Moody and atmospheric, but possessing an irresistible playful side to boot. That’s probably the best way to describe Joseph Coward’s new album. The Brentwood born twenty-something has created a towering work of art here, with a little help from the likes of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and The Duke Spirit’s Ollie Betts. Joseph was more than willing to open up about Win Big Prizes, famous collaborators and press misconceptions…
To me, your music sounds like a kind of cross between Nick Cave, Tindersticks , The Triffids, Bowie, The National, The Bunnymen (especially on ‘Ode To’), Babybird, The The, Morrissey and Burt Bacharach…
A few of those artists featured consciously whilst I was making the album, but my main focus in terms of sound was to expand on the instrumentation used on The World Famous Joseph Coward, which was very much a rock album in its set up. Emma Butterworth’s cello and Theo Tan’s piano breathed real soul into this latest one, I think.
‘Peanut Girl‘ heralds an unexpected change in the album’s tempo. It made me feel like this was a kind of, for wont of a better word, ‘concept’ album. Is it?
When I started writing the album, I wanted to explore the idea of loss as a necessary facet of change, as a general theme. However, during the writing process I was coincidentally personally affected by loss a few times in quick succession, which meant the lyrical content began to focus sharply on me as I was responding in real time to my life changing rapidly around me. It’s a record that started out as somewhat impersonal but accidentally became one that talks about much more intimate aspects of my life.
How was it working with Thurston Moore?
Working with Thurston was incredible: the intensity with which he plays, even when he’s just warming up, is like standing on a runway in front of a jet that’s taking off. The noises he gets from his instrument are incredible; to have a bona fide guitar innovator and legend on my record is a real treat. He wrote all his own parts for ‘Weight‘ and was a completely positive, creative force in the studio.
You grew up in a commune. Do you think that has affected your worldview and how has that translated to your music?
The press has slightly overstated my childhood living conditions, bless them… I grew up in a tight-knit Christian community, nothing like a commune I’m afraid. However: yes, I’m sure my formative experiences in the church have deeply affected my personality and the way I write. I suppose I feel that my heart was opened up to the possibility and wonder of things not seen, and the fear of being rejected by the ones I love the most. I also naturally feel bitter about opportunities for normality that I was denied as a child but I try to direct those feelings with humour and some grace, as far as they pertain to my writing.
Win Big Prizes is a very dramatic sounding album. How do you go about creating such an intense sound?
With the help of musicians far more capable than me! I knew that I wanted the album to be very lushly orchestrated with strings, piano and choral voices but didn’t necessarily know how to tie that all together in the studio. That’s why Olly was so useful as an engineer and co-producer, because he gave everything a nudge in just the right direction to give it its desired effect.
‘Weight’ is an incredible song. It seems very personal, like you’re really baring your soul to us here…
As an artist there’s a constant push and pull between what you’d like to reveal to an audience and what you feel you should reveal; with ‘Weight‘, the “should” won, hands down. I wrote it in a state of hysterics, really begging for things not to be the way they were at that point in time. So, everything you hear within that song is me at my most honest. And that’s what being an artist is for.
What kind of response have you had since the release of this album, and what are your plans for 2017?
The response has been very positive, and I’m particularly pleased that people are dialling into the lyrical content of the record this time around. Sometimes words can feel like window dressing to the tunes but now I know that people are listening to what I have to say, which is nice. In 2017 I’m going to release another album, which I think is by far my best work to date, and after that I hope to tour the UK and beyond.
Win Big Prizes is out now on Stiffy Byng.