.S.A.' -- the song is poignant nowadays."
For Arthur, who is releasing a new album, 'Let's Just Be,' with his band the Lonely Astronauts in mid-April just as they commence a monthlong North American tour, the timing of the benefit show turned out to be problematic. "You've got to commit so far in advance, and I'm like a commitment-phobe, so I always hate saying yes, because I never know where I'm going to be," he says. "But since this was so close to the tour, I knew I would be in New York . Then it turns our we got some TV thing in Canada that was going to be really great for the record, but we had to cancel it 'cause I'd already said yes to this Springsteen thing. So go figure, but I'm really happy to do it, 'cause I've never played Carnegie Hall and I love Bruce Springsteen."
And he may yet get a special treat, though he's not sure. His inner fan comes out as he asks, "Do you think Bruce is going to show up at this thing?"
3. 2007.04.10 The link
Dreamy spacemen: Joseph Arthur woken up mid-song
Somewhere in dreamland, Joseph Arthur, solo musician and front man of The Lonely Astronauts, is listening to a song on the radio. His cell phone wakes him up—I’m calling to do an interview with him. I say I’ll give him a couple of minutes to wake up properly. Quickly recalling the lyrics, Arthur records the song.
“That’s been happening to me a lot lately,” he says when I call him back. “I’ve been writing songs in dreams, and actually remember them and getting them down.”
Arthur says that he finds writing songs on his own is a meditative activity. With his band, the process is much more collaborative.
After going on a recording binge, The Lonely Astronauts will be releasing their second album of the past seven months, Let’s Just Be, on April 17.
“The band is getting more and more like a band,” Arthur says, assuring us that what’s happening now is only the beginning of a long stream of records to come.
“It doesn’t really feel like work,” Arthur says, but the new albums are hardly the only projects he has on the go.
After having recently acquired a space, Arthur has been spending the last little while dealing with contractors to get the renovations done on his new art gallery. He plans to show his own artwork as well as collaboration pieces he has done with others.
“I don’t think we’re going to open ‘til after I get off the road,” he says, although he hopes to get the work all together in the gallery before the start of tour.
He also continues to contrast his solo music career with the work he does with his band. You’d be dropping more names down than an Oscar winner at the podium to mention the list of artists he’s toured with.
Last year, he wrote a song for A River Blue, a project that helps impoverished children in Northern Uganda to express themselves through art.
“I got really inspired,” he says. “That’s another big project in my life. I’d like to go back, and continue working on it.”
T'CHA DUNLEVY, The Gazette
"It's weird how slow time is moving."
Joseph Arthur sat across from me at Casa del Popolo on Monday afternoon, looking every bit the scruffy slacker, and talking like the world's biggest multi-tasker.
If time is moving like molasses for the New York-based singer-songwriter, it may be because he is finding ways to fill it with an inordinate amount of activity.
His last album, the beautiful and critically acclaimed Nuclear Daydream, was released in the fall. His next one, the rather rambunctious Let's Just Be, is due Tuesday. By the looks of things, he'll have another out by fall - all three on his new label, Lonely Astronaut Records.
There's more. "I've got a lot going on right now," confessed Arthur, who had just flown up for two days of promotion, before heading back to the Big Apple, then returning for a show at La Tulipe Sunday night.
"I'm moving. I live in Brooklyn, and I'm (uprooting) from my place of three years. I'm opening a gallery (the Museum of Modern Arthur, coming soon to Brooklyn). I'm ready to embark on a pretty extensive tour. And I've got a couple of records I'm producing - this kid Adam Masterson, and this woman Jenna Krausz; two really great singer-songwriters. There's just a lot going on lately. I don't know why."
Chalk it up to a restless spirit, an excess of inspiration, and a limited attention span. Arthur sketches as he talks; drawing abstract lines and faces on a piece of loose-leaf. Unable to play it straight in his solo shows, he is notorious for layering guitar and vocal loops into elaborate sonic backdrops for his moving folk-rock gems.
