Joseph Arthur

Inspired by Lou Reed's legacy, Joseph Arthur recorded 12 of Reed's song for the album LOU. Arthur offers timeless tribute to one of rock's pioneers.

“It's odd dancing around death, odder still if the death you are dancing around is that of a legend. You just never know what's appropriate and what's not, what to share and what to keep inside. There is no blueprint. I loved Lou and we were friends. The last thing I would want to do is turn his life into an opportunity, but at the same time, what better way to honor the man and his music than to celebrate it and sing it and record it?” – Joseph Arthur

This excerpt taken from the liner notes of the upcoming album Lou embodies the spirit in which Arthur set about to record his own interpretations of his favorite Lou Reed songs. Lou, performed, recorded and produced by Joseph Arthur in his home studio, will be released on May 13, 2014 and marks his debut on Vanguard Records.

Joseph Arthur, the critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated singer-songwriter further explains his thoughts on the journey to record Lou. From the album liner notes:

“The three weeks of touring passed by quickly and suddenly I was home, snowed-in in my studio, holidays approaching, end of tour blues, all coupled with the fact that the day I got back to NYC was the final tribute show for Lou at the Apollo and I went almost without wanting to. I was tired of mourning him and it felt like I was done, but in truth, the real mourning was only just beginning.

Death, like life, works with your resistance and finally it wears you out and breaks you down and then you are too tired to do anything but face it.

I was home alone and there was nowhere to go.

I set up some mics.

A Coles ribbon mic

And a Wunder mic which is a version of a U47 (I used those two mics on the whole record). The ribbon gives it silk and warmth, the Wunder makes it hi-fi.

The first song I tried was “Coney Island Baby.”

And I liked how it came out.

But I also liked getting to hang out with Lou again.

This was the only way to get close.

I did another song and another still.

I made a rule:

No drums or electricity.

Lou was electric.

The only way I know to give new life to something as rich with life as Lou's songs and recordings is to go about them in a completely different way.

Bill’s (Bentley) advice to just keep it simple and not overthink it kinda acted as my mission statement and in each song, I felt I revealed something new in it.

Making versions, not trying to outdo the originals (impossible), but rather versions that bring out something unheard before.

I felt I was doing that to some degree and I felt guidance in it.

I was saying goodbye. “


So when was the moment you just knew you had to be a musician? What was the "aha" moment?

RL: Growing up Puerto Rican in the Bronx, music was all around me, so I do not remember any real epiphany. My father played the trumpet in the salsa band Tipica 73 and I probably spent more time at the side of the stages than I should have. I do have vivid memories of beautiful women, dressed in shimmering, tight dresses, their hair flying behind their heads as they were spun around by their partners. They would sweetly ask me to dance and everything; the smell of perfume and cigarettes, the sweating heat of the club, the intoxicating rhythms felt so natural that there was never a thought that I would do anything else.

Let's talk about the new album. There's a real old school soul vibe to it—your last record [2005's One Man's Year] had more of a rock feel—when did this new sound, especially from a song-writing perspective, begin to click, and feel right for you?

In the summer of 2008 I discovered a studio called The Document Room in Malibu, where I spent that summer. I decided to experiment; I'd write a song in the morning and record it in the afternoon. I wrote five in quick succession in the course of a few weeks and it was what came out of me naturally; the songs were almost stream of consciousness. And I was really happy with the results. I felt like I was in my childhood bedroom again playing music because…because it was fun, and because I loved it, and because I wanted to be doing it. It was like reuniting with an old friend or something.

You're a New York based singer-songwriter, and have been since the beginning of your career, going back to your first band The Authority, and the scene at Wetlands in the late 80s and early 90s; how does the city inspire you and does it still inspire you after all these years?

Oh yeah. For sure. New York's my home. I have a real love affair with it. Always have. From the diversity of the people, to the great music, amazing food and wine, and overall culture, I'm truly at home there and draw so much inspiration from it. And the music scene is really important to me—the camaraderie with all the musicians, and the built in support network. That's key.

You have a lovely wife and two adorable kids—your son's four, your daughter's two—so I imagine your days of late nights and craziness on the road, and the wild rock and roll life, are behind you; how has the experience of growing up and having children, and leading a stable and normal grown-up life change your relationship to songwriting and playing music?

I think it's made me more focused. I don't have time for bullshit anymore. I mean, my wife and kids come first, and it's a difficult balance at times to get things done with my music, but that's part of the challenge and I kinda welcome it. There's also an important lesson there too, and one that I was taught by my father's dedication to his family and his music. It is possible to be dedicated to both. And I want my kids to see how amazing it is to have a passion in life and how gratifying it is when you pursue things that you're passionate about.

You've dipped your toe into the acting world; you shot some scenes for Paul Morrissey's last movie, and you had a role in the blockbuster He's Just Not That Into You, is this something you want to pursue?

If it comes my way I'll give it my best, but I have no desire to pound the pavement going from audition to audition. I mean, I do enjoy the acting part, I just don't like all the bullshit in between. There's enough of that in the music business.

What are some things that inspire you right now? What about current musicians? What are you digging?

Well, I've been listening heavily to Boogaloo lately, which is Latin soul from the 60s—artists like Joe Cuba, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Peter Rodriguez and Tito Puente. It's party music. It makes people smile. It's also the music I grew up with, the music my dad played. I've been working recently on a modern take on Boogaloo for my next record. I'm also obsessed with [the 1978 Jamaican cult movie] Rockers. It's so stylish and raw.



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Joseph Arthur with Rene Lopez

Thursday, June 20 · 8:00 PM at Troubadour