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Expression exuded from Joe Pug’s face as he sang and plucked away at his acoustic guitar in the WERS studio, one square-toed cowboy boot planted on the floor, the other resting on the crossbar of the stool he sat on. The tensing and relaxing of his brow only served to exaggerate the sentiment in his lyrics and the nasal tone of his voice.
The folk singer-songwriter has gained a lot of attention and some comparisons to prolific artists since giving his full attention to his music around four years ago, but he got where he is now thanks to his own methods, choosing to release and distribute his music without the help of a label or the radio airwaves. Beginning with the Nation of Heat EP, he made his music available to his fans by making copies upon copies of CDs and mailing them out to his fans, covering the costs himself. Whether it was a couple discs or a dozen, his fans would end up passing along Pug’s music to the point that more orthodox promotional strategies seemed completely unnecessary.
Following the Nation of Heat EP, Pug has put out the five-track EP In The Meantime and his first full-length album, Messenger, both in 2010. Although he was based in Chicago and had established himself in that music scene, he made the move to Austin in 2011 where he wrote the songs for his second album The Great Despiser, which was released on April 24 of this year on Nashville label Lightning Rod Records. The Great Despiser took his work to a new level with appearances by Sam Kassirer and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn while still exemplifying his signature deftness in songwriting. The album was recorded back in Chicago and was produced by Brian Deck, who has worked with Gomez, Iron & Wine, and Modest Mouse.
Accompanied by Brooklyn musician Greg Tuohey on guitar, Pug performed two songs from The Great Despiser in the WERS studio. The first song of which was “Hymn #76”, which served as the album’s opening number and first single. Following that, the two performed “A Gentle Few”, which is a great example of Pug’s moving insight as a lyricist. The song looks at people being caught up in success, and in it Pug remarks “The others that I met/ They’re decent folks, I guess/ But all that they love is achievement”.
After the performance, Pug commented on how achievements are put into perspective for him, personally. “Well, out on the road there’s plenty to keep you humble. You know, I think it’s always really important to have less expectations and try to be grateful for everything,” said Pug. “And that’s what we try to do out here on the road, is every small victory, just be grateful for it.”
Pug recently played some dates across the UK before returning to tour the states, where his tour started a few months back– some dates he played solo, and then a thirty-day leg of the tour was spent with Chicago bluesy rock band Bailiff. Currently, he’s sharing the stage with folk group David Wax Museum, another band to have visited the WERS studios recently. Pug expressed feeling lucky to be performing with the musicians of David Wax Museum, calling them great people and a great band. With the bulk of his performances now under his belt at this point, he’ll be playing more shows and several festivals up through the end of July.
Pug also said he’s focusing less on writing new music and more on the material at hand. “I try not to look ahead too much with that type of stuff,” he said. “So yeah, we’re just trying to figure out how to play these songs well live.” Not one for debuting songs premature of the album release, he said that his fans have been responding as well as he could’ve hoped to the new material and described his fans as giving him and the band a good deal of leeway when taking their music in new directions. And while he’s already accomplished a great deal as an emerging musician, it will be exciting to hear which directions his songwriting will bring him next.