During an industry showcase performance at Mount Royal Ave. club O Patro Vys on Tuesday night, Arthur turned, mid-song, to a painting he had started before the show. With a looped groove running, he held a microphone in one hand, picked up a tube of paint with the other, and proceeded to sing and paint simultaneously, with equally captivating results.
He then sang a song he had performed last week at Carnegie Hall - Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. (at a star-studded Springsteen tribute concert), after which the Boss reportedly came backstage and commended him for pulling off a "challenging choice."
Tuesday night, it was obvious how he did it. Pardon the cliche, but Arthur made the song his own. He sang it as if he had written it, lived it. His delivery was fearless but unhurried, ragged and raw. In concert and in interview, he knows not of pretense, and loves a challenge.
"I like provoking myself," he said. "That's where art is, ... in the unexpected."
Let's Just Be is a dramatic turn for an artist who, since getting signed to Peter Gabriel's Real World label in the mid-'90s, has built a career on carefully constructed songcraft. It marks the introduction of Arthur's first real band, the Lonely Astronauts, under whose influence he loosens up, rocks out and indulges in at least one meltdown freakout - midway through the album, on a 20-minute opus bearing the name of his label and band. (Sense a theme emerging?)
"There was no time for any self-doubt," he said, of the album. "It was made with a blast of enthusiasm. It's confident, bold, unrelenting... It's 80 minutes long, and there's a song that's over 20 minutes long. Obviously, those are things that music critics can pounce on; but I feel like it's a record that pushes boundaries, or is attempting to. I think it's alive, because of the spirit in which we made it. We made 80 songs in three weeks, on 16 tracks to two-inch tape. And (the album) was Work CD One, exactly in that order."
The recordings from the sessions had been put onto four CDs, Arthur explained. When mastering engineer Fred Kevorkian passed him the first disc of songs to listen to, something clicked.
"I said, 'You know what, man? It just works for some weird reason. It's eclectic, it goes from one thing to the next. I just liked it. I handed it to other people in the band and said, 'Do you think this works as a record?' They were like, 'I think it does.' And I believe it more now than I did then. It grows on you.
"It goes with the title, Let's Just Be. The whole thing is about letting go, letting go of my own hold on my creative process... It's celebratory."
Joseph Arthur redefines cool as only the previously not-cool can
You may have heard that Joseph Arthur, who's usually the type to go it alone, is now running with a band, The Lonely Astronauts. And despite his seeming need to live life at a frenetic pace - he's moving, opening a gallery, mastering his next solo record and preparing his upcoming tour right now - he's pretty sure that the first Astronauts record is the product of an approach to creation that conflicts, somewhat, with his "poetry is a state of crisis" style.
"The philosophy of the whole record was sort of a letting go," he says from his home in Brooklyn. "That's why I called it Let's Just Be, because it was like everything about that record [came from] a Zen-like approach. Just letting things be how they are."
So how did it all come about?
"We were on tour, supporting Nuclear Daydream [Arthur's last solo record], and the band developed off of that album and that tour, and it turned from, like, a band backing me up to a real band with collaborative songwriting. We were really tight and focused, [so] I was like, 'Let's go into the studio and make a record.' I thought we could make a record in like a week, you know?"
Translation: It happened accidentally.
Arthur, who was discovered (though he and I share a certain contempt for that terminology) by Peter Gabriel in the early '90s, is very much an "in the now" sort of guy. So much so that when I ask him questions about his past, and how his career came to be, his voice grudgingly betrays a private, nostalgic side. Then boom - suddenly
he's a kid again, wide-eyed and virginal, reliving the experience:
"Back then, it was overwhelming," he says, zoning out into memory. "It was literally like life became kind of a dream. I think it's the only way you deal with something like that. You go into some semi-state of shock. [I went] from cooking at a restaurant and selling guitars at a guitar shop to hanging out with Joe Strummer."
