Tag Archives: Joe Pug

JOE PUG: Return of the playwright/ poet/ messenger

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.

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Unpacking The Pines #4: No Rest For The Highly Caffeinated

PART 1: Guests

If you heard tonight’s show on FBi, you were truly blessed. Not because you got to listen to this scattered, over-caffeinated broadcaster as she fumbled her way through two hours of haphazard radio… but because you would have heard the sweet sounds of Chicago folk singer Joe Pug as he leaned gently into the mic and delivered flawless live versions of his songs ‘How Good You Are’ and ‘In The Meantime’.

[INSERT BORROWED VIDEO FOOTAGE HERE! My kingdom for a camera crew…]

Pug’s debut album Messenger is up there with the best folk releases of 2010. He writes beautiful, aching songs that make him sound older and wiser on record than his baby face suggests. Stepping outside the songs, in studio he came across as young, humble and a little bit uncertain, all very endearing traits that inevitable success and years of touring will probably wash away. I am sure we’ll all hear a lot more of this troubadour in years to come, just as I am sure that as his star rises and his confidence blossoms, we’ll remember how fresh and sweet he was back on In The Pines.

Joe Pug is playing two shows in Sydney this week. The first is Wednesday November 17 at Red Rattler in Marrickville. The second is Thursday November 18 Raval in the CBD. Go along, check him out, thank me later.

PART 2: Think Global, Gigs Local

Now, just in time for the Annual Load Up On Credit Purchases In The Name Of Baby Jesus Season, we also have the Load Up On Festival Tickets In The Name Of Having A Fucking Awesome Summer Season to contend with. Tickets for Sydney Festival shows went on sale this week, and punters went nuts accordingly. Tonight I played Sufjan Stevens, who is playing two sold out (already, crazy, huh?) shows at the Sydney Opera House on January 27 and January 28. His latest release The Age Of Adz has divided fans. It’s a much bleaker affair than Illinois and uses heavy orchestration and glitchy tech-head production that you will either love or hate. Me? Well, ‘I Walked’ is my latest walking song, so I guess I’m with the yeasayers.

Part 3: Emma’s An Idiot, Episode 412

At some point in every Pines I try to address the requests of the show’s dedicated listeners, who are kind enough to send in their requests. I love requests because they help distract me from the manic mayhem of my own programming and let others take over the airwaves one song at a time. But requests are not without challenges! The first challenge, is that the FBi library is only seven years old and has a very limited selection of classics. The second challenge, is that my laptop iTunes is currently nourished on a strict diet of country music released between 1965 and 1975, and albums made in the last two years. The third and most difficult challenge, well… my dedication to delivery is stronger than my ability to multitask. So tonight, against my better judgement and at the risk of breathless, frantic mic breaks and dubious links between tracks, I played Joni Mitchell’s ‘Coyote’, which I hastily downloaded while on-air from a *reputable* source and burnt to disc.

After playing the song, I revealed my rather dubious reason for liking Joni Mitchell: she dumped Graham Nash via fax. Faster than the speed of sound was the Facebook message from fellow broadcaster, Stuart Coupe.

“Couldn’t dump by fax in those days – telex maybe!!!”

And of course Stuart’s right and my poor beer sodden brain had filed away the story as though Joni time-travelled just to break Nash’s heart in the most futuristic way possible.

I need a disclaimer for this show sometimes – “FBi 94.5 would like to warn In The Pines listeners that while Emma Swift is a passionate broadcaster with a deep love of folk/anti-folk/americana & alt country, sometimes the poor dear has no idea what she’s talking about”.

So now that I’ve acknowledged my knowledge is sketchy at the best of times, I’ll add that I have it on reasonable authority (Google) that Nash’s ‘Better Days’ is about the break up. But I could be (read: probably am) hugely mistaken. It could be about an epic fight the CSNYer had with David Crosby one night about who had a better moustache.

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