Local Musician Talks About Teaching, Making His Album
By Trevor Stamp
Joe Normal doesn’t aim for perfection; he’s all about expression. His latest self-produced album, Crude Folk, has an authentic lo-fi sound. He achieved the album’s DIY sound through the aid offamiliar household items in the small confines of his home. JoeNormal’s creativityis bred from his desire to document his life for others to experience. Through hismusic, and the students he teaches, Joe Normal leads anything but a “normal” life.
The Sierra Madre artist sat down with Beacon Media News to discuss his latest album, his philosophy on music, and his approach to teaching.
Trevor Stamp: Your new album is called Crude Folk, which goes along with the DIY approach you have with this album. Can you explain a little about that?
Joe Normal: As a songwriter, you’re in your little space and you’re working on your material, and you don’t really have a vision for it except for you just want to get it out there. We don’t have the big studios and the big budgets, but I like the way this sounds; I like the way it feels. It just feels like I want to hear it. And it was like “alright, I think this is going to be an album. What songs do I have that kind of document what I want to say right now?” That turned out to be Crude Folk. It’s just very crudely done.
TS: What is it like recording in that DIY style?
JN: It’s like, total freedom. You’re in the moment and you can kind of say what it is you’re trying to say. And you don’t have any limitations. You don’t have restrictions. There’s nobody to censor you. If I want to say s***, I can say it in my song. I don’t care.
TS: One of the songs on the album is about your son; can you talk a little bit about that?
JN: My son was diagnosed with autism. It’s kind of a beautiful thing; it’s a challenge at the same time. As a parent you’re always looking for ways to help, how to solve issues and problems. There’s not a lot you can do, you can’t change people so there’s a lot of acceptance that has to come with that. And then when you get that acceptance, there’s a happiness that comes with that. We’re very happy about my child. One of the ways I expressed that was through that song, “Ain’t This a Wonderful Life.” It’s just like a parent to child, “I’m always right here. Never going. Right by your side.”
TS: You also teach music, can you talk about that?
JN: I teach here in Sierra Madre, have a little music store called Rock n/ Rollers. My approach to teaching is to meet every student at their level and see what they have to offer and pull it out of them. I don’t use a book, very natural way of working. My purpose as a musician is to inspire others to create, do my own creating and maybe through that, inspire others. And be a facilitator to shine the way for somebody else.
TS: If there were only one thing you can teach [about music] to these students, what would it be?
JN:It’s something you share, there’s no perfect music. I think the industry strives for this perfect sound, this perfect recording. It’s not real, it’s all manipulative, it’s all tweaked to death. But the real deal is a person with a guitar, a pencil, and a piece of paper. And that’s what it’s about. It’s that pure expression, not perfection. That’s what I try to teach people.
TS: It’s interesting that you use the word “document” when describing how you write your music. Why do you use that word?
JN: I think of the experience as a journey. If I don’t document it, then I don’t exist. For me it’s really important that what I create or what comes through me is available to my children, available to anybody that’s looking for something or stumbles upon it. That shows that I exist, even if I’m not here. That’s important to me, that’s what a life is.
Joe Normal’s music can be found at www.joenormalusa.com. He will also be at The Roar Room in La Crescenta on May 15 at 8 p.m.