Essential country

Joseph Huber’s Americana at Canal

By Tim Anderl

Photo: Joseph Huber and the TIllers will perform March 20 at Canal Public House; photo: Michelle Jones

Joseph Huber’s music is little bit country, a little bit bluegrass and a little bit good old American roots rock and roll. His latest record, The Hanging Road, voted one of the 50 Essential Albums of 2014 by Saving Country Music, showcases a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who captivates listeners with his sincere and expert songcraft.

Acclaimed for his lyricism and heart-on-sleeve writing style, Americana enthusiasts looking for a more subversive and substantive substitute for today’s modern country and over-processed Top 40 Americana will find much to love in Huber’s road-tested, rootsy approach.

Dayton City Paper recently caught up with Huber to discuss his background, approach and forthcoming Dayton performance.

When did you realize roots and insurgent country sounds were those you were drawn to as a musician and performer?

Joseph Huber: About age 18 when I moved away from home, but happened to take some records from my folks’ house, including John Hartford and also the old time compilation of Will the Circle Be Unbroken. I started listening to that while in my punk rock days when I was listening to Fear and Dead Kennedy’s and I apparently thought that Earl Scruggs wasn’t that far of a leap.

I had a banjo in my hands about two weeks after first putting those records on. It was about nine or ten months later when I ran into Jayke Orvis, who I found out was playing mandolin, and he gave me a burned CD with the Hackensaw Boys and others on it. That’s when I saw that other young guys could do this too.

You perform all the tracks on your records yourself. Is that a control issue or is that your way of creating something that is most genuinely your own?

JH: Both, certainly. I definitely have some control issues, perhaps after playing for years in .357 String Band where I think I always wanted certain aspects to be done differently on a musical level and recording level. Not that those weren’t great years. And I think there’s something to be said for getting someone’s strict individual vision versus a watered-down compromise where everyone is only mostly happy. That’s a personal bias though – maybe an “American” bias where we idolize what the lone individual can accomplish – I’m not sure.

I think that’s just my brain’s natural psychological temperament too. My mind gets creative and rejuvenated during my time alone versus other temperaments that get rejuvenated by a social atmosphere and enjoy creating together. So, these recent “solo” records were my way of curing both the creative need, and the need for control.

When you tour sometimes you perform with a backing band. How do you determine who should be a trusted agent with your songs?

JH: Well, I have met most of them at random and by chance through musical acquaintances and it just fell into place. Jason Loveall, the fiddler, is a Milwaukee guy like myself with a rich musical past who I had known of for some time. After finally hounding him a couple times and lassoing him into playing a show, it just felt great. So he’s my “go to” guy now.

As far as bass players, I’ve found they are often very busy guys who are in lots of bands. The ones that are good are in high demand, so I take who I can grab often, although if I had my pick, my buddy Peter Pagel, who played some tours in the past with me, is the most trustworthy and spot-on bassist I’ve found.

Will your forthcoming Dayton stop be with a band in tow or a one-man-band setup?

JH: Jason will be joining me on fiddle for that run. We just did a week of shows together in Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, and we are musically locked in with each other at this point and we can plow through tunes at this point without hesitation.

Do you believe there is an important and burgeoning roots movement that is taking shape in the U.S. and abroad? What is your role in that?

JH: Certainly I think there is a great up-surge in roots influenced bands in our day, and I can’t be upset that folks are getting into it, because if people have their ears and minds open to that kind of music, then that’s more people who can share their appreciation for such great musical history.

Having said that, I usually try to avoid the conception in my own mind of being a part of a movement, because of a feeling that I have a personal responsibility to the music and writing, and making sure I’m doing my own individual thing. I’d like to rise and fall by my own merits.

What would you like your lasting legacy to be as an artist?

JH: I have no clue. When I think of “legacy” I always think of a person that society as a whole has decided upon as being objectively important to musical history. I don’t know if I could dare put myself into such a hypothetical scenario. Really, the only way an artist can continue to be content is by creating things that he or she themselves is personally satisfied with. I guess the impression I hope to leave upon other folks who’ve heard my music is that I was truly defined a unique sound that was artistically my own.

I also hope people who I meet continue to think of me as just a normal approachable decent person, who didn’t let being an “artist” turn them into a deformed sort-of human personality. That’s a pretty tame legacy, I know. But anything more would probably be embellished.

Last Ditch Promotions presents Joseph Huber and The Tillers on Friday, March 20, at The Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m. The performance is open to audiences 18 and older. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. For more information, please visit Joseph Huber at josephhubermusic.com.

Tim Anderl is the web editor and a contributing writer at Ghettoblaster Magazine and maintains his own music blog at youindie.com. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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