Analogue Music | Joe Pug

Joe Pug

By Matt Conner

The Diving Sun isn't what you think it is.

On the surface, the latest album from singer-songwriter Joe Pug is a collection of b-sides, since most of the songs on it were culled from previous recording sessions over the course of his 15-year career. It makes sense in that way, especially since Pug's got plenty of material to work with for such a release.

However, The Diving Sun became much more than a career-spanning compilation in the process of putting it together. Older songs were completely reworked. A new song was written. As the project began to take shape during the pandemic, a narrative emerged around which Pug could get excited. At some point, it became a work of art all its own.

On the verge of the new album release, we sat down with Pug to learn how he's been spending his downtime during the pandemic and what he's learned putting together The Diving Sun.

Analogue: A b-sides release feels like a project borne of a pandemic. Is that the case here or have you had the idea for The Diving Sun for some time?

Joe Pug: I’m 10 or 15 years in now, so I’d been planning in general for a b-sides album to come out. Once coronavirus hit, it seemed like the right time to do it.

What ended up happening is that once I collected all the audio stems from the different producers I’d worked with over the years, I started tinkering with things and started doing serious remixes where I’d get rid of everything except for the vocal and put in completely new instruments. Then it got to the point, once I’d done that, where I was like, ‘There’s kind of a narrative to this thing, so maybe I need to write a few songs to flesh them out.’

So even though some of the songs were done in different sessions over the years, I think it comes off as a cohesive work of art rather than just a collection of ‘Hey, here are my best songs that I haven’t released.’ I don’t think that’s what it is at all.

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Analogue: What was the narrative you began to see emerge?

Joe: I think it’s definitely an album about courtship to a certain degree. It’s an album about love and specifically two beloveds coming together. It’s how that works—how that isn’t always like a straight road, how there is unexpected time spent apart and how there are unexpected reunions. I think that’s what the narrative is.

Analogue: Typically b-sides don’t make it onto some original project for one reason or another. Were these songs that weren’t ready in the past? How did that work?

Joe: There are plenty of songs I’ve recorded over the years that I didn’t believe in as songs. There might be more of those than there are songs that actually get released, so there are a ton of those.

These are songs almost uniformly that didn’t make it onto records because of narrative concerns or sometimes you’re putting together a record with a lot of people on your team—maybe there’s a label involved—and the song doesn’t get on there for political reasons. I don’t mean national politics, but like any other job, there are internal politics going on.

A pretty common theme was also about arrangement concerns. Maybe the narrative didn’t fit and I wasn’t 100 percent on the musical arrangement, so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll bank that for another time where it fits and I can get the music to sound like it should a bit more.’

I’m not trying to say I don’t have misses, because I have more misses than hits just like any other artist, but these songs don’t fall into that category.

Analogue: Is there any song here that you were sad about not being able to release until now?

Joe: “Ten Miles of Mercy,” which is the last song on the album, in lots of ways could have been on the album Windfall, where it was recorded. I think it actually would have worked narrative-wise, but that was one I had to go back and entirely rework in the mix. Beside some Mellotron stuff that Pat Sansone laid down for it originally, I basically got rid of everything and added new piano. It’s a totally different song than the original recording.

Analogue: Is that the moment you’re most proud of on this?

Joe: My favorite song on this would either be the single we just released called “Crescent Bridge,” which I wrote and recorded for this, or the song “Wild Kind of Longing,” which is the second song and likely the most untouched b-side. I gave it a slight remix but that song just didn’t make the last album solely because of narrative purposes. So I’ve been chomping at the bit to release that ever since the last album was sequenced without it.

Analogue: You’ve used the word ‘narrative’ several times. Does that reference a storyline or theme at work

Joe: I think narrative can give the sense of what used to be called concept records. I don’t think it’s that explicit. Maybe you wouldn’t necessarily have to use the word “narrative” for what I’m talking about. It could be just “tone” or “subject matter,” but certainly some sort of artistic constant that holds the body of work together as a single piece of art rather than, ‘Here are the best songs I wrote over the last 18 months.’

Analogue: You can’t divorce this from the context we’re all in. You’re known for a great live show. Has this been tough to remain at home?

Joe: Well, I was able to make the transition pretty quickly to a weekly livestream. That has been really invigorating for me because it’s a new medium to work in, a new way to connect with people, and I’ve really enjoyed that a lot.

It’s kept me financially solvent, which is an important thing obviously, but it goes beyond that. It’s a new medium and I’m inspired to work in that medium. Years after coronavirus is done, I’m going to take lessons from this forward to work in the digital livestream space because I think it’s important.

So I miss playing live, but at the same time, I would have never jumped feet first into this new medium without a push. If there is a silver lining to coronavirus for me as a musician specifically, it’s been starting to work in a new medium that I would not have otherwise.

Analogue: How does that compare with the live connection?

Joe: I never made it to theaters or big, giant performance spaces. I’m the guy playing in clubs to a couple hundred people. So I’m always at the merch table every night seeing who wanted to come by and say hello and talk about the show or the songs. The livestreams are a weird combination of the live show and being at the merch table at the same time. I’m playing songs but in between, I’m taking questions and comments and watching people talk to each other in the chat. It’s a weird hybrid of those two things.

VISIT: Joe Pug