Meet Joseph Aaron, a Nashville-based musician who sings and plays in a way that combines the best parts of soul, rock & singer/songwriter. With soaring melodies and heavy, rhythmic-based beats, Joseph writes and performs as a storyteller, collecting the charm, experience, depth and ache of life.
Born into a musical family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Joseph credits his parents with his initial exposure to music, and though he doesn’t call himself southern rock, his recent move to Nashville is an acknowledgement of his southern roots.
To date, Joseph has opened for artists as diverse as Edwin McCain, Everclear and David Nail, clearly a nod to his diverse influences, unique style and ability to entertain audiences across genres. The start of 2013 finds him settling into his new home in Music City and working on a new album he hopes to release by fall of next year. We sat down with Joseph to talk about why he loves Nashville and how his sound has developed since moving to a new city.
The Artist: Joseph Aaron
Drink of Choice: Bourbon neat (Angel’s Envy, a Kentucky bourbon).
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: You recently moved to Nashville. Tell me about that transition.
Joseph Aaron: I came to Nashville in January. I had been living in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I had been working in the music industry, but I was working on the business and artist management side of things. The desire was always in me, and I always wanted to play. I started working in the industry because I wanted to keep close to it, but I was always afraid to strike it on my own. I did that for about ten years before I was like, “This is crazy. What am I doing?” I learned a lot—I learned a whole lot—about business, management and marketing—but I got to a point at the end of last year where I decided it was a regret I didn’t want to live with. So, I sold stuff, packed stuff up. I owned a business, and I pretty much just walked away from my whole life for this thing in Nashville.
Kristen: What was the beginning of that turning point for you?
Joseph: It all started when we got shortlisted for a major movie soundtrack. I guess maybe that was the validation that I kind of needed. I was like, “Maybe I can do this for a living instead of just as a hobby.” This all happened over the past year-and-a-half.
Kristen: And what have you learned since moving to Nashville?
Joseph: The biggest thing I’ve been learning from the artistry side is what good business is, what good songs are, learning the craft of songwriting and meeting people…I’ve always heard it but I didn’t really understand how vital relationships were in the way that the music industry moves. It’s absolutely all about the relationships you build with people, and that’s both the best thing and the worst thing about the industry. You hear things about the industry being a place where it chews people and spits them out and there’s some truth to that if you’re not careful. A lot of what I’ve been doing since I got here is going out and watching performances, watching other people play, building relationships with people here who know better than me, trying to find a mentor, paying attention to what’s going on in the music and recording industry right now—what’s popular, what’s not—and trying to kind of chart the course for the future. I’ve spent a long time learning about how to have a successful career in music, and now it’s time to apply them. It’s time to actually do that.
Kristen: It’s kind of great that you have that other side of the industry. I feel like half the battle when you’re trying to get your grounding as an artist is figuring out the business-side of things.
Joseph: It really has been extremely helpful. My main job was management with Red Light Management. They have a lot of high-level profile artists and I would sit in on meetings with them, and they would talk strategy—the way that the music industry was transitioning; the music industry then versus the way it is now; how the internet has completely changed how music works—it was nothing but beneficial to learn that side first rather than afterwards. Just being here in Nashville for ten months now, I’ve seen a lot of people do the wrong things because they’re being led in the wrong direction or they have misplaced ideals about why they want to pursue music in the first place. I kind of feel like I’m late to the game in some sense, but in other ways, it feels like I’ve just been preparing for this time up until now.
Kristen: Why did you choose Nashville as the city to pursue music in?
Joseph: Los Angeles and New York were my first considerations. My manager is based in Los Angeles and I might head that way at some point. When I got to Nashville, I met with a producer and song publisher and he said, “You have great songs. They’re pop, though.I can’t help you because I do hardcore classic country stuff. The songs might take you to L.A. or New York.” And eventually, maybe I’ll end up there. But the reason I like Nashville is because I spent my entire life in the backwoods of Virginia. As much as I try to hide it, I’m a country boy at heart. For me, Nashville was a lot more comfortable of a transition because in all honestly, I’ve never lived in a big city in my life. I lived in a tiny, backwoods community down in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. Just the idea of moving to the big city was scary. Nashville was the closest thing to my family, who is still in Virginia, and they’re at the point where they’re starting their lives. My little sister just got married last month; my older sister just had a baby; my parents are both in northern Virginia. They’re all starting their lives, and I’m here, starting over. As soon as I started looking in Nashville, it just clicked.
