Full of psychedelic and cartoon-like inspiration built within a garage rock n’ roll world, Joey Joesph’s latest album, Do You Bongo?, embodies these signature facets of the artist.
A jack of all trades, Joesph is a producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and does it with a unique off-kilter flair all his own, offering a sound that seems to blend something of a Talking Heads meets Ty Segall.
The ultra-fun and electric concept album features characters and stories he created, which include the likes of Kimi Cigarette, Lizzy Says, and Dottie that form his backing band Bongo 3. He effortlessly uses the sounds of rock & roll, power pop, and post-punk to tackle darker subjects like losing family members to nefarious groups.
Through the power of rock n’ roll, Joesph plans on saving the world from evil, and the listener gets to feel like they are fighting alongside him the whole time with songs like “Bellezebub,” “Rock & Roll Music,” “Lizzy Says,” and more.
The one-of-a-kind songsmith has been recognized by this community, as he’s been honored with the “New Artist of The Year” award at the 2017 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Joesph took the time to chat with us about his new album, the Cincinnati indie music scene, how his music has evolved, and more.
So how has 2022 treated you thus far? Anything of note for better or worse?
It’s been a good year for me! I’ve been settling into healthier, more stable routines, and getting more comfortable with the “freelance” lifestyle. I feel very lucky, and am super grateful to have a flexible schedule full of creative projects.
I’ve been starting to collaborate more with people that I really admire – most recently Bailey Miller who arranged and recorded strings on a song of mine that will be coming out on a double album later in 2023. Her debut full-length just came out on this really cool label in Cincinnati, Whited Sepulchre. And I did a whole record remotely with this guy, Jake Borgemenke, who makes great rock’n’roll by himself in his room. Our album is coming out in February 2023 on this cool Cincinnati DIY label, Lo Fi City. I’m really excited about that. I’m hoping to collaborate with even more people on more things in 2023!
You’ve got a unique style and are not your typical John Jones songwriter. Who or what inspired/inspires you to write and produce the music you make?
Oh, thanks a lot! I think there’s a lot of AM pop and like, commercial and library music from the 60’s-80’s embedded in my subconscious, so when I’m developing melodies or rhythms, or sonic worlds or whatever, I think some of those things bubble up without me realizing and sort of guide my instincts, if that makes sense. When I’ll have a thought that’s like, “this is obviously how this part should be,” and I don’t know if it actually makes sense, but it just feels right so I go with it.
You’ve semi-recently released an intriguing concept album titled Do You Bongo? Can you talk about the early stages in developing the concept and bringing this project to life?
I feel like I’m always working on 2 or 3 albums at a time, so there are always all these songs floating around and it’s kind of a puzzle of figuring out what should go where. “Bellezebub” and “Bongo 3” were both songs that had been bouncing around for years. “Bellezebub” was originally called “Bell,” which I wrote for my brother-and-sister-in-law about their dog Belle. She was a really sweet, old Great Dane.
And then “Bongo 3” was originally called “Sorcerer’s Seductions” and it had totally different lyrics. I had originally written it for this disco-rock-opera project (which is finally taking shape now and will hopefully be release-able in 2024). I really liked it musically, and by the time Do You Bongo? started taking shape, I realized it could work really well as a closer. In my mind, it sort of had this “Benny & The Jets” energy, kind of an arena-stomper, you know?
I think I realized what Do You Bongo? was going to be while I was doing laundry. I was listening to James Ferraro’s Night Dolls With Hairspray, and was just feeling kind of blown away and super inspired by the production and songwriting… the overall execution and content of the record hit me really hard, and I remember thinking, “this is the kind of record I want to make right now.” I don’t know if it ended up coming across that way to anyone, but it was definitely the starting point for me.
What was your creative process like for writing and recording Do You Bongo?
I was watching a lot of 80’s sci-fi/body horror to help get in the headspace, and listening to a lot of post punk and egg punk. Suburban Lawns, The Coneheads, Silicone Prairie etc. And I discovered labels like Feel It (which recently relocated to Cincinnati, very exciting), Dig!, Hozac, and was just going down these rabbit holes of lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll, punk, and DIY glam stuff. It was all super inspiring to my overall vision for the record.
And talking to my friend Alex Scaglia on the phone. He’s one of my favorite artists, musically and visually – and his whole ethos really hit me where I was at, just not worrying about stuff and making what feels good to make. He’s a great guy. And also my friend Jordin Goff, who is a filmmaker and musician – always super inspiring to talk to.
Especially in a concept album like this, did you find it difficult or challenging to figure out the order of the songs? How important is that to you?
It’s extremely important to me. I tend to think of albums like movies sort of – they’ve gotta flow right. I’ve learned to not worry too much about it, and just kind of trust that it will come together as long as I’m not holding on too tightly to any given idea.
The song “Little Brother” was supposed to go on a different album, but the more I wrote for that album, the less sense it made to have that song on there. That was stressful at first because I really love that song, but then it also kind of helped me figure out the tone of Do You Bongo? once I realized “Little Brother” could work well on this record. I probably had half of the songs done for Do You Bongo? before I understood what the story was going to be. That’s why some of the songs’ lyrics are more vague, and some are really specific about the characters, and the cult and stuff.
