In Session: Joseph Biss

GLENS FALLS – Releasing his debut LP, live from the living room., on Feb. 17th, Joseph Biss is perhaps one of the most unique-sounding folk artists this author has heard in a long time! Incorporating such finesse with his guitar – supporting what makes for some pretty imaginative lyrics – Biss certainly brings his own flavor to the genre.

I sat down with the artist this past week to discuss the record, among other things. What follows is our conversation.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Joseph, for sitting down this evening to talk about your new record.

Joseph Biss: Of course! Thanks for sitting down with me.

LG: It’s an interesting concept you did – recording it in your living room.

JB: Yeah! It was something I wanted to tackle. Most of my studio albums I do right in my living room, anyways. If you listen to them, you’ll hear Sirius (dog) walk by or something like that. I wanted to take it to the next level and have it all in one continuous take in front of people so they could see how I do it. That’s what started it.

LG: How long did that take to put together?

JB: It took a while. The biggest thing was I had my buddy Clint from Brain Medicine watch the computer. He didn’t have to do too much, but if there was a big blatant error where the microphone was peaking, he could tell me. So, the biggest thing was I had a date that he could be there, and then we filled it around that. We also did a potluck, so we had to organize with everyone that could bring food, dietary restrictions, and all that fun stuff. Then, everyone got their bellies full beforehand and sat down and put up with me playing music for them! Haha.

LG: One of the things I liked about the record is you hear a lot of love in the room.

JB: For sure!

LG: A lot of records don’t have that. Your guitar playing is amazing, man.

JB: Thank you! I love noodling. I guess I started out doing a lot of electric guitar – metal, and shredding. I got done with that stuff and picked up an acoustic, and brought that stuff over. I love it.

LG: It’s a lot harder to do on an acoustic, though.

JB: For sure. Now, when I do pick up an electric, it’s like playing butter. It’s almost harder to go back to electric.

LG: I’m hearing it and thinking, “Alright, I can do that but not on an acoustic!”

JB: It’s all about building up that finger stuff. I do a lot of work with my hands, as well. Finger workouts, for sure!

LG: How long have you been playing music?

JB: Since I was eleven or twelve. So, twenty years now! Shit, I just turned 31 the other day!

LG: Happy belated birthday!

JB: Thanks! I used to do trumpet; I didn’t get into guitar until I was 14 or so.

LG: What made you pick up the guitar?

JB: Frank Zappa and David Gilmour.

LG: Awesome.

JB: My dad had a bunch of cassettes in the minivan when I was a little kid. That got me into it. There’s a local band, the Stony Creek Band. Hank Soto, in the band, I got my first electric guitar from him. He kept pushing me to keep on playing; that was a local kick in the butt.

LG: It’s amazing to me what we listen to as artists versus what we put out as artists. Listening to your album, I never would’ve imagined that Frank Zappa and David Gilmour were influences!

JB: I know! I tell people that… I was talking to someone the other day about Primus and Les Claypool and how it inspires me. It’s a different way to apply stuff that doesn’t necessarily sound like they inspired you, but they gave you a nudge in the right direction.

LG: You have some of the busiest folk music that I’ve ever heard.

 JB: Yeah!

LG: At some points, I was like, “What the hell is he doing now!?”

JB: I don’t listen to too much folk music at all. The poetry writing aspect of how I write stuff; that much is more folk-y so I feel I can take that style of guitar and re-incorporate it into that. I feel it gives me a platform not necessarily to put more on a pedestal than the other but highlight them differently.

LG: More on the lyrics. You seem like the kind of man that reads a lot of books.

JB: I love reading.

LG: There’s a lot of clever wordplay on that album.

JB: I love wordplay; it’s so fun. I love alliteration. The English language is something you can mess around with; have fun.

LG: Like, on “sorority,” you say, “with her, we wither!”

JB: We were doing yoga one morning, and that pull apart of wither… the whole song came from that little pulldown. That started the song with that line; that’s where it burst from. I like that one in particular, and I’m glad you enjoyed it, too.

LG: I was listening to the record, and I wasn’t tuned out, but when that line came up, I was like, “Alright!”

JB: It grabs ya! Hahaha.

LG: Let’s talk about live performance. Are you going to be playing out anywhere?

JB: I have some Saratoga gigs, and Glens Falls gigs coming up, but we haven’t figured out the whole lineup yet. I also have shows in the summer, but there’s nothing I can throw out yet. Definitely hitting the ground running, and there’ll be more co-headlining shows with Brain Medicine.

LG: When I hear you play with Brain Medicine, it’s completely different. You keep it conservative on the bass.

JB: Yeah, I don’t want to step on any feet. There are a lot of great things going on in that band. Brendan Klippel just joined the band shortly before me. He plays violin and viola. His leads are so… they fill in that area that’s needed in this music. I feel I can take the rein of holding the bass down, not going too crazy. It’s refreshing, and it’s helping me work on my timing.

LG: Besides Zappa and Gilmour, who are some of your other influences?

JB: I listen to a lot of The Mountain Goats – John Darnielle. More folk-punk. Then, Slaughter Beach, Dog, which is Jake Ewald. More fingerpicking and stuff like that; really listening to the lyrics. Those are some of the more similar stuff that I listen to. They’re still out there now.

LG: What’s some of the stuff you like to read?

JB: Aldous Huxley. He’s one that I’ll re-read his books more than I care to find new authors. I like my dystopian stuff.

LG: Kurt Vonnegut?

JB: I haven’t dug into him too much. But yeah, that kind of stuff. Then, I read a bunch of – not too much anymore – science books.

LG: Have you ever read the Vonnegut story, Harrison Bergeron?

JB: Not yet.

LG: It’s amazing.

JB: I’ll definitely take note of that one.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

JB: I appreciate you taking the time to talk about the record!

LG: Anytime!

JB: There’s going to be more! Hopefully, the quality will get better and better over time.

LG: That’s what you want as an artist, you don’t want to get worse and worse!

JB: Hahaha.

LG: Thanks for sitting down tonight!

JB: Thanks for having me!

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