A chat with Joe Innes

A bit indie, folk, pop, anti-folk, what sort of music is it that Joe Innes & The Calvacade make? And who is Joe himself? And, whilst we’re at it – Brian?? Read on to find out more…

For people who aren’t so familiar, can you give me a bit of background to you and your band? 

So, I’ve been playing in and around London for a few years acoustically. I used to do that thing years ago where I’d record a song and put it up on myspace and expect something to happen – which was pretty dumb looking back, I probably wasted lots of time that could have been spent doing something more pro-active. At one point I had a record deal with this tiny label that didn’t do anything, and when that fell through I realised I’d have to do everything myself. So I put a band together with some of my friends from uni and that became the first incarnation of Joe Innes & The Cavalcade. We released our first mini album in 2012 called The Frighteners which I paid for by selling half my comic book collection, and we went from there really.

There are a lot of people in your band! Is it very much your band, or is it a collective?

The band has changed over the years, Chris Mitchell and Sam Simon-Norris (drummer and bassist) were the backbone for ages and we had Amy Smith on violin and Lynn Roberts filling in harmonies and keyboards and other bits and pieces. Last year though, Amy went to New York for a year and Sam and Chris started a new band called I.This.Yes (who are really good) so they had less time to spend with The Cavalcade, and I put together a new band basically. Those guys are still around though, they’re well up for playing whenever they can, so it’s like a rotating collective of people now. The current line-up is Mark Higgins (bass), Charlie Farncombe (banjo), Patrick Degenhardt (drums) and Lynn Roberts (harmonies, glock, keyboard etc). Most of them are people we already knew and liked. You spend so much time hanging around in a band, you have to have people you like hanging out with otherwise it can suck.

How does working with so many people contribute to the result? How has it changed your work?

I think it changes the live performances a lot, new people bring new ideas and ways of playing. I think it’s exciting bringing a song to a new group of people, changing things up is important when you can – trying different instruments and interesting drum rhythms is where incredible albums like Graceland by Paul Simon came from. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with music if you allow yourself, but having a rotating group of musicians keeps it really exciting. I like it.

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You’ve got some great accolades from people like Alessi’s Ark, Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson. How difficult is it to raise awareness of your music?

It’s incredibly difficult, but I’m incredibly grateful that there are people out there who take it upon themselves to listen to hours and hours of new music everyday (and often for a hobby). Tom Robinson in particular has been really great to us, as well as Steve Lamacq and all the blogs and publications that have covered us. It’s always been hard to get anywhere in music, even Mozart had trouble with it – and you have to work incredibly hard to get yourself heard, but you have to do it if you feel compelled to, and I feel compelled to.

Your sound is very folky and pastoral, but you live in London. Can the city inspire folk music? What is folk?

It’s funny you describe us as pastoral, because I would never have thought that, I think we’re a bit too rough around the edges to be pastoral! If I wrote about traditionally folky stuff, I feel like it would be incredibly disingenuous. All I’ve known is towns and cities, so that’s what I write about, and anything can be inspirational, even a drunk guy pissing against a wall. Louis Armstrong once said “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” And I’ve always remembered that quote. Before recorded music, the only songs that survived would be the catchy ones, and they’re the ones people would remember after seeing a folk singer at the pub – I’d say modern pop music is the natural evolution of folk music, with all the super catchy hooks and sing-along choruses. Music is music, songs are songs, there’s just so much of it out there it needs to be catalogued into genres otherwise there’d be chaos! We describe ourselves as alternative or anti-folk, like Jeffrey Lewis, The Mountain Goats or The Decemberists, and they’re just guys with acoustic instruments singing their songs. To be honest, I only play acoustic guitar so I don’t have to carry an amp around. That’s really all folk music is these days, unless you’re singing the traditional stuff. Your lyrics on the other hand are very gritty and real.

What is the writing process for you?

My writing process is stolen from 101 Dalmations. The guy in that film writes an awesome tune, and then meets Cruella de Vil, who inspires him to write the lyrics and finish the song. I have about 30 odd tunes currently knocking around my head and in my iPhone voice recorder waiting for a moment, or an event, or a Cruella de Vil to inspire the lyrics that will finish the song. At the moment I’m writing quite a lot, which always happens after we release something – I just want to record the next bunch of songs, which is bad because I should be spending my time selling the EP!

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What influences your lyrics and music? Are they the same?

I think when I write a melody it’s literally converting my mood into music – which is nice. Lyrics are more cerebral and involve me scratching my head a lot thinking about them, I like to reference pop culture a lot. My favourite TV, films and music growing up would reference other things (The Beatles did it a lot), and if you heard the reference and understood it, you felt like you were in ‘the club’ – I like to do that, and when people come up to me after shows and tell me they got it, that’s the best. Songs are basically there to communicate your experience as a human being to other human beings, and let everyone know we’re all in the same boat, so it’s nice to hear from people when they’ve shared an experience.

Who is Brian?

So, the new EP is called Brian, I’m a Genius Too which is a reference to a Beach Boys recording session where Brian Wilson’s dad Murray turned up drunk and started telling the band what to do, and says Brian, I’m a Genius Too  to his son (you can listen to it on youtube). Him and Brian had a strained relationship, which is basically summed up in that phrase. It’s something that reverberated with me a lot. Murray Wilson was a washed up songwriter and incredibly bitter about his son’s success, which I suppose is a fear for me, when I have children I don’t want to feel resentful about being a washed up songwriter. But I don’t think I will, I think I’m too cheerful for that. That’s basically where the new EP came from.

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