Musician Billy Joseph went solo for years, then nothing for some more years, and now he’s got a band and a new album.
A California native, Billy grew up in Mar Vista and went to Cal State Northridge where he majored in music, immersing himself in Jazz, regularly playing up to six hours a day. From there, he went onto gigging and exploring what the world had to offer as a musician, which brought him back a few years later to UCLA, where he graduated magna cum laude with a major in English. His focus was poetry and an intention to improve his lyric writing skills. “I really got into this poetry thing, T.S. Elliot, Robert Lowell, Emily Dickenson and all those poets, and it really did help my songwriting, my lyric-writing extraordinarily.”
Marriage and kids made Billy put music on the back burner for 15 years as he dove into a steady career in film and TV editing, even running a bakery on the side, but his love for music still tugged at his heart.
“I’d be baking at five a.m., listening to Van Morrison thinking ‘what am I doing here? I should be out there playing like this guy!’” After 15 years of barely touching the guitar and working hard to support a family, his youngest left home for college and “It was like a light went off in my head. No kids to support, divorced…. Hey! I gotta get back to the music!”
And get back he did and has been pursuing it with renewed passion and focus for the last five years. The work, sacrifice, growth, maturity, practicality, and humility of the long journey back to his music comes through in his album, You Know Which Way to Go. There’s a down-to-earth sound to the record and Joseph’s voice—reminiscent of Springsteen, as if you were hanging out with him by a bonfire, just jammin’—has a style that stretches over several genres in one album. A nice treat to find in the world of music these days.
The first track is an open and honest offer of love: “If you’re looking for what’s true, that’s all I’ve got to give to you, I’ve got the will to see it through.”
“Jeanie” on Track 2 feels like Billy picked up Christina from the N.C. Wyeth painting and took her on a road trip up the coast in a convertible with better things ahead on the horizon: “Half smile breaking like a wave on the beach and you’re reaching out for something true….”
So, who’s Jeanie? I asked of this song that got the most play on college radio stations of all the songs on this album. Billy smiles and explains, “It’s a funny story. So, I was sitting at the stoplight at PCH and Chautauqua, waiting to turn left, you know how long that light is. right? It’s like five minutes long and I’m sitting there at rush hour and there’s a giant tour bus that said, ‘Santa Barbara’ and there was a girl on that bus with glasses on, looking out at the ocean and, man, I’m getting teary eyed just talking about it, but somehow I saw her whole story in those few seconds as she passed by. I just knew this was her story, or someone’s story, like she just shot it into my car and as soon as I got home, I wrote it all down!”
This one is my favorite. Maybe I’ve got a bit of “Jeanie” in me as well.
Written on election night 2016, “Build a Wall” is political poetry, subtle and evoking a Woody Guthrie feel.“So you close the door on your Sunday soul and you build a wall in your heart. You build that wall and you talk yourself up tall.”
“Shane”, a gentle serenade feels like a Celtic lullaby to a wayward soul, while “Ariel” is a bluesy ballad with a groove that feels like Bonnie Raitt ought to be there, making this track a duet. It rolls seamlessly into the next song, “This Love is Done,” packing a gritty blues punch with some killer electric guitar: “When the trap is set and that strong fear you get when you know it’s wrong, but you keep pushing on.”
There’s a great cover of the Elvis hit, “Suspicious Minds”, that has a soft and vulnerable feel to it, true to the lyrics. The title track, inspired by a moment of connection with one of the homeless vets that so often stand at the Topanga/PCH stoplight, is an homage to the journey homeward, the journey back to one’s self.
“Whether you’re that homeless guy or some CEO in a penthouse office, we’re really all just trying to get back home to ourselves,” and home for Billy is here in Topanga. “I’m lucky to be here,” he says. “It’s so beautiful, it’s really a gift. It’s hard to imagine being anywhere else, it’s such a great community of artists and friends.”
Billy’s website, www.BillyJoseph.com, is entertaining to read, but it’s also where to listen to his album on Spotify. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for a Youtube channel that’s coming soon that will have cool music videos and live performances. First video on the list? Build A Wall.
Billy and his band, Army of Love (Nick Kirgo on dobro, Austin Nicholsen, bass, Sean McMorris, drums), are playing the Cinema Bar in Culver City on Saturday, April 6, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Mark it in your calendar to go and show some love.