The Interstellar Series: An Interview With Jerry Joseph October 11, 2017 14:13
Photo by Ryan Lewis Photography
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Earlier this year, the world learned of a new super group out of Athens, Georgia known as the Interstellar Boys. Led by former Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance, this band would feature the likes of Jerry Joseph, Daniel Hutchens (Bloodkin), Sam Holt, John Neff, and Jon Mills. The band has now completed a full tour and is preparing for a weekend run through the southeast. Over the next week, we will be rolling out a three-piece interview series with Jerry, Danny, and Todd in an effort to learn more about this new and exciting project. We're kicking this series off with our recent interview with singer/songwriter Jerry Joseph, which can be read in full below. You can catch the band in at Soul Kitchen in Mobile (AL) on October 12th, Martin's in Jackson (MS) on October 13th, and Tipitina's in New Orleans (LA) on October 14th.
The roots clearly run deep with this group. What were your initial thoughts as the Interstellar Boys came to life? Tell me about those early conversations about starting a new band.
Jerry: Well…I’m trying to be careful with my words here. I think that originally, we had played two shows. There was a Todd & Friends show back in the summer before last in Denver. You know what? I guess it’s fucking common knowledge. So, it was a lot about Todd getting sober…and I’m sober. And at one point, I was probably more famous for being a heroin addict than I was for anything else I did. So, it was kind of about supporting Todd. Get back in the game. It was really cool. Danny was there. Sam Holt was there. Most of those guys were all there. I don’t think I had ever met Jon Mills before. And then there was another show around last Christmas. It was the traditional Bloodkin jam thing. That sort of turned into the ‘Danny had a stroke’ show. I think the reason they got me involved was to try to get them all to do fucking yoga. I think a lot of it was about that.
A lot of it was about creating a vehicle, primarily for Todd, to jump back in the game. Several of these guys have been pretty good friends of mine. I’ve known Sam for a long time. He was actually my crew guy for forever. I’ve known Todd since ’86, and me and Danny were both kind of slated to be big rock stars for Capricorn, and instead, at the eleventh hour, they didn’t sign me or Danny. They signed Panic and Col. Bruce (laughs). I think that was part of it, and as the conversations continued, I think it became clear that it was a pretty cool Athens thing. If it only was drawing on Todd songs, Danny songs, Sam songs….and then mutual friends like Vic Chesnut or Mike Houser, it was probably going to be the one band that could actually do some of that material.
I was very clear that I didn’t want to be in a Mikey Houser tribute band. Mike was my friend, but I’ve got a lot of dead friends. I think as it started rolling along, that’s what was really cool about it. I’ve always had this connection to Athens because of Panic, but it’s sort of deeper than that. I think that’s what it started to morph into.
Gotcha. Well you touched on this a little, but how would you say that the song selection / overall catalog has played out thus far? What can fans expect with the setlists on the upcoming tour?
Jerry: I think it’s a pretty good cross section of all of the principal writers. I consider Danny Hutchens to be…and I stand on the quote where Steve Earle is talking about Justin Townes Earle and Townes Van Zandt. You know, that quote where he says, “Townes Van Zandt is one of the greatest songwriters that ever lived, and I’d stand on fuckin’ Bob Dylans fuckin’ coffee table and tell him so." I kind of feel the same way about Danny Hutchens. I think he is one of the finest American songwriters that there is. Period. Fuckin’ period.
So, for me, I feel like there is some attempt to try to make sure we’re presenting the facts that whatever the various singer has. I know with these kind of things, because I was in that band Stockholm Syndrome, where we really has to resist doing the hits. Peter Jackson would hate it that I said that. We have no interest in going out and playing fucking Panic tunes. Even though we wrote them. So, it’s like, we want it to be cool first, and if the stuff fits…awesome. I think, speaking for myself as a fan, there is so much talent there. Todd has some really cool songs. As does Sam. I love doing that stuff. Some of the Mikey stuff that we’re doing is really great, like this song “Bull Run.” I’m sure we could sit out there for a long time and cover him and Vic Chesnut, but we are songwriters. I know we’re going into the studio on Monday. We’re gonna try to start working on some of these new songs.
Photo by Ryan Lewis Photography
I’m glad you said that, because the next thing I was going to ask is how much focus on writing new material? How has the balance in songwriting played out between you guys?
