INTERVIEW: Joe Farren
by Cyrus Rhodes
From start to finish Open Skies by Joe Ferren is a barnburner collection of music. The songwriting – the gold standard, all consistent musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. Note for note, song for song there isn’t really weak piece on this entire catalog. The writing and playing abilities of Ferren and company are rock solid. The melodies and harmonies are well crafted, and the lyrical content is packed to the hilt with good old fashioned no holds barred R&B-Pop-Rock swagger. At the end of the day Joe Ferren brings the mojo and is clearly a marquee talent based out of Florida. One would be wise to keep a watchful eye on him over the years to come.
IMD In lieu of your latest release what do you want fans to take from your music?
JF 'Open Skies' represents my progression at the craft of song writing as well as my life the last few years. Compared to the heart on your sleeve style of ‘Til The Day', my previous release, the songs on “Open Skies” are more focused, shorter, precise and a bit more playful. I went through an awful divorce and found myself free after being in a confining relationship and owning a house. My life went from extremely domestic to “free” quickly and I enjoyed every moment of my new found freedom. I was for the first time “living in the moment”. I indulged in ways I hadn’t in college. As soon as I slowed down and started writing about it, the songs just poured out of me. It’s personal, but I’m very happy with the outcome. The album has it all. Playful, serious, humorous, wild, sweet; it’s all there. After studying songcraft for so long and listening to all the writers I could, my time writing was spent trying to find the most interesting topics and stories I could. So when my personal life took a roller coaster ride I ended up with my own stories to write. That experience along with the practice and time spent working on songwriting was the perfect combination to make the most of these stories and characters. Still, these are universal stories and experiences. “Who’s that Standing in my Shoes” for example, is about anybody’s first love. I remember stumbling across my first flame’s wedding pictures on Facebook and that’s what planted the seed for that song. I went from looking at a computer screen to being a character invited to the wedding. That’s the beauty of songwriting. I focused more as a singer and writer on 'Skies' than on 'Til the Day' when I had focused on performing most of the instruments as well. Working with these guys in Nashville allowed me the freedom to just strum my guitar or play the piano and sing the songs. And man, did they have my back at every corner. I don’t see why I would ever want to do it any other way.
IMD How did this latest release come together?
JF I recorded most of 'Open Skies' in Nashville and it features a ton of Nashville studio players and music icons including Lance Hoppen from the band “Orleans”. Lance played bass guitar on both of my albums. Open Skies was produced by guitarist Jason Roller (Kelly Pickler, Winona Judd).
IMD Who are some of your top musical influences?
"I never try to trivialize my own music, what something means to me might mean something different to others, its important to let the music speak for itself."
- Joe Farren -
JF I was fortunate to have good music in the house as a kid. I heard tons of good blues and r & b music. Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Dead. Their albums were always playing around the house. I was pretty lucky to be exposed to such soulful music from the beginning, long before I was old enough to even play. My first cassette tapes were Michael Jackson “Bad” and the first George Michael record. The one with “Faith” and “Father Figure” and all those great songs. I still like those albums today. I just loved the sound and groove of albums. I remember hearing Bob Marley’s “Legend” album and was blown away at the different tones, rhythms and grooves. Portland Maine had such a great local scene too! I loved the local bands. Some of which I would end up sharing the stage with. In Portland we had the Rustic Overtones and in New Hampshire we had Percy Hill and Say Zuzu. All successful bands and local rock stars as far as anyone in New England was concerned. “In college I discovered contemporary country music, and fell in love. I remember the song that did it: Jason White’s ‘Red Ragtop,’ as recorded by Tim McGraw. I like a lot of the New Folk music artists like Ellis Paul, Patty Griffin, Mark Erelli, Steve Earle etc. But I mostly listen to country music in search of those inspiring, perfectly-crafted songs.”
IMD At what point in your journey did you realize music was going to be the path you chose professionally? What made music “click” for you?
