By Ocean Vu

October 6th, 2023

Ocean: Hey Joesef, it’s so great to chat with you today! Thanks for taking time out of your tour schedule to do this interview with Ephemera. Stoked to pick your brain, I guess we can just jump into it.

Joesef: Yea, let’s do it.

O: In the beginning when you started to get your name out there, you guys were kind of just winging it. I read that you guys like did some crazy stuff like getting a billboard without any songs released yet so it was like “who’s this artist?”, right? And then playing your first show like this, what was it like coming to fruition as an artist in this time?

J: Yeah, man, it was a bit of a mad time because it was like guerilla warfare on the streets, like trying to get billboards up and stuff like that. We were using our own money that I worked in a bar for, my 2 managers worked in like supermarkets and stuff like that. It was so fun though, because we sort of like created this buzz around Glasgow with fucking no money [laughs].

O: [Laughs] That’s awesome, it seems like that guerilla warfare style of marketing yourself to play your first show paid off. I know the pandemic happened shortly after this, how did that affect you and your song writing since you had just started playing live and now were forced to be at home?

J: I felt it was terrible because I just started touring and stuff but it was good, it was good for me in terms of I worked from home anyway. I made all my songs in my bedroom with a little interface and just plugging my guitar into my laptop. I think it definitely forced me to take a look at myself and as it did everyone else and I think I was a bit hard with myself during the pandemic like, but it helped my songwriting like it gave me time to sort of hone in on what I actually wanted to say and get my production right because it was like my second EP. I had to make it during lockdown and I feel like there was a lot of pressure just because and after that, like I was going to do an album deal, like a recording contract and I was sort of like prove myself with the second one. Uh, so yeah, it was like it was fucking intense, but I felt so lucky that I was able to make music, whereas a lot of people were stuck at home and they couldn't get to studios.

O: Do you feel like you got to know yourself better and the kind of stories you wanted to tell in your music?

J: Yeah, I think it just gave me a bit more time. I think there's no compromise when you're working by yourself anyway, but when you're not seeing anybody else… period, it really makes you look inward. I think I was just- being alone for a long period of time was not good. Like it's not good, I live by myself and it kind of gave me a little bit of mental illness, as I'm sure it did everybody else but it definitely made me work harder because I had nothing else to do. I had nothing else to focus my energy on and I’ve quite ADHD brain, so it made me just laser focus on my work. I was also drinking a lot as well at the time so it was a bit of a hazy time for me, but I think I made some of my best music during lockdown.

O: I guess things happen for better or worse and sitting with our thoughts, we hopefully find ourselves a little bit, which it sounds like you did.

J: Yea.

O: I'm curious what is your process like for visuals and art direction for the album? How do you decide what represents your sound and you as an artist in the most genuine and authentic way?

J: I think I've always been quite a visual person. I have such a visceral reaction to photographs and colors. When I'm making music, it has a color. It's something that makes sense for me to describe it as this sort of like burnt orange and the texture is like fuzzy and grainy. I think going into creating that aspect of the album, it was so fun because it was all there in my brain like I could see it. The album feels like I'm in a house, it feels like I'm in a bedroom with the curtains closed and like an after- party sort of thing. I wanted to convey that using visuals. But I think it's just always been important to me. A lot of my favorite artists, like Tyler, the Creator, I love his visions and I love how he's a bit of a nut case and how precise he is and I love the color palettes that he uses, it's all like bright with patterns clashing and it's beautiful. I think it helps other people understand what you see when you hear the music. I think the reason the album cover looks like that is because I feel like I gave so much away on the album like it's so personal and it was a juxtaposition to not show my face and not give anything away on the cover because when you open it you get so much out of it.

I’ve just always really loved film and color and it's kind of hand in hand with the music I make. Me and my manager, Nathan, who is a photographer on the album and across all my stuff, we just work very closely together to make sure it makes sense with all the details. The guy that I worked with on the music videos, Lewis Hinman, he's just such an amazing director and such an amazing eye. We have the same taste in music, we had such chemistry together. I think the videos that we made perfectly sums up the music well, and so we just and it was just fun, fucking fun.

O: Focusing on you as Joesef before Joesef, I wanted to dive a little deeper if you’re comfortable, to talk about your identity, growing up in Glasgow and being queer. I’m curious how any of your lived experiences has affected you and your songwriting now?

J: I think growing up in Glasgow, it's quite a specific experience. It has a really masculine air about it and if you're anything other than that, you sort of have like a target on your back. I've always been a sensitive boy if you can’t tell, so I was low hanging fruit for that crowd. I think my mum, she saw that I was like that and she just made space for me to always be confident and never think too hard about what other people think of you. I think it's always kind of gave me confidence in how I carry myself and I think it leaks into my music because I'm always compelled to be honest. I just don't think there's any point in beating around the fucking bush, do you know what I mean? Like, I think we're only here for a short amount of time and I wanted to be as quick and as economic with the words that I use to convey what I feel. I think the more open you are with other people, the more open they are with you in return. It’s quite difficult sometimes like giving so much of yourself away, but at the same time, people, they give it back to me.

O: I love it. It’s like that radical honesty and vulnerability.

