Interview: Joe Strange

Photos: Nathan Bell
Interview: Alex Kocan
Sunday 02 October 2005
reading time: min, words

"I write in the summer and record in the winter. I’m very efficient about these things."


The Joe Strange Band, have a colourful history. They once worked the cruise ships, as a resident band, but now have their feet firmly on the old terra firma. Joe played our Malt Cross night late last year and is back this time around for a gig with his band for LeftLion Live at the Orange Tree. They have recently released Angel Row a country album that sounds like it’s straight out of thee deep south, yet is inspired by the sights and sounds of Nottingham.

Where did you acquire such an interesting name as Joe Strange?
My parents gave it to me. It is my real name.

Describe your sound?
It’s sort of American based country. But I wouldn’t say it was all cows and hats.

What are your influences?
Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Beatles, Stones. I usually find American stuff more inspiring. British stuff has got more of a sense of humour to it, which is good, but it has lost some of its soul at the same time.

What’s your favourite record of all time?
‘Astral Weeks’ by Van Morrison. You can tell he’d gone into the studio with all these wicked musicians and said “these are my songs, you’re gonna follow me”. Each song’s about eight minutes long. The words and the music are like jazz, but it’s not, it’s really atmospheric. It’s so badly recorded but it’s superb. I read an interview with him saying that it was all planned, but when you listen to it there’s no way. You’d have to be completely insane.

Tell me a little about your ‘Angel Row’ album. Why this particular road for an album title?
My mate used to work on Angel Row years ago. He called it death row. It used to be a shit hole. I like the way the name sounds awesome and the images it creates.

How does the band work together on the album?
Danes first love is the piano so he played piano on the album. He has a sort of Jools Holland rock and roll style to his playing. Doug played bass, Jeremy on drums and me on guitar. We rehearsed so much so we knew exactly what we were doing when it came to harmonies, electric guitars and stuff. We basically nailed the ten tracks, minus overdubs, in a day.

How long did it take to write?
It took a year to write as I wanted it to be just right. But the problem I felt was there was no lyrical direction. I eventually found inspiration from Nottingham as I felt real resentment for the way the place was being portrayed in the national press.

What’s your personal favourite track off there?
‘The Heeler’ because the lyrics took me so long. I wrote it about Whycliffe who LeftLion interviewed once. He was signed to Sony in America when he was kid and had two albums out. He went off the rails and got messed up. It’s sad as he’s a very talented guy. The greatest shame, for me, is that no one knows who he is.

Ever had a difficult un-country loving crowd?
A few weeks ago we had a bit of trouble. We started doing a Tenacious D tribute and then went into Passenger, by Iggy Pop. It didn’t go down well. You could see the anger in these guys eyes. I was swaying my head to the music and the next thing I know I feel this thud on my shoulder. I looked down and I was covered in cocktail. Someone had thrown a glass at me.”

Do you get heckled a lot?
All the time! I quite like it though. A lot of people shout for requests. But I’m not going to sit there with the big book of 100 greatest busking classics as it’s not what I want to do with my life.

Who are your favourite Notts bands?
I’ve sort of removed myself from it a bit, but I was very involved in it all once. I like Headway and The Hellset Orchestra. When I saw them the sound man didn’t know what they were. You could tell they were good, but he was mixing them like they were a rock band. I also like Nick Armstrong.”

What is your best gig so far?
Perhaps the recent album launch for ‘Angel Row’. We hired out Snug and got a 5,000 watt PA system. We got the four of us and two extra players, Alex Chapman on lead guitar and Roger Jepson on Cello. We did the album in order, live. If people bought the album they got free tickets to come to the launch. Everyone was there knowing what they’d hear and they liked it. They all came, we did the album, and it was great.

Plans for the future?
I’m speaking to a few labels at the moment about the album, trying to get someone interested. I’m already half way through the next album. I write in the summer and record in the winter. I’m very efficient about these things. I’d like to carry on doing an album a year. The new album will be the country sound but there will be more to it

If time travel was an option where would you go?
Back to the 60’s. It’s the golden age of music. I think it was a lot worse than I’d expect but I’d love to be around to hear the Stones for the first time. It would be an amazing experience.

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