If the opening notes on Joe Pug’s new LP “Windfall” are a bit disorienting, his fans won’t likely be surprised. The Austin, TX singer songwriter has made a habit of defying expectations so the piano-driven “Bright Beginnings” and the atmospheric rumination of “Great Hosannas” are just further indication that he’s quite comfortable stepping outside of the guy-with-a-guitar trappings of the genre.
His rise has been as improbable as it has been impressive. After dropping out of college and taking on work as a carpenter in Chicago, he got his musical start by providing CDs for his fans to pass along to their friends. This led to a string of sold out shows and a record deal with Nashville indie Lightning Rod Records (Jason Isbell, Billy Joe Shaver). As he toured behind “Messenger” (2010) and The Great Despiser (2012) it was with a band that looked as much like a jazz trio as an Americana band. “I never quite found a live band that captured what I was aiming for until I connected with Greg [Tuohey–electric guitar] and Matt [Schuessler–upright bass]. It was an arrangement that maybe didn’t make a ton of sense on paper but 10 minutes into the first rehearsal I knew this was going to be my band.” The following years would have them on the road for over four hundred shows, including stops at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and The Newport Folk Festival.
The relentless grind of four years of nonstop touring had taken its toll though, and by late 2013 he was ready to call it quits. The tour that fall was a runaway success but his personal and creative lives were a different story. “It was this surreal dichotomy. Everyone kept congratulating me on how well the tour was going, and the mood was probably the best it had ever been on the road. We finally got two hotel rooms in each city instead of one. We’ve got this incredible group of die-hard fans that somehow make each show bigger than our previous trip through town. Meanwhile my relationship was in shambles and creatively I was at a dead end. There was absolutely no joy left in playing music. So we walked off stage after a particular show when I played terribly, and pulled my manager aside in the green room and told him to cancel the rest of the tour dates and that I was essentially through.”
But studio time was already scheduled and deadlines had been set for a new record, so after a few weeks Pug was back to the business of writing songs. “In retrospect, I was in a very unhealthy place. I was sitting in a room with the blinds shut and a notebook, forcing out words that weren’t there and drinking astonishing amounts of bourbon. I was looking at it as a job….as a business obligation, and that is a very slippery slope.” At that point he decided to make good on his promise from the previous tour. The album was put on indefinite hold. “I just needed to start behaving like a human being again. I needed to reconnect with my girlfriend. I needed to eat healthy food. I needed to go enjoy live music as a fan. I really needed to make sure I still loved making music, because I really had my doubts at that point.”
The resulting layoff paid dividends in spades. When Pug set up camp in Lexington KY in 2014 to record, he did so with some of the best songs he has ever written. The agenda was much simpler than previous albums. “The aim on this one was very straightforward. We wanted to capture the music just the way we play it, with minimal production. It was a very back to basics approach because ultimately that’s what I love about music, and that’s what I love about making music. I wanted to record these songs the way they were written and put them out in the world.” The result is a collection of songs that are as close as we’ve gotten to a road map to Pug’s ambitions. He has collected plenty of the requisite Dylan comparisons over his young career but on this record it’s easier to hear the sway of more contemporary influences like Josh Ritter, Ryan Adams and M.Ward.
The theme of resilience plays a central role throughout Windfall. The weary protagonist in “Veteran Fighter” wills his way further down the highway despite the gloom that seems certain to overtake him. “The Measure”, a song inspired in part by Frederic Buechner’s novel Godric, marvels at “every inch of anguish, laid out side by side” but ultimately finds that “All we’ve lost is nothing to what we’ve found.” “I never really write songs with a specific narrative in mind,” Pug explains. “When you’re sort of pushing through a dark period of your life it’s probably inevitable that some of that is going to find its way onto the page. But in the same way, by the time we were in the studio the process had become very effortless and joyful. And hopefully you can hear a lot of that on the record as well.” This duality appears perhaps most overtly in the album-closing stunner “If Still It Can’t Be Found”, which features Pat Sansone of Wilco guesting on mellotron.
