Joe Brooks is a 23 year old singer /songwriter on the verge of worldwide success. From Southampton in the UK, Brooks spent some quality time in Los Angeles, even playing a sold out show at the Mint in April. His song Superman has already gained the artist a good deal of recognition on both sides of the Atlantic – and a full length is due before the end of the year entitled Constellation Me. While in the City Of Angels, Joe took time to chat with Highwire Daze about his impressions of LA, his forthcoming album and the songs, screamo bands, and the Queen of England. Read on…
First of all, where are you from in the UK, and what is the music scene like in your hometown?
I’m from a place called Southampton, which to me is always going to be home. I was back there for the last few weeks seeing family and friends. The music scene – it’s okay – it’s difficult, because I could really only compare it to major cities like London and Los Angeles. Apart from that, I’ve never lived in a similar city to Southampton. It’s gotten some young talent, and I’m actually actively always trying to find young talent from Southampton. I mentor a couple of young singer / songwriters from Southampton. I always like to try and see if there’s any up and coming talent I could nurture or mentor or help to get to the next stage. But yeah, I was actually just with some friends at a local open mike night – and the talent is really good there. I just wish that there were more avenues that people could take to take it to the next step.
You’ve been out here to Los Angeles several times. What are your impressions of LA overall?
I’ve been fortunate enough – I’ve spent about two years out here. I moved here at the beginning of this year, so I know Los Angeles pretty well. I drive all of the time so my knowledge of the road is very good. I like it – it’s different. It’s its own kind of thing. I struggle to see anywhere else in the world that would be like Los Angeles. You’ve got the beautiful weather and the beautiful beaches – a lot of beautiful people and a lot of talent out here. But at the same time, you spend about 90 percent of your time in the car, so I made sure I got myself a comfortable vehicle to get around in, because I knew I’d be spending most of my time in it. You know, it has its pros and cons, but I really like it. Some people prefer the East Coast vibe – but I don’t know – New York City is too hectic for me. I like the chill, kind of laid back atmosphere here.
You recently played a show at The Mint and you pretty much packed the place. Tell me how you felt that show went…
I thought it was good! I was pleased. I played with a band who had never played together before. We played together the night before as a band at a showcase – so this was the first time we were playing together as a band to fans. I played with some of the guys individually, but not together as a five piece – so I was very nervous about that. I never really get nervous about anything other than performing the best I possibly can. That’s the only thing I ever get nervous about really is representing myself musically as best as possible. And if I feel that I don’t achieve that, that’s when I get frustrated and angry at myself. But I think that night was pretty good! I was really feeling a lot of energy, and the crowd was fantastic and hungry to hear the music and it felt really good.
What was the experience like playing the opposite coast over at Bamboozle?
Yeah, the same week we played Bamboozle and also the Webster Hall Studio and it was fantastic. Bamboozle was interesting. I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first festival out here and it’s obviously an alternative music festival – and my music isn’t really alternative. (Laughs) So we went on after a screamo band and we went on before a screamo band. I won’t forget – we were third on quite a big stage. It was the afternoon, and I was there with my mate Nathan – he plays guitar from the UK – we just sat there chilling out backstage and we heard the first band go on and all we heard were, “Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah!!!” Like crazy and the kick drum going crazy. And we just looked at each other and were like, “Oh crap! Are we really going to be on here? Is this the right place?” But actually it made me feel pretty good, because the sun was out – and we went out and checked the crowd out – and there were a lot of 16-17 year old guys who were there for the scene – and they just wanted to hear some good music. So I went out there and thought I would just do my thing. We went out, and the sun was out and we just played some solid music and it went down really well actually. We got a lot of good feedback and we signed for like two hours afterwards. It was a big success. And the New York Show itself as Webster Studio was craziness! It was fantastic! I managed to pack that out as well. My label came down to see the show and there was a lot of industry there as well. That was a very successful night as well. So yeah, I felt very good about that run – that was a very important week. And having to put a new band together just for that week was quite stressful – but it felt really good at the end of it.
So you don’t secretly want to be in a screamo band?
(Laughs) Uh, I think if I did, I’m hiding it very well. No I don’t. It’s one type of music that’s really never appealed to me. I’m actually quite anti-it. There’s not very many things I am anti – hip hop is great – I don’t listen to it myself and I understand why people listen to it – it’s just not my sort of taste. But screamo is one of those things I just don’t see how anyone could cull any enjoyment out of it. But hey, that’s just me. I’m sure many people would disagree…
I just picked three songs to ask you about. First of all Superman your single – what inspired you to write that song?
That was a song I wrote and put out six years ago – and it’s one that’s just stuck around and been a favorite for a while amongst the fans. Back then, I really pretty much starting to write lyrics – it was still very near the beginning of when I started writing music. Technically it was about a girl in school and I was always a bit of a geek on school. I was never like the popular one – I was never like the loser – I was kinda somewhere in between. And I never had a girlfriend during school. I was a little bit nervous – it was a bit like wanting to go out with the hot girl but not being able to. It’s kind of a cheesy mainstream thing, but I think overall it started me out on the journey that is kind of my career now. It was one of the first songs I wrote and it means more to me in that respect than the actual lyric does.
One of the songs that struck me at the show was Runaway. What’s the story behind that one?
