Garett: Obviously a myriad changes have occurred in your personal life and your career as a musician since the release of Feeling Left Out’s last record, Once Upon a Time. Let’s address those topics and talk about how they’ve respectively influenced the songs that compromise your new solo record, A Day in My Shoes.
The most obvious change is the disappearance of the Feeling Left Out moniker. Once and for all, what occurred between you and Bill that led to the separation and subsequent name change?
Joe: This actually all started to go down almost 2 years ago (this April will be 2 years). Once Upon A Time came out in March of 04 and Bill quit a month after it was released. He just wasn't cut out to play music, in general. He didn't like touring, being on the road in a van for long periods of time, and he's really just a homebody so I think it all caught up with him once the promotion/tours started to be routed for the new CD (at the time) and he just bailed.
So for the summer my friend Andy Badac hopped in and learned all of the songs for the Midwest tour, which was probably one of the best times I've ever had on tour before. Then Bill rejoined that summer for the Cali tour, then bailed again shortly after we got back. So at that point I knew it was over with him and I started preparing for what I should do. I was ready to throw in the towel all together because I was just super bummed and wasn't sure if I could be a 'solo artist' since all I've ever known has been playing in bands with my friends. But all of my friends and family just rallied around me with support and made the transition pretty easy. So I just started playing a lot to see what it felt like to play alone. After to moving to NYC, I kind of started over. No one there knew of Feeling Left Out or my older songs so I used that to my advantage and just started playing new songs under my own name. That started to catch on and gave me the confidence to break free from the older songs and focus on myself as a solo artist. And it's not like I play with a full band, if anything I'll have my friends play live or they'll sit in on recording but it's not like 'The Joe Wilson Band' it's really just me playing with whoever is free to play with me.
Garett: Without Bill, how different now is the process of writing and recording songs?
Joe: Actually not much has changed. Bill never wrote a full FLO song, just parts. Recording always took a long time and I never felt like he wanted to even be there. I do miss being like 'hey man check out this new song' at practice. But now I'll just hit up an open mic in Brooklyn and see how they go over in front of a crowd rather than just one person in my room.
Recording is a blast nowadays too, Andy helped out with vocals on the new CD and it was so much fun, we had a blast every time he came over. The night we recorded 'Facing The Wall' and 'The Last Three Years' we ordered a veggie heaven feast (which is the best vegan food you'll ever have) and got drunk on some beers. It was the most fun I've ever had recording, and I think I hit my highest backup vocals ever (listen to the 2nd chorus of the new version of Last Three Years). Andy just challenges the hell out of me and I love him for it.
Garett: Has playing solo limited you from writing a song with complexities such as “Replaceable Parts”?
Joe: A bit, I mean I can't go nuts on guitar like I used to but I'm trying a new approach to songwriting anyway these days. I'm trying to focus more on the melody and what I'm saying with a basic chord structure underneath rather than long, drawn-out guitar parts. But Andy and I have been writing together for a while now and just recently started to collaborate, we came together with 'Steady Hands' which has gotten a lot of attention online and just last night we started working on 2 brand new songs. So I think we'll be putting out a 4 or 5 song EP sometime this year with songs we've written together. On those songs I'll be able to do some complex guitar work. Andy challenges the hell out of my playing and singing ability. With Bill, I'd pretty much show him what chords to play so it was never really a challenge.
Garett: Do you plan to continue playing Feeling Left Out songs after the release of the A Day in My Shoes?
Joe: Yeah at least for the next few tours mainly because I know a lot of kids have been waiting in these new cities I'll be hitting this year like Portland, Seattle, Kansas, Houston, they've all been waiting for years to see some of these older songs live so I'll definitely throw a few of the older songs in the set for them, but I'd also like them to start getting used to the new songs since that's what I'll be playing from now on. Although I think songs like 'Amanda's Poem About Unicorns', 'Telephone Wires' and 'Spilled Milk' will always stay with me. I guess we'll just see what happens.
Garett: On the topic of life changes, you have also become a resident of the Big Apple, New York City. Such a prominent change in lifestyle has to affect you immensely on a personal and artistic level. Can you talk about that a bit?
Joe: So much bullshit went down when I first moved to Brooklyn that I'd rather not get into here. It started out as a huge setback but ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I was forced to find myself as a musician, and I'm pretty confident I did that playing with the amazing musicians I've run into around the open mic circuit in Brooklyn. I found a new style of writing and just challenged myself to not write the same song over and over again. I wanted to come at things from a different approach and not playing the older songs all of the time helped me detach from my old style.
On a personal level, I realized I've been wasting my time working full time at a desk job. I've never just focused solely on playing music. I'd go to work like a zombie all the time because I'd be out playing shows until 3am then have to wake up at 7:30 for work, and that would happen everyday. So I wasn't concentrating at work, and I was dead tired by the time I had to play the show later that night, so something had to give. As of February 10th my only occupation is full time face rocker. It's a great feeling knowing that I'll be touring again and that I have new material coming out. It's been way too long and I'm so ready to play these songs and to meet everyone this coming year.