"When I landed there, it really was kind of like Utopia," he says, laughing almost hysterically. "And when you're there, you're kind of, like, trying to act like you fit in. You don't want to give away the fact that you're blown away."
Translation: Even the coolest guys are, at their core, as wide-eyed as the rest of us.
6. 2007.04.18 Cleveland Free Times
An Akron Astronaut
Volume 14, Issue 52
While they don't keep statistics on these kinds of things, singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur has got to be one of the most critically acclaimed artists to get dumped by his record label. Yet that's what happened to the Akron native after 2000's Come to Where I'm From, a beautiful but melancholy album that ended up on numerous year-end lists. Now Arthur has his own label, which has just issued Let's Just Be. He couldn't be happier with how things have turned out. "It's the first time I've ever been able to put it out at a rate I want to," he says via phone from his Brooklyn, New York home. "I just put out a record less than a year ago. Now here's another one. And I've mastered another one. That's the future really; everything is more instantaneous. It suits me. I work a lot and make a lot of music. That's the way the best records were made in the '60s and '70s. They put out records all the time. You don't have to listen to every single one, but you tune in now and then." Let's Just Be certainly has that approach. Recorded with a band he's dubbed the Lonely Astronauts, it's a ramshackle garage album that sounds like something the Stones might have done in their Exile on Main Street days. "Yeah, it's a rock 'n' roll band," he says. "It's more collaborative and rock 'n' roll. It's definitely a different side of me."
7. 2007.04.19 THE BUCHTELITE
Akron native Joseph Arthur returns to Ohio for a show Sunday at the Beachland Ballroom
By: Dan Kadar
Singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, an Akron native knows how to start a two-month trek the right way.
The tour supporting his latest album Let's Just Be began with a performance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien April 13. Arthur and his band the Lonely Astronauts play the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland on Sunday night and the Lime Spider in Akron on May 20.
A week before his Late Night appearance, he played "Born in the USA" at a tribute to one of his idols, Bruce Springsteen. After the performance, the Boss praised Arthur for tackling such a challenging song.
"It was surreal to be sitting there talking to him," Arthur said from his home in Brooklyn. "He's the songwriter's songwriter. It was a weird series of events. I was standing there watching the Hold Steady from the side of the stage and he's standing right next to me. I was like, 'Jesus.' "
Springsteen isn't the only artist Arthur admires who has recognized his work. Chris Martin of Coldplay and Michael Stipe of REM recorded Arthur's song "In the Sun" for a Hurricane Katrina benefit album.
Working with Stipe introduced Arthur to aid group Six Village, which took him on a mission trip to northern Uganda. There, Arthur taught chidren to paint, some of whom who were orphaned by paramilitary group Lord'sResistance Army.
Arthur brought home 300 of the paintings and is working on opening a gallery in New York to showcase them. He said going to Uganda was a "life-changing" experience.
"Every time I think about it, I think I have to do more," Arthur said. "Going there was enlightening in a lot of ways and I feel like I've given something, but I feel like it's not enough. I want to genuinely help, and I don't think I have yet."
Marathon recording sessions
For Let's Just Be, Arthur and his band locked themselves in the studio for three weeks and recorded 80 songs.
In the past, Arthur always worked solo. After taking a four-piece band with him on tour of this last album, Nuclear Daydream, Arthur kept them around for the recording session.
"I'm excited about it because now it feels like a genuine band and not just a solo record," he said.
Let's Just Be is much looser and bombastic than Arthur's previous releases. Bluesy lead single "Diamond Ring" would fit nicely on any Rolling Stones album and Arthur often launches his groggy voice into a falsetto suitable for any Beck recording.
Arthur wants to keep the band together for a long time and become even more collaborative. That's already evident on Let's Just Be where he shares songwriting credits on six of the songs with bandmate Kraig Jarret Johnson, who previously played with the Jayhawks and Golden Smog.