Jerry: Well, it just got started. So, we met for these shows, and had maybe one rehearsal. All these fuckin’ southern guys man. They’re so god damn slow. They talk slow. They play slow. I’m giving ‘em shit, you know? You know how the eskimos have fuckin’ fifty words for snow? It’s like Interstellar Boys have fifty words for slow. I think with with Panic, it’s what they do too. I sit on stage at a Panic show and the count starts, and you’re like, “What the fuck?” I would go, “1,2,3,4!” Those guys are more like, “1…2…go get a cup of coffee…3…4.” But it works, because it’s a big buffalo of a fuckin’ machine.
This is kind of like that. John Ness is amazing. It’s kind of the same thing. I’m from Portland, Oregon. It’s a little hard for me to get used to. It’s a different mentality. I know that the south has its fair share of punk bands, but at the same time, there is that thing with the sludge everybody drinks down there. I think it’s the thing that makes it so authentically American sounding and charming at the same time. I’ve gotta say…I’m decidedly the outsider in this whole thing.
Are the rest of the guys originally from the southeast?
Jerry: I don’t know. I think Danny is from West Virginia. Todd is from Chattanooga. Sam is from who the fuck knows. I couldn’t speak for Jon Mills. They’re all pretty deep, southern players though. I think they just have me in this band so there is a clear target to shoot at from the fuckin’ Trumpers down there. I’m there to take the fuckin’ bullet (laughs).
Photo by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
While there is so much history between each of you, you're all quite accomplished within your own endeavors. What's your personal goal for The Interstellar Boys? What do you feel that the future holds for the band?
Jerry: I’d like to see everybody survive it. That would be great. I’d like to see them all get into Bikram yoga…start eating salads (laughs). I don’t know, man. You know that band Magpie Salute? I went to that show the other night. It’s fuckin' Marc Ford…wicked players. I’m a pretty big Black Crowes fan. Even though, I would again stand on that same theoretical coffee table and tell you Bloodkin was doing it before the Crowes were. They were doing it more authentically. I remember being at Johnny Sandlin’s right when that first Crowes single came out. We were like, “What the fuck is this?” Bloodkin was killing that shit. It was the real deal.
Bloodkin was the real fuckin’ deal, but I grew to be a big Black Crowes fan. At first, I don’t know if I was sold. But by Amorica, I was like, “This is one of the greatest rock bands in America.” So I’m watching this Magpie Salute thing and trying to figure out how it’s doing it’s thing, right? Rich [Robinson] wrote all of those songs. They have all of these players, and it’s been pretty thought out. I think this band should be striving to…if I had my way, we would just be in Europe. Pushing this idea of what I think is a natural authenticity of this Athens music. I hate the term ‘southern rock’, but it’s decidedly southern. It has the elements of that stuff that I like. I’ve always thought Dan should be this massive star. I don’t know if Interstellar Boys is the vehicle for that, but when it hits it’s whatever that is…it’s a pretty new band...I don’t know what that is. When it’s working, I think you can tell.
It’s a weird thing, you know? You can’t practice fucking your girlfriend. You just know when you’re nailing it. It’s the same thing. Cooking is the same thing. You try to make those enchiladas that you had fifty times before, and you never really get it. Then it happens and it’s like “Boom! How did they do that?” Some people would say that’s God. So, I don’t know what that thing is, but when it hits, it’s cool. I guess, the answer to your question is that I would like to see that be presented to as many people as possible.
Watch Interstellar Boys perform "Raise The Roof" > "Down" in Colorado here:
Very cool. So, the music industry has evolved tremendously since the early stages of your career. What would you say are the challenges and also the advantages associated with forming a new band in 2017?
Jerry: I’ve said this before. I was at some awards thing. I forget why in the world they would ever give me an award. Oh yeah…it was the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. I had to do this speech. What I said, and what I say a lot…I do this thing where I have been taking guitars to war zones. I’ve been to Afghanistan, and I just got back a few months ago from Iraq. I took guitars to Syrian refugee camps on the Iraqi/Syrian border. I try to teach these kids that there is a way out of the tent…or the cinder block thing that they’re in. I say this to them, and I say this any time I’m actually talking about music in front of a group of people. I think that it’s a pretty weird time to be a musician and be in your 50s. You know? It’s damn near impossible to figure out. Like, what the fuck, man? Nobody buys a record. Nobody wants a CD.
My BMI checks used to be huge. They’d probably cover my mortgage, and now they’re nothing. Spotify plays are like no money. So, you bemoan that and worry that…and all of my record store owner friends…the promoters are still making money, but they always have. The musicians don’t. That said, I think that in the history of humanity…making art. I think since the first cave dwellers figured out that you could put blueberry juice, blood, and charcoal on the walls and make a picture of a fuckin’ water buffalo (laughs), since that moment in humanity where they figured out how to make that art. This is the most exciting time to make art in the history of the world…if you’re twenty. I think for a twenty-year-old, right now, never in history has there been a more exciting time to make art. Any art. There are no fuckin’ rules. You can create your own paradigm.
