The Joe Pug story goes a little like this: clever kid with a way with words goes off to college to learn how to be a playwright. Makes it through a few years of study. Learns a thing or two about plot, structure, character. Learns how to be damn fine storyteller. Also learns that he doesn’t really care for college. He is unhappy. He wants out. He wants to pick up the guitar with serious intent.
And so the clever kid does what feels right. He drops out. Drives to Chicago. Crafts objects out of wood during the day. Crafts songs by night. And the rest, as they say…
Australian fans who caught Pug’s captivating shows here late last year do not need to be persuaded of the performer’s gift. With a cheeky grin and a good dose of Yankee charm he wooed his audience well. But the young troubadour showed more than just stagecraft. He delivered stories that were tender, pensive and moving. Deceptively simple images became plot points, three-minute soliloquys carefully reached crescendo. Slowly, surely the tragedy upon which all great Americana songwriting is built began to unfold.
When I spoke to him long-distance a few weeks back ahead of his current Australian tour, it seemed perhaps unsurprising then to find that the singer, who is currently writing songs for his sophomore album, had just begun reading perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all, Hamlet.
“I’ve never read it before,” he laughs down the phone.
“It was definitely compulsory reading, I just didn’t do it.”
I don’t blame him. I majored in English and spent as much time studying as I did actively avoided a whole bunch of required reading.
“The fact of the matter is I wasn’t ready to read Hamlet then. That’s one of the bogus things about school, you have to read books at certain times. Books and records, it’s very important that they come to you at the right time, otherwise they are totally meaningless.”
It’s a good point, well made. Readiness, as distinct from preparedness or willingness. Does he feel ready to record the follow-up to Messenger?
“I’ve been writing it for the last three months. Just putting a lot into the writing of the songs. Going in and cutting the record to me is the easiest part. This is the hard part right now, in the trenches, slogging out each song.”
Taking a break from the battlefield of crafting songs, Joe Pug has found his way back to Australia once more for a March tour. But even though we might be feeling ready for new tunes, I’m told those new songs will remain in the vault for a little while yet.
“Every time I play a new song someone will post it on youtube or something and then it’s not a new song anymore. I’m going to keep this album pretty close to my chest.”
And so the new stories stay safe guarded for now. But the old tunes remain: solid and aching and true. Well worth the price of admission. Well worth a few hours of your time. Well worth being ready for.
Joe Pug’s tour details are here. Thank me for it later.