10,000 hours of diligent work. That is the number recently theorized as necessary to consider oneself a master of his/her craft. How many of you can say that you have spent a total of at least 416.7 cumulative days practicing your instrument? What we are basically discussing here is a dedication that supercedes most people’s interest in their working career, but that is exactly what you need to consider your art form if you wish to succeed in the music industry… A full-time job, with mandatory overtime.
Joe Driscoll is one man who has hit that massive figure and made great strides in the music business due to his persistence, good nature, and drive. The occasional social gathering aside, I have never seen him without his trusty SG by his side, and it shows. He has traveled far and wide to bring his unique blend of folk, rock, hip-hop, reggae, and jam to the masses, and his performances incorporate the same multitude of influence. His hybrid genre sets, dubbed “Live Loop Sampling,” are the very essence of one-man showmanship.Currently residing in London, it’s always good to know when Joe is coming home, because a good time awaits. After performing for the Dolphin undergrads at Lemoyne College providing direct support for Gym Class Heroes, I spoke with the local legend and world traveler to discuss life abroad, his new collaborative album with Sekou Kouyate, and our mutual hometown of Syracuse, NY.Interview:
G- When did your fascination with music begin? Can you tell us about first getting started with writing and composing music, and what bands were you in prior to going out on your own as a solo artist?
J- Yea, the fascination goes back as far as my memory. I wrote about it in my song “Origin Myth”, my first memories are of my mom leaving me strapped into headphones in front of the vinyl player while she went about her daily routine. We have a shared memory of me telling her I was going to follow in John Lennons footsteps before I was in the first grade. Music has consumed my life as far back as my memory goes.
I began composing my first few songs in junior high. I was instantly obsessed with the craft. I found it amazing how through the study of subtlety and editing, you could construct something that would suddenly be larger than the sum of its parts.
I worked with bands from the age of 14 into my early twenties. The first was pure rock, covering the likes of Nirvana, James Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then in my last few years of high school, I had a band called the Groove Merchants which was more in the funk and reggae vein, with trumpet and saxophone. After a few attempts in my early twenties, I stumbled on the loop pedal and that consumed the next few years of my life.G- To date, how many releases have you dropped, and what labels/organizations are you working with right now?J- I would say as a solo artist, I have released 5 studio albums and 1 live album. My seventh is all finished, I am just in the process of organizing the release . I released my first two albums independently, then got signed by the U.K. label Buttercuts. After working with them for a few years, I realized I am happiest releasing independently. It’s such a hard time for the industry with the progress of the internet, labels are taking large percentages of every aspect of your career and constantly pushing artists to compose more commercially viable material. Though its a lot more work, with the internet we have lost a lot of the power to reach the masses that the label structure provided; but we have also gained the ability to have a direct connection with our fan base that enables artists willing to put in the work to make a living through direct interaction with the public.G- You have been working in this game for as long as I have known you… Pushing 20 years. You’ve performed in many, many places… Can you tell us where you’ve been so far and how foreign residence and constant traveling impacted your creativity?
J- Yes, I’ve been living in England for seven years. It’s been an amazing ride. The UK scene influenced me massively, particularly their live festival circuit that I’ve been deeply immersed in. I feel like artists are just like sponges, and all your experiences bleed through into your art.
I’ve toured all over Europe; Spain, Germany, Ireland, and I lived a year in Marseilles in Southern France. I’ve done two tours of Africa, and am planning a third in the fall. All these experiences, particularly the trips to Africa have bled through into everything I do. I feel these travels color every aspect of my life, and I’m very gratefulG- So, we are both Syracuse guys… You went to Nottingham and I went to JD. Your following here is very dedicated and tight. How has the music scene here helped you continue your journey, and what is it like coming back home after living abroad?J- I always give a load of props to the 315, but its in no way just lip service. I developed my live looping style here, doing residencies at spots like the Bull N Bear Pub. I used to play Syracuse 3 or 4 times a week for years, which enabled me to raise the funds to build my career and travel abroad.