Joseph: It felt similar to the place where I come from—Charlottesville, Virginia—and it’s also extremely affordable. I didn’t have a ton of savings. It became a practical choice at first, but once I got here, I discovered what’s happening in Nashville. I think it’s really starting to simmer artistically. It’s starting to pull folks from Los Angeles and New York. There was a strong presence of the music publishing industry here before, and it’s always been known for the country scene, but that’s starting to change. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Black Keys and Jack White and bands that are basing themselves out of Nashville because there’s so much happening here as far as culture and people and influence and art. It’s really starting to simmer, and you can see all that when you get here, too. The city supports music in a ton of different ways. I can’t imagine having moved anywhere else.
Kristen: I visited once and had a really good feeling about it after I left. The people were friendly and it felt very alive.
Joseph: Yeah, there’s a certain sense of charm in Nashville, and it could be partly because most people that live here are from somewhere else.
Kristen: What have you been working on since moving to Nashville?
Joseph: Most of my time has been spent either touring, playing as support with other people, trying to get established and writing a new album. I first started doing session work with keys and piano, and then I started going out on the road with bands that were traveling. Probably the last three to four months have been dedicated solely to writing and crafting the songs for the new album. I’ve been having conversations back and forth with the guy who’s producing it and trying to figure out what it’s going to be. Since I’ve been in Nashville, my songwriting has taken a turn from straight-up pop to more blues and soul. It’s still pop and at the end of the day, that’s what I write, but there’s a little more organic flavor to it. It’s grittier now.
Kristen: It’s interesting to me, too, that you moved away from your hometown, but you almost kind of went back to your roots in a musical sense. When you say “blues” and “soul” and I think of the south. It’s ironic that you left home, and ended up going back to it musically in some sense.
Joseph: You’re right, and there was a time when I would have strongly denied that. I grew up listening to mountain music, music with a heavy lyrical presence, and I’ve been steeped in those storytelling songs. That is a part of what’s starting to come out in my music. It changes a little because I play the piano as opposed to the guitar, but essentially, I’m coming back to everything I knew before. It’s just had enough time to percolate and I’m able to make sense of it now.
Kristen: When do you plan on releasing the album?
Joseph: It will probably be the fall of next year. So far I’ve written three new songs and pulled from previous songs and we’re re-arranging and re-writing. Right now we’re at about five songs. The next part of the process is shaving those songs down and finding out exactly what we want to do with them and which direction to take when recording them. My drummer, Evan Chambers, and I are working on recording it together. We were in a band together in Charlottesville before, but then he left and went off to school. We’re doing our separate parts right now with the intention of coming together after he finishes. I write the lyrics, he does the beats, and we hash out what sense we can make of them. We record them ourselves, Evan produces them and we send them off to be mastered.
Kristen: It’s cool that it’s a collaborative process, too.
Joseph: I put a lot of value in collaboration and sharing knowledge. I feel like there’s no one person that has everything. I’m always skeptical of bands that have a lead member who says he or she writes all the songs and everyone else just plays behind. There’s just so much that’s involved in creating a good song. It’s all a process of people getting together in the same room and playing, and their individual tastes come out and that’s how you make good music. That’s one of the things I’m striving for in my music and in life as well.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Joseph: One of the things I do to decompress is I make candles. I try to find old glass bottles, old containers and I pour candles and all that stuff. That’s my little hobby; it’s what I do when I get stressed out. That might be the least rock-‘n’-roll thing that I do.
Kristen: That’s pretty sweet. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Joseph: Do what you love. It was my professor my senior year of college who told me that. He started out our video production class on the first day and said, “We’re going to learn a lot of stuff in this class, and if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you the secret to life at the end of it.” Throughout the class he would remind us of that. On the very last day after our projects were done, he sat us down and said, “The secret to everything is to do what you love. Money doesn’t matter. You can have a ton of money and be doing terrible things. You could be doing things that suck the soul out of you. Find the thing that you love and do it for as long as you can.” I realize that it sounds like a Chicken Soup for the Soul excerpt, but I really have kept that in mind. I’ve done a ton of stuff in my life. I’ve collected trash, I’ve been a bouncer, I’ve been a graphic designer, a taxi driver—I’ve done a lot of stuff. And through it all I’ve realized that I have one passion: storytelling, the way lyrics work, the way words affect other people. I love words and music, and it has led me to this place now.