The music video for your song “Apollyon Galore” was released on Halloween, and is very imaginative and fun. Can you discuss the vision behind it and who helped it come to life?
Thanks a lot! The whole album was pretty visual in my mind, for the most part, so I just kind of picked my favorite songs to nurture video ideas for. There’s at least one more I still really want to make.
My wife got me a green screen and some lights for my birthday a couple years ago, and I bought myself an iPad and then realized I had everything I needed to bring any idea I had to life. Not necessarily in the most ideal way, but at least well enough to get the basic idea across. And I guess that works well with what excites me about the DIY music/art world – people who don’t necessarily have the training, or the best tools, but they have a vision and they find a way to make it real with whatever they have access to. I feel like that ultimately breeds way more interesting and inspiring results anyway.
Like, sure it’s amazing what people have figured out how to do, to make Avengers movies look and sound the way they do, but I’d way rather watch Toxic Avenger, or Return Of The Living Dead, or something like that, you know? It’s infinitely more exciting to me to see what people can make with limited resources.
These days it can be tough to get people to sit through a whole album. What couple of songs on the new album would you direct potential new listeners to to best get a feel for your style/sound? Why?
Yeah, I used to feel more stressed about that – the “singles/playlist” mentality – worrying people wouldn’t have the patience to engage with whatever I made, because I prefer the album as an art form, generally. But something important I’ve finally come to terms with is: you’re never the only person who’s excited about something. The best thing you can do is to figure out what speaks to you, and lean as far into it as you can. Eventually you’ll find some of the other people who love some of the same things you do, and finding that community is an amazing thing.
When I was thinking about choosing singles for Do You Bongo? I still kind of worried over it a bit too much though, haha. I think now, if I had to send one or two songs from the record to a potential new listener, I’d probably say “Apollyon Galore,” and “Dottie’s Motorbike.” Maybe “Little Brother” as a third. I think those songs kind of capture a few constants in my style – 1. I get bored easily 2. I think melody tends to be at the forefront of my approach, generally 3. I think those songs have a good vibe, or atmosphere, which is hugely important to me when presenting ideas.
How has your sound and influences evolved from your days in bands like Pomegranates?
I think I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable in my own skin since those days. I remember being in the studio recording the first Pomegranates album, and the engineer coming over and turning my amp up, making it more distorted, and I got sweaty, like, “what’s he doing? that’s too grungy, this isn’t good,” haha. Now I’m like, make everything crunchy, the crunchier the better. I also remember, in those days, especially the first three records, feeling like I had to sing really softly, and unaffected. I just didn’t have any confidence. And I still have a ways to go, for sure, but I think I’m finally way more comfortable pushing ideas further.
It’s weird, because I was still really into lo-fi and DIY music back then, but I felt afraid to push anything too far myself… but I think that’s a common issue for a lot of people who are somewhat new to recording. They maybe are using something that’s more extreme or far out as a reference point, but then they’re afraid to push their own idea very far in the studio. I think it takes time for a lot of people to realize that that fear or hesitancy runs too high a risk of producing flat or boring results. And I feel like the worst thing art can be is boring. Okay, maybe A Wizard A True Star isn’t everyone’s favorite album, but the people who do get it are passionate about it.
What’s the indie/garage/psych rock scene like in Cincinnati?
I think it’s pretty great! I haven’t been able to get out much the past couple years, but it seems like there are some really cool things happening. The punk scene here definitely seems to be thriving.
My friends, The Harlequins put out a new record this year called TIME. It’s one of my favorite records of the year, no contest. I also just found this solo record from a guy, Drew Varsity, who plays in a band in Cincinnati called JV Golf. His album, Performative Punk is super rad, I love it. And my friend Logan Brown, who – I love everything he does – he just released an album of black metal covers of “early and medieval music,” under the name Veneficus Sarcina. It’s great, he’s great.
Then like I said, my friend Bailey Miller just released an incredible record called Still Water – more atmospheric / ambient-leaning… it’s super beautiful and meditative, really incredible. And there’s this guy goes by GrandAce, and he makes some of my favorite hip-hop/rap. So sick. And my dude Jake Borgemenke is always turning out great rock’n’roll. Cory Pavlinac put out an amazing album last year as ZOO, called No Man’s Land. My buddy, Isaac at The Marble Garden was involved with at least two of these records I just mentioned. He’s got hands in all kinds of great stuff.
Yeah, there’s a lot going on in Cincinnati that I’m really excited about, and I’m sure I don’t even know most of what’s going on.
What else might you have in store – musically or otherwise – for the rest of the year and into 2023?
Yes, 2023! I’ll be releasing three albums: the record I mentioned that I made remotely with Jake Borgemenke, which is called Subliminal Clave. Then late summer/fall I plan to release my double album (technically two albums that I’m having pressed as a double LP) – planning on releasing album one, Triple Fantasy in August or so, and album two, Taking It Easy, in September/October, along with the double LP containing both records. Those dates might change, depending on how things shake out.
I’m working on a punk record right now, probably for 2024, and this “soundtrack” disco-rock-opera, which will end up being pretty collaborative, hopefully also in 2024. I’m also working on some paintings that I’m excited about – I hope to get an art show set up in Cincinnati for 2023! We’ll see…
Photo by Devyn Glista