I remember vividly my first show back after moving to England, after the release of my album ‘Origin Myth’. I had always played clubs in Syracuse, and I took a gamble and rented out the Palace Theater in Eastwood. I remember being so nervous, wondering if the 315 was going to show support after my move to England. We pretty much sold out The Palace, and it was one of the best feelings of my life. I love how strong the support is in 315, and I hope to keep entertaining them for many years to come.G- What do you miss most about Upstate NY when strolling around the streets abroad? Any cross-cultural comparison you would like to share with us?J- Westcott Street. I went to Levy Middle School and Nottingham, so Westcott was always my stomping grounds. I worked at Dorians and Alto Cinco in my early twenties, and lived all over that hood. You develop friendships that are stronger than any you can develop later in life. I love that community vibe, and miss it massive in the big city settings I’ve lived since. Also Wegmans… I love Wegmans.G- Your latest release will feature Sekou Kouyate from Africa… How did you two meet and how/when did you begin the concept for your latest album? Are you planning additional collaborations together in the future?
J- Sekou and I met at a festival in France. The festival organizers asked us to collaborate, and it hit us both like a brush fire. He is just an amazing soloist and composer, where as my compositions are more rhythmically based. It was just an amazing chemistry.
I moved to Marseilles to work with him shortly after and we hit the studio shortly after. We have some great UK tours coming up, hoping to release the album this fall and tour through next year. Hopefully we will keep writing together, if life allows.G- Tell us a bit about the tunes.J- I’ve always been drawn by African melodies and rhythms since I was a young boy, and my tours of Africa only strengthened that passion. Sekou is one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever encountered, and though raised in the tradition of African music he is open to all styles. The meeting of adventurous spirits seemed like a perfect fit for both of us. It’s hard to categorize, its equal parts folk, hip-hop, reggae, afrobeat, and jazz. Whatever the genre, it’s my proudest achievement to date.G- I am told there was a strong language barrier between you and Sekou. What has the writing process been like with Sekou, and how did you manage to bridge the communication gap? Did you each bring music to the table, or was there a primary songwriter?
J- Yes, it’s been quite funny. He speaks no English, and when we met, I spoke no French- though I’m learning. There was no primary songwriter. I spent a month or so in Marseilles just jamming with Sekou and I just left my dictapohne on the table. Sometimes I would start a groove and Sekou would add to it, others he would start a groove and I would color it.
For the communication gap, we used sign language and the few words we both had. It’s been hysterically funny and stressful in turns.
G- You have a laundry list of musical influences in your songs… What was your first tape? Concert?
J- First album I was obsessed with was Beatles ‘White Album’. I found Bob Marley’s ‘Rastaman Vibration’ on the school bus when I was in the second grade, and that would color the rest of my life. A year or two later, my brother gave me a tape that had De La Soul’s ‘3 feet high’ on Side A, and Tribe Called Quest’s ‘People’s Instinctive Paths’ on Side B. That about sums up my musical foundations.
My first concert was James Taylor, but that wasn’t the most memorable. The artists that really blew my mind during my teenage years were Phish, Rusted Root, and more than any other artist, Ani DiFranco. I must have seen 50 shows of hers, and they always blew my mind. One of the greatest lyricist alive in my opinion.G- I think a lot of gear junkies would like to know what you use during your performances. Can you give us a thorough breakdown of all your equipment?J- Though it seems a very technical show, there’s very few pedals I use. For the live looping, I use the Boss RC-50 loop pedal. It has two inputs: one is mic I run in with no effects, and for the guitar, (a gibson sg) I run through a Boss distortion and the Boss OC-3 octave divider that enables me to switch from a guitar tone to bass.G- What would be your dream gig? Do you have any bands, venues, or collaborations that you hope to share a bill or work with in the future?
J- I would love to open for Paul Simon with the Sekou project. ‘Graceland’ is the gold standard that I’m always shooting for. Would love to have a chat with that guy.
As for collaborations, I’ve been having some of my dream collabos with the artist collective I run in the UK, called the Local Posse. (www.thelocalposse.com)
Jamming with blues legend John Fairhurst and U.K. beatbox champs Reeps One and Bellatrix has been more than I ever imagined.G- Can you tell us about your most memorable show to date? Where was it and what was it like?
J- Lake of Stars Festival on Lake Malawi in Africa. Absolutely amazing natural setting, opening for a long time hero of mine, Rodney P. Hanging out with local folks, and travelers from all over Europe and Africa, I thought: this is about as good as it gets. Plus my main man James ‘Hollywood’ Moore came along for the tour.G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here in Syracuse, in NYS, and everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?J- The journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. Don’t sleep on your hometown. I started with doing residencies in Syracuse and built that up organically step by step. Keep on your grind, every day, and try to remember the experience is about you and your craft. Whether any one else appreciates it is not the issue, it’s about perfecting your craft. Stay true to the sound you wanna make, and all the rest is bells and whistles.