By Timothy Dwenger
It’s been almost 10 years since singer/songwriter and a then 22-year-old Joe Pug burst onto the national conscience with expertly written lyrics and deft fingerpicking that exposed him to those in-the-know as one of the future torchbearers of the folk tradition in the country. Following in the footsteps of names like Dylan, Earle, and Prine, Pug’s Nation of Heat EP foreshadowed a very promising career with songs like “Nobody’s Man,” “Speak Plainly, Diana” and the EPs title track that proved his songwriting was as strong as anyone in his generation.
As Pug matured through his 20’s, his songwriting fulfilled the promises it had made on that debut EP and even as the arrangements became more lush and confidently developed, Pug’s poignant lyrics still rang through, tugged at heart strings, and moved critics to glowing reviews. Both 2010’s Messenger and 2012’s The Great Despiser stoked his rapidly growing fanbase and Pug responded by putting his nose to the grindstone and working as hard as ever, playing hundreds of shows to legions of adoring fans who hung on his every couplet … and then things got complicated.
“The feeling of being frustrated with playing and touring all the time had been building and building and then we had a particularly bad show and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just kinda snapped,” Pug said during a recent interview with The Marquee as he and his band warmed up for their upcoming tour. “Luckily I was able to not make any rash decisions, take a break, and put things into perspective.”
While stresses like this aren’t uncommon for performers, Pug took it very seriously and took some time to think about the direction his career was headed. In the end he decided to stay on the musical path that he had dedicated his life toward and made some changes that ended up influencing his most recent release Windfall. “That experience influenced this album in that I ended up writing about falling in love with your life again,” he said. “There’s a song on the second half of the album called ‘Windfallen’ and the chorus is ‘If you’re in it for the windfall / don’t be surprised / when your will to fight waivers and eventually dies / But if you’re in it for the long haul / if you’re in it to survive…’ I wrote that from my perspective about what I do for a living but I try to keep a certain amount of specifics out of songs so that listeners can hang their own details on the songs themselves. I don’t want to talk about loading into a club or driving a van to the hotel because, for most people who listen to me, that’s not their vibe and it’s not what they are up to. Hopefully, I can write about a more general feeling and if you’re a night manager at a restaurant, or you’re a carpenter, or whatever, you might be able to relate. When I listen to other people’s music that’s what I enjoy so I try to create the same experience for people who listen to us.”
While Pug categorizes Windfall, his third full-length studio album, as a more melodic album than his past releases, the lyrical content is still as strong as ever. “That is what I do,” Pug said. “I suppose that being a lyricist this seems to me like a more melodic record, but obviously I spend a lot of time putting the words together.”
From the very first lines of the album’s opener “Bright Beginnings” to the closing chorus of “If Still It Can’t Be Found” the words that Pug has woven together share a message of hope that is tempered by the harsh realities of life. “After going through that period of turmoil and not being sure about so many things, I was able to step back and see my life for what it really was and how much good there was in it. So I stopped letting my expectations get in the way,” said Pug, adding that the revelation was what gave way to the album name, Windfall. “That realization of how rich my life was, was a windfall to me. That was a receiving of great fortune to me.”
Windfall is not an album of feel good anthems, but it has its blissful moments; it’s not an album of melancholy dirges, but there is darkness lurking at the edges. In short it’s an album about real life; one that Pug has experienced and one that has shaped him as a person and an artist.
With the release of Windfall Pug is embarking on a new phase of his life. He has returned to music and the road with a renewed passion and he’s looking forward to “the real celebration” of getting married to his longtime girlfriend this summer.
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