Artist: Joe Pug
Hometown: Greenbelt, Maryland
Latest Album: Nation of Heat | Revisited
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
Music is pretty singular, so it’s hard to draw straight lines between songwriting and other artforms. But I did study playwriting in college, and I will never forget how long it took to write a play. There are so many characters, and plot lines, and action items. And it can take many different revisions to make it all hold together. So any time I’m stressing about the composition of an album, I think to myself, “At least I don’t have to write a play right now.”
What has been the best advice you’ve received in your career so far?
There’s a line in a Herman Hesse book where he describes Siddhartha acting in the world and he mentioned an odd characteristic: “He let people cheat him a little bit.” I’m certainly no one’s door mat, and if there is a major sticking point in business I stand my ground. But when people try to get over on me just a little bit, I just roll with it because worrying about ticky-tack disagreements will derail your larger goals.
Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?
I grew up in Maryland but lived in Texas for many years. In Maryland, I thought barbecue was hamburgers and hot dogs. When I moved to Texas, I learned that’s a “cookout” but not barbecue. I fell in love with Texas barbecue and still try my hand at it myself on a smoker. There’s a legendary Texas musician named Harvey Thomas Young, whose song “Deep Dark Wells” I have covered for many years. I think a concert by Harvey and a big serving of brisket and coleslaw would pair quite nicely.
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
Years ago my band was offered the chance to open for Levon Helm at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. We drove from Austin, Texas, to Michigan overnight just to play that one show because his music and legacy mean so much to me. At the end of the set, he invited us to join him on stage for his encore. It was “The Weight,” of course, and I got to sing the first verse while smiling across stage to him the whole time.
If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?
I’m trying to write “Amazing Grace.” That’s it. I’m trying to write a song that’s so beautiful that it will not only be remembered hundreds of years from now, but no one will even know who wrote it.
Photo Credit: Ryan Nolan