Arthur said performing in Cleveland or Akron is like coming home.
"It's definitely got a certain type of energy to it," he said. "Hometown shows, you always get people you went to high school with and my parents will come."
Arthur left Ohio for New York four days after graduating from Firestone High School in 1990. In New York, he caught the attention of Peter Gabriel and was the first artist signed to his Real World record label. Having support from Gabriel gave Arthur confidence, but there were other ramifications.
"It's a dramatic boost of confidence, but you're also going onto a larger playing field and your work is going to be scrutinized more," he said. "That's when you really need that confidence boost even to just put your stuff out there."
Although Arthur's career has had a steady increase in popularity, he said he's still working hard to become a better musician.
This fall, he'll release another album. Like Let's Just Be, the songs were culled from the 80-song session.
"There's a deep need to keep recording because I still work for my survival," he said. "I'm not comfortable on the material level, so there's a lot of motivation that comes from the animal side of my nature so I stay hungry and motivated that way."
8. 2007.04.26 Straight.com
Joseph Arthur makes no apologies for his wildly eclectic songcraft
By Adrian Mack
Vancouver encountered Joseph Arthur when he held down a two-week residency at the Railway Club in 2000. At the time, the Beatle-bobbed, New York–based singer-songwriter was working strictly alone, pitting his darkly personal songs against a battery of effects pedals, loops, and fractured electronic beats. The album that followed, Come to Where I'm From , produced with refreshing abandon by T-Bone Burnett, came with the endorsement of Peter Gabriel and was strikingly decorated with Arthur's primitivist artwork. The impression was of a cracked, poetical boho. In hindsight, the disc was something of a precursor to 21st-century freak folk.
Since then, Arthur has proven to be a restless and prolific artist with a number of incarnations, all of them converging on his sprawling new album, Let's Just Be . Recorded in three weeks with his new band, the Lonely Astronauts, the disc offers the recklessly experimental version of Arthur in the 20-minute "Lonely Astronaut" (which sounds like the frustrated black scribble floating above Charlie Brown's head when he's pissed off). Arthur the folksinger is represented by the wintry, hushed "Take Me Home", and "Wedding Ring" gives us the singer bent on adult-contemporary rock, complete with falsetto and keening Telecaster.
Predictably, critics have tended to focus on the record's multiple personalities, much to Arthur's amusement.
"One reviewer called it 'wildly uneven'," he says, speaking to the Straight while shopping for organic food in New York's East Village. "They were trying to insult it, but I take that as a big compliment. 'Wildly uneven' is, like, the best thing you can say about a rock 'n' roll record. If someone had that quote on the front of their record, I'd be interested to hear what 'wildly uneven' sounded like."
Weirdly enough, Arthur's previous album, Nuclear Daydream , was a straight-ahead affair made with a number of the same musicians. The kind of thing that could comfortably be filed between R.E.M. and Dave Matthews, its tone was considerably more consistent than that of the latest full-length, as was the critical reaction–the best of his career, in fact. "I actually did try to consciously make a more even kind of record," Arthur admits, with a self-satisfied chuckle, further allowing that Nuclear Daydream "follows all the rules, and even looks like a real record".
But finding himself with a permanent band, for the first time since he started recording in 1997, seems to have inspired Arthur to expand in all directions at once. The Lonely Astronauts actually put an incredible 80 songs in the can once they hit the studio.
"It's not a wild turn of events," Arthur argues. "It's fuckin' pop songs and rock songs. Weren't the Beatles as eclectic as fuck? Don't you remember 'Helter Skelter' on the same record as fuckin' one of those goofy Ringo songs? It's not that insane."
Concluding that "our culture really punishes risk takers," Arthur offers a final retort to critics who would prefer that his music stand still.
"There's a lot of 'wildly uneven' journalism," he snickers.