Garett: Another singer/songwriter, Conor Oberst, recently made a similar shift in habitat and what resulted were his two most recent critically touted records. On his records there was a very strong theme of being lost in the city and overwhelmed by its force. Do you relate to Conor as a musician?
Joe: I can definitely see where he's coming from. NYC is a huge well of inspiration but it can also overwhelm you pretty quickly. I've been here for about 7 or 8 months now but I still don't feel like I'm ready to write about it yet. I think once I leave brooklyn for tour, I'll know exactly what to say once I'm removed from it for a little while. The people i've met here are unbelievable, they're like a little family where everyone's concerned about you and how you're doing. It's so hard to find something like that in such a big place. Without them I would have lost myself pretty quickly in the last few months.
Garett: The songs on the new record are, for the most part, the most upbeat collection of songs you’ve ever written, rarely slowing down to the pace of the older EPs. What’s the cause of this up-tempo? Is it merely part of your sound progression or does it mimic a shift in pace in your actual life?
Joe: It really has a lot to do with this new approach to songwriting and not allowing myself to write the same song over and over. That's what the first song on the CD 'The New Song' is about. Even though some bad shit went down this year I'm still trying to be optimistic with how my relationships with people will turn out and learn when and where to cut my losses instead of hanging on and perpetually getting hurt.
Garett: So after all this, in your own mind, how do you view your progression from the person who wrote “My Heart is in Your Hands” in a duo called Feeling Left Out to the Joe Wilson, 6 records later, who is about to release A Day in My Shoes?
Joe: Well I still feel like that kid when I write a song. I never write it for anyone else but myself. I'll try to get out what I'm trying to say and when it's all done I'll say 'well I hope someone can understand what this is about' and I still have that same mindset when approaching a new song. But as far as maturity, I've grown so much since that first batch of songs. Now when I sit to write something, I know I'm pulling from experience rather than wondering what the feeling is. I have more to compare things to just from living the life I've led for the last few years.
Garett: Having released a few records on an indie label and a few on your own, what drives you to keep writing the passionate and moving music that you do, remaining a dedicated musician, if not commercial success?
Joe: I don't really know how this caught on. I never thought I'd be a full-time musician but I'm so glad it's happened. I never started with the intention of getting well known, I really just wanted to record a few songs and play some shows with my friends. Now I get emails everyday asking when I'm going to the UK and telling me that I have quite a fanbase in Sweden. I laugh all of the time and just wonder 'how the hell do they know me in Sweden?!?' I don't really need commercial success to validate what I'm doing at this point. I'm so happy with where I'm at right now, If I can release CDs and tour on my own, then what else do I need?
Garett: Kevin Devine has said that he constantly takes notes of things in his every day life to inspire his songs. It seems like many of your lyrics also include little tidbits of inspiration from your everyday life, do you keep notes or anything of the sort?
Joe: Yeah definitely. When I was still in school I'd always flip to the back of my notebooks and write songs. I had the most lyrics in my Science notebooks because I was never able to concentrate. I wrote 'My First Heart Attack' in one class period, start to finish, but there are also a lot of songs that I write 2 lines at a time over the course of a few months. Now that I have my Sidekick there's this little 'Notes' feature in there where I'll always jot new ideas down when I'm on the subway. I actually wrote all of 'Stay Happy' on my Sidekick on the commute home from work one day.
Garett: Can you shed any light on the disappearance of LLR records?
Joe: Johnny now works for Fueled By Ramen and Tony is the tour manager for The Academy Is... so they don't really have time to focus on the label anymore. I still catch up with Johnny whenever I can though.
Garett: What kind of guitar do you play?
Joe: I rock a Taylor. When I travel though I'll usually bring my Yamaha in case the airport decides to throw my guitar case around.
Garett: Have there ever been plans to record a song with Brendon of Forever in Motion?
Joe: We've actually talked about it before... how did you know? That's creepy... But yeah, we're doing a huge summer tour together and I'm sure we'll have a few songs written by the end of it. We're also talking about doing a split CD by the end of the year, but that's still in the works.
Garett: Have we seen the last of Welcome Home Travis?
Joe: I believe so. We're all doing different things now. It's pretty funny though because my friend just made a MySpace site (and one was already created aside from his) so the legend will live on in the vortex time continuum known as MySpace.
Garett: What are “Gravy Fries and Dirty Lollipops”?
Joe: In NJ they serve french fries with brown gravy at diners if you ask for it. That statement had to do with a date I went on with this girl where we ate gravy fries at a diner then finished it off with some dirty lollipops she found on the bottom of her purse.
Garett: Can a girl in her underwear really change your mind?
Joe: Every fucking time.
Thanks so so much to Joe Wilson and to the readers who contributed questions.