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Interview: Joel Stewart discusses his must-listen single Fever and gigging on the other side of the world…

Joel! Thank you for taking some time to catch up with Scarlett Notes! From the beyond impressive lyricism and sound of For the Very First Time to being added to Spotify’s Lo-Fi Indie Playlist… 2019 seems like it’s been a pretty amazing year for you.

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Can you recall the moment when your drive for making and performing music started to emerge?

I’ve always loved music, and played a load of instruments when I was young but got myself a guitar when I was about 15/16 and once I learnt a few chords I began to write songs. Since then I have never stopped writing and by the time I was 18, I knew it was something I wanted to take further. It’s always given me comfort, writing music. It kind of gets things off your chest and once it’s down it’s as if a weight has been lifted, just like talking to someone if things aren’t going great in your head.

I also think it’s pretty extraordinary to cause people to ‘feel’ through music, and it’s something which has always been a bit addictive. It’s these sort of things which drive me on and make me excited to keep writing and performing music.

What drives you to write a song? Do you go by feelings or can it be any stimulus? And of course… do you pen lyrics or guitar chords down first (or both)?

Anything really, it just depends what I’m feeling. Often that can be to do with relationships of my own, or relationships of friends which I’m close to. But it’s anything, my latest single Fever is just about mobile phones and how dependent on them we all seem to be, and how it’s important to give yourself a bit of time (3 mins and 34 secs in this case) to sit back and ponder whatever is running through your head.

My second single System was all about feeling a bit off the particular road so many around me seemed to be on. So yeah, it’s just whatever is going through my head at that time really.

In terms of what comes first, I usually start with guitar or piano and once I like what I’m playing I just start singing. I might just do that for an hour until I sing a line or two which I like. Once I have them I will write a song from there. Recently I have started to keep notes on my phone if I ever think of a line which I like, so now my phone is littered with a load of lyrics about not much, but I’m looking forward to sitting down and seeing whether I’ve thought of anything decent in the past few months.

What is the narrative behind For the Very First Time?

I have always found songs which have a ‘happy’ narrative harder to write, and For the Very First Time was one of the first I managed to get done. I knew from the moment I made the loop and the chord structure that it had that uplifting feel to it and deserved lyrics that went with that. On the surface, it’s about how the feeling of how missing something can highlight exactly how you feel about it. Of course, I wrote it relating to a relationship I was in at the time, but I think it can be linked to anything, like a place which is special to you.

I’m so happy that so many people have enjoyed the song and it’s awesome to get messages from people who have connected with it and hear what it means to them. It’s also just a bit of fun, I knew when I wrote it, it was a track which would sound good if a crowd sang it with you, and it’s been awesome whenever that has happened.

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Who are your biggest musical inspirations and why?

I feel like I have taken inspiration from a number of artists. Most recently it’s been Dermot Kennedy, I just love the songwriting and the way which he uses his voice. A lot of his songs are in the same key I like to sing in… so his music has always felt that little bit more relatable to me. But the main influence and genuinely the reason I bought a guitar is Justin Vernon. He’s best known for being the creator behind Bon Iver, but I find inspiration in all his music, his self titled stuff, and other bands he’s been in like Volcano Choir and DeYarmond Edison.

I’ve never heard music that has connected with me so much. I also love the way that his music has developed. I often feel like I create music that isn’t that coherent between tracks, but it is stuff that I hope you know is mine when you listen to it.

If you look at Bon Ivers albums, it all started pretty acoustic but has gone on to incorporate so many different modern elements and sounds. However, even though a lot of the work has a different sonic approach, you instantly know it’s Bon Iver. I’ve always thought this is an important thing to be able to do. The way I see it, I don’t listen to the same type of music every day, so when it comes to making music, I don’t make the same type of music every time I have a recording session.

It has to stay constant to a degree but it’s so important to be able to express yourself whichever way seems right. Justin Vernon has mastered this and it’s just something I drive towards.

How involved with the production do you get?

I’m not a master at using the software and I don’t want to take any credit which isn’t deserved so a massive shout out to my amazing producer Lauren Deakin Davies has to be made. She is awesome and manages to get every little thing I’m hearing in my head out into the track. It’s very collaborative and we spend days working on the track together. Going into a session I always know what I want but may not specifically know the route to get there and that’s where Lauren is great. Lauren is the sound engineer and producer but we only work on the elements of the track when we are together so it’s a really collaborative process.

For someone who gigs so much, what gigs have been your most favourite so far and why?

This last year has been pretty mad for gigs and there are so many which stick out but a couple that have topped them all. I played a couple Sofar Sounds shows in San Francisco, which were awesome. It was cool to play music in a place I’d never been before and to get the reaction I got from people on the other side of the world.

In London, I had a great time playing at Brixton Jamm – it was definitely the biggest crowd I have played to this year so got a good buzz from that. But I can’t not mention the shows I’ve done at Spiritual Bar in Camden. It really is the best bar in London and it’s an honour to play on the stage whenever I can, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been there to go and enjoy some of the best music, and cocktails London has to offer…

What 3 golden tips would you give to a musician or band starting out?

I mean, it’s a tough one to answer because I’m still very much starting out. That’s mainly because I have only officially released 4 songs which feels like a drop in the ocean when it comes down to the songs I’ve written and that will be released in the near future.

Be patient. When you write or record a song you always want to get it out and heard as quickly as possible and it’s the hardest thing holding back on it. But realistically, when you are starting out the fan base is pretty small so whatever you release won’t be heard by the world… but each release that audience will grow a little so it’s important to have good material that can be put out throughout the first year or so. So hold back on some good songs and don’t go release an album out the blue. Build the audience and then you can look to releasing EPs and Albums that will get heard.

Secondly, it’s just to keep going. There will be loads of moments when you question whether it’s working, but people are always listening and this all takes time and hard work.

And third, just play live as much as possible. It will get your live act developing but also do it for yourself. It’s always a good feeling playing music live whether it’s to 200 or 20 people. So just play. Keep on keeping on.

Big one! What’s happening in 2020 for you? Gigs? Releases? Collabs?

 I’m buzzing for 2020 – much of the same from me. Plenty more releases to come and you will find me playing live wherever and whenever I can.

In January I have a show at The Bedford in Balham on the 14th which is always fun. 2020 festival appearances will be announced soon!

In terms of releases, I have a few ready to go and you can expect to have one of them mid-February and one in March. A special two-track A-Side release of 2 of my favourite songs is also going to happen within the next 4 months.

It’s all go. Oh! And a very special and very overdue Official Music Video for For the Very First Time is going to be released on 5th February, the tracks first year anniversary.

I’m buzzing and I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Bonus question: Favourite album … ever?

I mean, that is just the hardest question. I’m gonna give you two.

  • Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Alt J – An Awesome Wave

It could be any of the Bon Iver albums but that’s the first album I ever fell in love with and made me fall in love with music. And then the Alt J one must be the album I have listened to the most. I always go back to it and listen to it start to finish. Get a bit lost in it and always hear something new each time.

But come on, there could be 50 answers to this question!

Make sure you follow Joel on all platforms to keep up to date with upcoming gigs and releases!

One of my favourite interviews to date… the future seems more than bright for Joel. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more!

Joel’s socials: 

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