That’s funny, because that was actually wrote a good year or so before Superman. I was about 15-16 and that was one of the first songs I ever wrote. Actually I never planned on putting it on any album – it was on my first EP I think and I never planned on playing it live ever. And then I was deciding on the set list and I just listened to Runaway again and I thought, “You know what? We could actually rock this one out!” I brought it to the band and it was a really fun song to play. I brought it into the set back in the UK and we’ve been playing it ever since. Runaway is, again, a song where I was trying to learn how to songwrite – and I was trying to write feelings down on paper and bring melody to it. And actually there’s just four chords all the way through the song – which was me learning how to play the guitar basically (much laughter). And my brother, who was 13 at the time – we were learning guitar at the same time, so those four chords were pretty much all we could play. So then we wrote that song – but God knows what it was about (much laughter). I mean back then it probably meant something in my teenage years of angst. But yeah, it’s funny because those two songs you picked out are literally some of the first songs. It’s funny how the early ones kind of stick with you.
And then I wanted to ask about what inspired the song Kaleidoscope.
Yeah, cool – I was actually listening to some of the songs on the album today – we’re just finishing the mastering. I’ve got to say that I think Kaleidoscope is I think my favorite song on the album. There were a lot of co-writes on the album, but this is one that I sat down and just wrote from start to end – and had a very clear image of it. It’s literally the most recent song that I wrote. So again – it’s like the first to the last. It’s really about a specific girl in Los Angeles who I had the pleasure – not always a pleasure – to get to know. Just a different kind of female perspective maybe is a good way of putting it. Not everybody out here obviously, but there is a slight flirtiness – a slight flakiness to some of the girls out here that I’m trying to understand – and I can’t. And so Kaleidoscope is about a girl who’s very beautiful – everybody finds her attractive and she gets a lot of things in life. So that’s the Kaleidoscope – she’s beautiful like a Kaleidoscope and she’s colorful and you’re drawn to her – but when you look closely, you’re very confused – as when you look into a kaleidoscope. There’s lot of mirrors and all sorts of things going on. So that’s the idea of the Kaleidoscope. You notice how my lyrics have become a lot more complex than the earlier ones. Kaleidoscope is quite a deep lyric – I’m very proud of that lyric actually.
How much pressure do you feel being signed to a major label?
You know what – I think personally – I don’t feel any pressure to be honest. I’m quite stressed a lot of the times recently trying to finish the record. None of that comes from being on a major label, to be honest – it all comes from myself. I always push myself as hard as possible. I am my hardest critic – no one could ever critique me any harder than I do – I swear by that. I put that pressure on myself to make as good an album as possible. The label were happy with the songs and I was like, “You know what? It’s not finished yet. I need to keep working.” I was the one telling the label that I wanted to carry on making it better. And that’s not often the case I hear from a lot of artist friends. I’m very happy with the label I’m with. They’re being fantastic. They’ve given me a lot of creative control. And I’m really just my own worst enemy. I make myself stressed. So no, I personally don’t feel any pressure being on a major label. I feel like I should be there.
When is the full-length album coming out and do you have a title for it yet?
The album is coming out end of August I think and the title of the album is Constellation Me.
Where did you get the idea for that title?
Basically the album is quite diverse lyrically and musically. Rather than just self-title it – which I think is a bit of an escape goat. I write a lot of lyrics about the sun, about the world, about the ocean, about the sky, about the stars – and all of the songs summed up all of my feelings and all of the way I look at the world. So I just thought Constellation Me is what makes up me – and me plotting out my thoughts on the way that I see the world. And it’s a bit of an arty title, and people can read into it whatever they like. But I believe it sums up the album the best way possible.
The Queen Of England invites you to perform one song at a Royal Command Performance. What song would you perform for Her Majesty and why?
(Laughs) I love that question man! That’s awesome! Does it have to be one of my own songs?
Oh no, not at all. It could be anything…
I reckon I could probably do a reggae version of God Save The Queen on a ukulele. I think that would be pretty cool. Get someone on a tambo and get a ukulele and play God Save Our Queen. That would be pretty cool! I don’t think there’d be anything else I could do, but I don’t know. I don’t know the Queen personally so I have no idea.
And a quick follow up question. You said you’ve worked with your brother in the past on music. Is he currently doing music himself?
No, no. My brother was playing the guitar at 13 when I started playing. Me and my brother – we get on amazing well! He’s like 10 times cooler than I am. He’s pretty chill and everybody likes him. But no, we never really do the same thing. Like whatever I do, he will do something different. Like we’re both very sporty – I used to play tennis and football as in soccer on quite a good level – but he would play basketball and hockey. Like two completely different things. He’s going to University and studying something very intelligent. He plays a bit of piano now, but nothing like that.
Do you have any messages for people reading this who might want to check this out and/or messages for your fans?
Absolutely. I think anybody who hasn’t heard my music – just keep an open mind. Please don’t judge it until you’ve listened to the music and given it a shot. Cuz one thing I do find is people like to already assume what music you make before they’ve even heard it – just by looking at the cover kind of thing. Yeah, and just enjoy it. And keep spreading the word. I’m doing my absolute best to get out there and to gig everywhere. There’s a lot of different places where fans are and it’s impossible to get to every place. But believe me – I’m trying! I’m absolutely trying. If I could, I would. We’re planning a promo tour right now on the radio, which is going to span the whole of the US. I’m going to be physically going to all of these radio stations and bringing a few fans to each one and doing a radio interview. I’m really trying to get out there and just ask everyone to be patient – go buy the album and wait till I come to your city…
(Interview and Live pix by Kenneth Morton)