JF I’m a pretty practical person with a good business sense. It takes some convincing of my own to stay the coarse creatively. But even now when I start to second-guess myself and my career, a song like “bridge over troubled water” will come on the radio. One of those just perfect songs that make the hair on your neck stand up, the goose bumps appear, the tear come out of nowhere. It’s those moments that it’s all clear. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. I’ve known that since I was 14. I can’t imagine committing myself to anything else. It’s a blessing and a curse I guess. You know those people that just work for money so they can buy cool toys and live for the weekends? That’s just not an option for a creative person. They would die inside. It’s a constant calling and a pressure but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
IMD Who are some of your biggest musical influences (other musicians who have influenced the type of music you like to play most or the way you approach your development as an artist/songwriter)
JF the first song I ever learned on guitar was “peaceful easy feeling”. I still have my eagles songbook. My mother had hired a family friend to do some painting in our house. He was a Canadian guy and was schizophrenic. Sweet man that just struggled through life dealing with his illness. He showed me how to tune the guitar I stole from my brother and taught me that song. He told me than, at 13 years old, that music is something that no one can take away from you. He told me never to hold back, to just strum that guitar and sing
IMD How would you describe the way you approach songwriting, and what do you feel are some of your greatest strengths as a songwriter?
JF There are no rules when it comes to songwriting. That’s easier said than done especially when you’ve been studying the craft and striving to improve. Its tough not to be over critical on yourself. I try to separate the “stream of consciousness” moments when it all just pours out, from the skill and craft of making it all work. It’s those 2 stages that get you somewhere. They are separate things. I’ll work on a song until it’s done. I don’t rush anything. I want every lyric to be perfect before I record it. It’s a quality over quantity thing for me. I experiment all kinds of ways when it comes to writing. I love just picking up my guitar and notepad when the muse hits but also like co-writing with other writers, writing to tracks, and writing lyrics without any music or melody and adding it later.
IMD How have others described your music
JF I was fortunate to have a great band teacher growing up, Mrs. Richardson. She was tough but just a committed teacher. The older I get the more I appreciate her passion and dedication. She would always go above and beyond for her students adding electives for classes and traveling with the jazz band for competitions. We had a love/hate relationship. In fact, her son was in my class and we were inseparable. We drove her nuts! I remember my senior year I had this huge drum solo in jazz band. I had rehearsed and practiced hard for this solo at home and couldn’t wait to start rehearsing it with the jazz band. But during our rehearsal I realized I had mistaken the length of the solo counting normal when the piece was in double time. Anyway, it was disaster and she gave me hell in front of everybody. I remember approaching her about it after school wondering why she was so hard on me. I wanted to explain my mistake and assure her I was grateful for the chance to perform this song. She shut the door to her office and told me to sit down. She explained that she could spend time yelling at other kids and treating everybody equal but that that approach would just be a waste of her time. She said I really had something with music and the fact that she focused so much on me and would come down hard on me was because it was worth it, she knew I would benefit from the experience and take it with me into the future. It was an awesome moment in my life and one of the first times a teacher had really treated me like an adult and was honest. She trusted I wouldn’t go repeat what she said behind her back, and I didn’t. Until now I guess…
IMD What is your favorite piece of music of all time and why?
JF Hands down, “when a man loves a woman” the original, not the Michael Bolton version my mother tortured my ears with growing up! That song is just soul music to a t. honest, passionate, vulnerable, I just love it. That’s a record you can just feel in your bones.
IMD What is your favorite song from your most recent album?
JF Jeez… I don’t know. My writing the last couple years has been more title or concept oriented and the majority of the songs on “open skies” started with a title or chorus. But “who’s that standing in my shoes” didn’t. that started with a verse. I spent months perfecting that song but the first version just came out of the air one night. I couldn’t write fast enough. I love it when that happens! I knew I had stumbled onto something special. I felt the same way years ago when I wrote the title track for “til the day”. It’s songs like those that the make me wonder if I’ll ever top them. You hear famous songwriters talk about that feeling like they never even wrote their songs, that they just pulled them out of the air. I thought that was kind of cheesy but it has happened to me if only a couple times. Most of the time it’s self-discipline and throwing out 90 percent of what I write!
interview conducted by Cyrus Rhodes. Property of Indie Music Media LLC.
Copyright © 2013
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