Between figuring out social media and being interconnected with so many people. I’m with some kid in Cabo or Afghanistan writing a song, and the next thing you know, he’s got a kid in New Zealand or Edinborough listening to it. The intersourcing of ideas, the ability for the first time ever to be like…fuck the industry. You know? Fuck these promoters. I think these young people can actually break through. I’m not sure how, and I don’t know if that will happen for me ever, but it’s a world where…being in a rock band is a weird thing. We were talking about it the other day. In 1986, we got paid $150 to open for somebody. That was the opening band price. And it’s still the same fucking price. You’re playing a show and say “We’ll have these guys open.” They ask, “What’s the budget?” And you’re like “It’s $150.” That hasn’t changed in 30 years? I can assure you that the cocktail at the bar…it’s price has gone up.
Take a bunch of 50 year olds, put them in a van…I don’t know man. But for young people…I have a four year old and a seven year old. If they want to make art, it’s a super exciting time to do that. The future is unwritten. I think it’s super cool. Being able to connect globally. Being able to use all forms of all colors in the pallet. It’s all available. It’s like…watching EDM go “BOOM!” It’s a super exciting, cool time to be making art. For us, all bets are off. I think we have really great songs, and it’s a really cool band. It would be great if people came and saw it. I don’t totally know how you market that though. I don’t mean to sound skeptical. It’s hard, though. I mean…one answer to your question is, “Who the fuck knows? It’s really hard.” If you had a twenty-year-old Danny Hutchens and half of a brain right now, you could have some massive global start. It’s an exciting time, for sure. I think its also a time where the message is really important. What’s the band saying….I know for me, I’ve got zero interest in artists who aren’t saying something.
I would hope that this band can move through a lot of that. I don’t think me and Danny are really from that as much. You know…that jam band mentality of, “We’re not gonna risk anything politically. We’re just gonna sing about hula hoops and whiskey.” I’m hoping that those days are over. With The Interstellar Boys, I think they keep a big roll of duct tape back stage, so when I start spouting my mouth off, they can get it around my lips (laughs). But it’s a cool band, man. I think we can make a really good record. I think there are a lot of people in different parts of the world that could really love it. It goes beyond the southern thing, which is great. I think it holds up with whatever its being compared to.
Photo by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
When did you say you’re hitting the studio again?
Jerry: The first try is on Monday with Dave Barbee. It should be cool.
So one more question just to wrap things up. This is kind of an extension on the topic of the new era of music. I know one result is that there is no shortage of music to choose from. Who's been on your personal playlist this year? Who is Jerry Joseph listening to in 2017?
Jerry: I haven’t heard a lot of records this year that are just fuckin’ killing me. Like last year, the first three records on my list were really sad. They were Leonard Cohen’s goodbye record, Bowie’s goodbye record, and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which is about his fifteen-year-old song dying. It was kind of this trifecta of sadness. The other one at the top of my list was the new Truckers record, because it was fuckin’ brilliant. I can’t say that I’ve loved a whole lot of new records. I like this guy John Moreland. In the middle of all of this americana, this guy’s voice and the shit he sings about is so brutal and beautiful that I could listen to that record a lot. Who else have I been listening to? Sometimes I find that it’s a lot of the same stuff. I like this band from Scotland called Frightened Rabbit. My friends have a band called Cronin, and they’re working with a guy from Memphis named John Murray. He put out a record a few years ago called The Grace of Age, which was a really fine record. He’s got a great new album out. I haven’t heard that band, for me, that’s rewriting the book.
Every so often, music seems to go into this thing. It’s all the same thing. “Oh look, it’s another beautiful song-writer from Nashville…singing’ about their girlfriend.” I like a lot of the international stuff. Everywhere I go, there is some cool local band. And I’ve been a lot of places this year. I don’t know…the problem with Spotify, even though they have that Discover Weekly thing, is you tend to play the same shit over and over. Then there are enough rock stars dying that I’ve probably spend an inordinate amount of time listening to dead guys. Guy Clark died. Gregg Allman died. Tom Petty died. You spend all your time listening to your favorite records by the guy who just died. I’ve done that a lot. I think being sad, listening to your dead heroes, and anticipating the next fuckin’ gun massacre…I think that’s what we’re doing for the next years. What happens next week? I think its the new American past time.
You definitely make a fair point. Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down and share your story with me. I'm really looking forward to watching this band and seeing how things unfold in the future.