Joseph Arthur

Joseph Arthur Biography

Even as you read this Joseph Arthur is making another record. Two years ago, his Come To Where I’m From lured journalists out on the limb of hyperbole. The album was named the #1 record of the year by Entertainment Weekly and prompted Alternative Press to call Arthur “one of the last true artists left in the world.”

Since then, Joseph and his ever-generous muse have kept near-daily appointments. The result, for the moment at least, is Redemption’s Son. Consistently inspired, occasionally frazzled, and often startlingly beautiful, it’s the kind of record you can build a slow sustainable love affair with. London’s Sunday Times raves, “Redemption’s Son exhibits the sure sign of a classic album...brilliant.”

The album was recorded in various locations over the last two years and was mixed by Tchad Blake (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Cibo Matto, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney). Joseph plays most of the instruments himself, but a gold star is also due to Pat Sansone, who contributed bass, piano and mellotron parts.

Joseph Arthur was born in Akron, Ohio, became a songwriting obsessive in Atlanta, Georgia, and later moved to New York, where he still lives. Circa 1996 he was still a guitar salesman working at Clark’s Music in Atlanta. Soon, however, Joseph would become the first rock artist to sign to Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. The first album, Big City Secrets (1996) was followed by the seven-song EP Vacancy (1999) and then Come To Where I’m From. In addition to being voted Number One Album of the Year 2000 in Entertainment Weekly and Newsday, the album made many Top 10 Albums of the Year lists, including The New York Times and CMJ.

Joseph understands that a truly great song is a deft marriage of music and words, not a slew of cat/bat rhymes nailed to a tune. Joseph hones his lyrics, and it shows. Take, for example, the song “Favorite Girl,” in which he sings “I’ve been so happy being unhappy with you.” Or consider these lines from the Redemption’s Son title track: “Driving in my daddy’s car/ Ashtray full of his cigars/ Is it real what I see/ His ghost riding next to me/ Till he’s gone I won’t be free.”

One of the most direct songs on the new album is “You Are the Dark.” “The lyrics about tidying up the place and lying down in the clean emptiness are just directly out of my life,” says Joseph. “The song’s about that person you used to look at to make you feel good, and how when you look at them now they make you feel horrible.”

The record closes with “You’ve Been Loved,” a near lullaby, which presents an almost transcendent front even as it’s underpinned by scolding. “It was written for various friends and for myself, in reaction to self-pity,” Arthur says. “It’s like, you have been loved, so what more do you want?”

Like Big City Secrets, Vacancy and Come To Where I’m From, Redemption’s Son once again features sleeve-art by Joseph. Vacancy’s sleeve design — a collaborative effort by Joseph and his friend Zachary Larner — earned a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.

In 2000, journalist Stephen Cox quizzed Joseph about his painting, discovering that his favorite artists include Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline and Basquiat. “Are you exercising demons (in your own painting)?” asked Cox. “Probably to some degree,” replied Joseph. “If you’re not dulling yourself or anaesthetizing yourself you have a lot of raw energy, and if you’re young and your demons are still flabby, then there is a lot of working out to do.”

Naturally, there is interplay between Arthur’s works in different media. “It all comes from the same thing,” he says. “I deal a lot with communication within the self, with opposite sides of the self talking to each other, the duality of life. I’m interested in people’s vulnerability – in saying things that don’t get said all the time. Things that aren’t safe.”

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