Joseph Arthur

Joseph Arthur

For every song Joseph Arthur has released in a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated career that has spanned nine full-length albums and 11 EPs, he’s probably kept three others in the vault for safekeeping. Indeed, Arthur has been known to start working on a new album — or two — while simultaneously trying to finish another.

It was amid this abundance of riches that the Brooklyn-by way of Ohio-native began molding a collection of music under a single narrative thread: The Ballad of Boogie Christ, described by Arthur as “a fictionalized character loosely based on my own journey.”


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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