J: Yea, when I play shows and stuff like, they send me messages after the show or they just like DM me and just tell me these really personal things and I think I'm so lucky, I feel very privileged. To be able to have somebody feel it’s ok to tell me stuff like that, like you don’t know me, I'm a stranger. I feel if you're so honest, people feel like they know you and they understand you and they feel a bit less alone. Because a lot of my favorite artists like, I listen to them and I'm like “Oh my God, you feel like that too?” like, I'm not the last man on Earth. I think I've always felt comfortable with myself because of the people around me and so therefore, I'm trying to emit that for myself so that people feel like that too. You can be yourself. You've only got yours for the rest of your life.

O: That’s amazing. I love that you had people who made you feel comfortable being yourself, especially your mom. I think it's always important for artists and creatives to have that kind of encouragement in their life that makes them feel seen. It sounds like the support you had didn’t inhibit you and the ways you wanted to express yourself. Because you put a lot of emphasis on moving people with your music, does it feel like a lot of pressure as an artist?

J: I mean, I feel like it only feels like pressure if you're forced in it. I think the best music I've made is music that came so naturally. I think the moment you start to force it, it starts to feel disingenuous. Honestly man, you get a feeling. I mean you're a photographer, like when you take a photo, you just know it's good, like you just know it's fucking good before you’ve edited, before you’ve added to it or taken anything away, you just know. Whatever you add or take away from it, it will just make it better. It's kind of the same with a song. You should never force it and stuff like that. But I don’t think I feel pressure from anyone other than myself. I think over time, I've got good at not wasting time on things that doesn’t make me feel anything. If it doesn’t make me feel anything, it’s not going to make anyone else feel anything.

O: I love your intentionality behind everything, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Going back to your album, the last song on Permanent Damage, “All Good”, you repeatedly tell your listeners, the person you’re talking about in the song, and even yourself that everything is all good. It's like this mantra that's repeated constantly. When I listen to it, I feel a sense of love and peace with everything that has happened, regardless of what it was. You’re now eight months out from the album being released. Have you noticed any changes in the meanings of certain songs for you? Your songs are raw and reflective, and music seems to be a means of catharsis for you. Perhaps feelings or meanings have changed, maybe a little bit, maybe a lot, or not at all. So I have to ask, Is it “all good”?

J: [Laughs] That's a good question. That's a good question. I think music always changes shape the longer that it's in the world and the longer it's there to be interpreted. So I think it always changes for me. As far as “All Good”, I'm always reminded, like if I'm having a bad day or anything like can I check in with myself? It's always all good, like it needs to be. If not, everybody would just be walking about fucked all the time, you know what I mean? [Laughs] I try to remind myself that. I think I just I wanted the album to sort of pick you up and hold you close and then put you back down again and let you go. And I think that's what I've done with those songs. I've let them go and it sounds like a cliche, like they're not mine anymore but it feels like the stories, I'm so far past that life, it doesn't even feel like me anymore. It's like a different version of myself, which I think is what the whole album was about. It was about grieving for a version of myself that I was never going to get back and how devastating that was. I was like nice to be a little happy, go lucky guy and I was so upset. But it's cool, you look back at that, look at back at the album and have this thing that represents that part of my life, but I don't think any of the songs have changed meaning, and particularly I just think I look back on them more fondly as more time passes by. When I first made that album, I found it quite difficult to listen to and I'm like, oh my God, that little depressed ass [laughs]. I find it easier to look back at it and be a bit more lighthearted with it. But I still love them. I still love the songs that I'm singing so, well, hopefully it continues.

O: Al Green, the queer Mamas and Papas like your early inspirations, but like I'm curious who inspires you now? That could older artists or upcoming artists, like who's on repeat for you?

J: I love the Boygenius album (The Record). That's the album I’m listening to when I'm travelling about America at the minute and I think it's absolutely insane that three of the best songwriters that have ever lived are in a band together. Like it's crazy, Phoebe, Lucy, and Jullian I think are amazing songwriters in their own right, but the fact that they're in a band is just crazy to me. So I love that album. Trying to think what else, I love the Ethel Cain’s album, Preacher's Daughter. It's such a cool concept album and it's such a cool story. I love the aesthetics of it. It just has like this texture of the music is just, it makes my brain fuzzy. I just love when an artist just totally nails a concept and I love her voice. It's just beautiful. But yeah, that's probably the people I've listened to. To be honest, most of the time I'm just listening to white noise in my ears. [laughs] Like while reading a book because when you're on tour man you couldn't pay me to listen to music, sometimes It's very intense after a while.

O: If there's one artist you'd love to collaborate with, who would it be?

J: Tyler the Creator, I feel like I could make something nice for him. He could call me, I would write a nice little hook for him. I think my voice and his production would go quite nicely together, so if you reading this Tyler, give me a call, I'm watching it.

O: Love it.

J: I love James Blake, I love his production and voice. I think he does really interesting things. I don't know, I'm quite weird about collaborating. I feel like it's quite a personal thing. I would hate to just do it for the sake of doing it. It would have to be someone that I really love and someone that likes me.

O: Right.

J: But yeah, who knows? Maybe this time next year, I’ll have a little Tyler collab, just putting it out there into the universe, hail mary [laughs]

O: [Laughs] Manifesting! To end it off here, do you have any words for your Seattle fans or US fans in general?

J: Like I said on stage, Seattle it's such an amazing place. It was such an amazing opportunity to get to play in Seattle and walk about it during the day because Seattle for me always just seemed like this sort of like magical place that's far away that I would never be a part of. Everybody I met, like every store I went into, they were just so nice and kind and chilled out. Seemed like it was a chill vibe. I can't wait to come back and do my own tour, play there and hopefully see you there.