Joe Pug ponders the craft of songwriting 

The mega John Hiatt fan interviews songwriters he admires on The Working Songwriter

click to enlarge Joe Pug - DUSDIN CONDREN
  • Joe Pug
  • Dusdin Condren

After a decade on the road – with many stops in Indianapolis, a favored space – East Coaster-turned-Chicagoan-turned-Austinite Joe Pug has logged a lot of time behind the wheel down empty highways. And he's filled that time, like so many other audiophiles like him, with podcasts. Now, the singer-songwriter, beloved for mournful ballads like "Bury Me Far From My Uniform' will entertain other road dogs with a podcast of his very own: The Working Songwriter, a monthly showcase digging into process and craft. Before his set at the Folk Fest on Saturday, we called Pug up to chat about his new venture, new record, and old Indiana inspirations.

NUVO: I'm calling you in your home of Austin, Tex., so I assume you have a little bit of time off.

Joe Pug: I do. We toured relentlessly last year, which was good. This year is a little more laid back, because we don't have an album.

NUVO: Are you working on an album, or are giving yourself some time out of the studio?

Pug: Oh, yeah. I'm always working on new stuff. We recorded the last album in 2014, and released it in 2015, so I've been writing and doing various things on the new one for a long while now.

RELATED: Read our complete Virginia Avenue Folk Fest coverage 

NUVO: Topping a folk festival bill, how has your relationship with folk music changed? Windfall took a different, more soulful tack, and your sound is evolving. What's influential in the genre of folk right now?

Pug: The genre itself is a lot more malleable than it used to be, a lot more accepting and laid back than it used to be. Me playing with my band on this new record was not exactly Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival with Pete Seeger, axe in hand, trying to cut the microphone cord. I think the folk community is a lot more diffuse than it used to be, and a lot more hard to pin down as to exactly what it is. I think that it's found it's way into a lot of other genres at this point. I think a lot of what people are considering Americana music right now wouldn't have been considered folk music even 15 years ago, 20 years ago.

NUVO: Since you're a headliner on this bill full of folkies, and some of them are in their first couple years of making music their work, what's your best advice for the youngins' looking to strike their way out in the world?

Pug: I really think that for all the stuff you can do business-wise, any angle you can get, any book you can read to tell you how to do it, any piece of advice, everything is really trumped by the fact that if you write a song that people really want to listen to, and will seek out on their own, and will share with their friends, that will be the most effective and probably the only thing that will get you moving forward. That is simultaneously terrifying, because it can be hard to write that, but also really empowering. I'm telling you, if you're able to write something that people want to listen to, doors will open for you. They really, really will. I've felt that myself, and I've watched that happen with countless friends. It's the truth.

click to enlarge Joe Pug - DUSDIN CONDREN
  • Joe Pug
  • Dusdin Condren

NUVO: I'd love for you to tell me about The Working Songwriter, your podcast.

Pug: Yeah! So I started this podcast this year. I've probably spent a full 40 percent of my adult life in a van driving around, and the only thing that has kept me sane is that I've discovered podcasts. I think it's such an amazing medium, and I've fallen in love with so many different shows. That's been the case for about five years, and I listened to those as much as I listen to music.

I got interested in working in that medium myself, and said, '"Well, hey. I have so many friends that I could interview to do this." I got an idea for the show, did a couple of demos, sent them around to friends, got notes. We released it this year, and I'm really excited. I'd love for it to be a hub for people that listen to this type of music and play this type of music. I'd love for it to be a monthly touchstone for everyone to get together and celebrate a member of our musical community. None of it is going to be journalistic shit; I want this to be a guest, and for whoever it is to sound great within the context of it. It's very exciting! It's nice to be doing a new venture and working in a new medium.

NUVO: What are some of the podcasts that you lean on in super long drives?

Pug: Well of course you have to listen to [WTF with] Marc Maron; he's great. I love the Dan Carlin stuff [Hardcore History]. I listened to Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast, which is pretty rough around the edges. For sports, I listen to Bill Simmons. I listen to the David Axelrod podcast that came out last year on politics. At a certain point, I'm at home more this year, I'm doing chores around the house with headphones on listening to it. And I'm like, "Alright, I'm just an old man listening to political talk radio."

NUVO: You've cited John Hiatt as an influence. We're very proud – he's an Indianapolis dude, albeit relocated – and I'd love to hear about how his music has influenced your own.

Pug: I think there's a spectrum in any art, and at one far end of the spectrum there's people that know their craft really, really well. Too well, let's say, on one side, where all they focus on is the craft and the structures. On the other side of the spectrum, you have people that do things through sheer intuition, and do it too much. I've been listening to John Hiatt now for 20 years, probably. My folks put it on in the car when I was a little kid. What I've learned from him is that he is so great about having a structured song, knowing what the rules are, but always giving into intuition and having a sense of play and fun in his work. And I think that's what art is. It really is the interplay of intuition and craft. He is just the master of that balance.


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Katherine Coplen

Katherine Coplen

Always looking for my new favorite band. Always listening to my old ones, too. Always baking cakes. Always collecting rock and roll dad quotes.

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