If it’s not around this corner it’s around the next If it’s not beyond this river it’s beyond the next And if still it can’t be found It’s prob’ly for the best
As the saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.” Joe Pug didn’t call it quits after all. He’s engaged to be married and still drinks bourbon on occasion. His new album, Windfall, will be released March 10, 2015 on Lightning Rod Records in the US and Loose Music in Europe.
When the lights go down and the world turns off, the truth comes into focus.
Such moments of quiet introspection invariably inform, impact, and inspire Nashville songstress Angel Snow. As life spins at light speed without pause, she provides understated pop folk bliss that echoes with pure and powerful emotion.
“I think we should all just sit in the dark with one another and see each other for who we really are,” she implores. “Don’t deny who you are now or who you’ve been in the past. Be in the moment more. A lot of my music is about this.”
With warm delivery, soulful intonation, evocative lyricism, and a hint of pop ambition, Angel continues to translate urgent moments into unforgettable music. Over the past decade, she went from penning songs for the likes of Alison Krauss to stepping into the spotlight as a buzzing independent solo act on her 2012 self-titled debut, Angel Snow. Its lead single “These Days” eclipsed over 6 million Spotify streams and counting as she attracted a growing fan base.
In the ensuing years, she built an international profile by regularly touring the globe. 2016’s “Secret” notably featured in a popular video by internet superstar Ingrid Nielsen entitled “Something I Want You To Know (Coming Out),” which went viral with 17 million views. Meanwhile, her 2017 sophomore outing, Magnetic, earned widespread acclaim. Among tastemaker praise, American Songwriter went so far as to describe it as “superb.” 2018 saw her progress once more. After meeting Ben Kramer of Old Sea Brigade, she enlisted him to produce her TITLE EP.
Together, they unlocked new facets of her sound, embracing swaths of purring ambience, expansive omnichord, delicate guitar, and bass transmissions.
“Ben brought a completely different element to what I do, but we maintained who I am at the same time,” she explains. “We found a lot of common ground we loved. I also messed around with the range of my voice and how deep I can go without being self-conscious. I’m embracing my voice for the first time. We’re bringing the vocal up. I’m much more confident in how I sing. I enjoyed more freedom than I ever have in the process. Lyrically, I was able to craft more of a creative narrative. I love writing short stories. The storytelling became a central part of the EP.”
Over the course of five months, they assembled the six-track EP. In the spirit of experimentation and evolution, they envisioned this body of work in two formats: full production and acoustic. The latter allowed her to experience the songs at their rawest.
“I was able to get outside of myself and see the range of the composition in the acoustic recordings,” she elaborates. “It opened me up a little bit more to embrace the songs for what they are. The emotions really showed through and shined. The feeling behind everything gets to the forefront. It’s a great way for the lyrics and stories to resonate.”
The first single “Window Seat” illuminates the nuances of her narration. Delicate beats and sonic flourishes underscore a vivid and emotionally charged portrait of moving on.
“It’s about going through the storms of life, accepting what’s ahead of you, and taking a window seat to get passed it,” she says. “I was envisioning this girl on a plane, looking out the window, seeing those clouds in the distance, and thinking, ‘I’m going through this by myself.’ You’re accepting who you are and the role you play on the planet in addition to bracing yourself for the next thing to come.”
Her voice echoes with a stirring sense of soul on “Arrows,” which details “a love story of two people who have to let each other go.” “Higher Urgency” hinges on a positive proclamation highlighted by robust vocals and infectious energy. Meanwhile, the unexpectedly upbeat “Maze” recalls an evening of reckless abandon over lush instrumentation.
“Making ‘Maze’ helped me,” she admits. “You recognize you can’t get too out of hand. Any of us could go down that wrong path and become too far gone. Somehow, there’s always been a threshold that hasn’t allowed me to go any further when I have tested the limits, so to speak. The experience led me to ‘Maze.’ I think a lot of people can relate to it.”
In the end, Angel beckons you turn off the lights, close your eyes, and drift off to this music.
“I’m just trying be the best person I know how to be, embrace any and all flaws, and create to the best of my ability,” she leaves off. “I want to be in the moment. I want to use all of the gifts that I’ve been given and take advantage of them while I’m on this planet. That’s my goal.