Joel Baker, if you didn’t already know, is an artist that we love, LOVE here at Bitter Sweet Symphonies. With songs that are both intimately heartfelt and deeply personal, uplifting and introspective, melodious and elegant pop songs. It’s hard not to fall deeply into Joel’s world.
He has a voice that is distinctively unique, in that he has the power to instil the listener with great joy and great pain at the same time. It’s that wonderful contradiction that Joel has nailed to a T. The power of a person pouring their heart out through song has never been so intoxicating.
I caught up with Joel after he played to a very excited Manchester audience on Tuesday night. We talked about his recent songwriting trips to Berlin and LA, his new song, his musical upbringing and much more.
Charlotte, Bitter Sweet Symphonies: You recently played a huge hometown show in Nottingham with a 14 piece orchestra, what a moment that must have been. Do you plan on exploring the grander scale of playing live more?
Joel Baker: “Yes definitely. We had the best time doing that gig. It suited the songs with a bigger band on stage so we had loads of strings and stuff like that and the sound was really big. So yeah we had a great time.”
You mentioned to me before that you would like to do more intimate stripped back shows like the secret gig you did earlier in the year in London. Is this something you’re going to pursue?
“100%. I really don’t get many opportunities to actually do really, really intimate acoustic gigs and actually that’s almost how I kind of came up because I was into small rooms, and playing to not many people so it was great. And I miss that side of it a little bit.
Sometimes when you play big stages it’s hard to get really intimate with the crowd. Yeah we’re still learning how to do that. But no, 100% that is what I’m all about that sort of communication and connection with an audience so 100% gonna do that in the future.”
Well I think you should do something with Sofar Sounds that would be perfect.
“I should, I should. You’re right, I should.”
You recently spent some time in LA. The question is did you bump into any celebrities while you there?
“I saw Chris Brown. But I was in a car and he was on the street. He’s probably the coolest person I saw.”
I know you were working on new songs while you were out there, who did you work with on the songs? What came out of the trip?
“Well my favourite song that I came out with is a song called ‘In Between’ and I wrote it with a guy called Matt Hales. Matt Hales co-wrote and produced all of Lianne La Havas’ album, so I was like ‘I definitely want to work with him, really excited about that session’. We ended up writing a really cool song together, I love that, I love that song.
I did a song with Alex Da Kidd, big hit writer. That was cool. A bunch of other people, in fact you know who I wrote with? I wrote with Jamie Hartman, the guy that wrote James Bay’s songs with him. He wrote ‘Move Together’ [Joel bursts into his rendition of the song here; sorry you just had to have been there]. So it was really good writing with him as well.”
Did you find that being in a different environment, a different country sparked new inspirations?
“Oh always. Always. Always. Always. It brings out something new in you. In fact it was a little bit harder writing in LA because I didn’t have much feelings in my heart, there wasn’t really anyone I fancied at the time and I kind of got over a heartbreak as well.
So I was in a bit of a weird position that’s why I wrote a good song with Matt Hales called ‘In Between’ about that stage of life when you’re not really anywhere, you’re in between things. So that was a bit hard, but about two months before I went to Berlin with my friend Joe and producer and stuff.”
That’s where you wrote the new song?
“Yeah that’s where I wrote the new song and that was just like a hot bed of inspiration and everything because it was ahh! I think a lot of it is being with your friends as well, so being abroad is cool, new experiences, new everything. Then if you’re with your friends as well you can really make the most of it.”
Your brother makes music also. So I guess you come from quite a musical family? Have your parents always encouraged you to pursue your dreams – to pursue your love for music?
“Well my mum hates music. She hates all forms of music, she does not like it at all but my dad really does like music. My dad brought me up on Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and stuff like that, so really good music. So from a young age, I had good influences but I sort of took it and just ran.
My dad comes from a more piano background and I started learning the guitar, so we went different ways. My dad’s really into Jazz and stuff like that but yeah we were encouraged. I had a few piano lessons but not overly pushed. I just love music.”
What has being a professional musician taught you about yourself?
“I’m very soppy, very sensitive. I think a lot, I really like to reflect. I like to sit in a mood for a while and look back and think about stuff and dwell on stuff. I really actually enjoy doing that, so it’s good for songwriting but it sort of teaches you as well. I write with a lot of songwriters that are all about looking forward and [are] quite positive about everything. I can dwell into myself a little bit more, but I really enjoy doing it.”
What are your top tips for aspiring musicians and singer/songwriters?
“Be warned it’s a long road, it’s a long hustle. What I would say to all aspiring musicians is how much do you love it? If you love it, you’ll be cool. If you sort of ‘Yeah it’s alright some days and not alright some of the time’ you’re gonna struggle because it’s really hard.
But if you love it…there’s nothing that I’d rather do than play guitar, sing, write songs, make music, travel with my friends. There’s nothing I would rather do but if I didn’t really love that stuff, it would be a really, really hard job. But I’d say work on your craft as well.
Don’t watch other people. Don’t always listen to Radio 1 and say ‘Oh what are they doing? Maybe I’ll do the same’. Just be yourself. If you grew up loving Jeff Buckley, or loving Pink Floyd then just be YOU. Don’t listen to too many opinions because the whole industry is just opinions anyway. That’s what I would say.”
For many writers, songwriting is a way to express themselves. Their thoughts, feelings, beliefs. What is it for you?
“I think it’s just about expressing life through the framework of my beliefs and stuff like that. I’ve got a certain set of beliefs and a certain faith in stuff and it’s about expressing life through my eyes and through my experiences.
I go through a lot of the same things that everybody else does, disappointments and heartbreaks, falling in love and stuff like that but it’s just about taking those very normal things and putting my sort of flavour on it. I think everybody has their own little film that goes on inside their head and it’s not a certain grain, a certain tint, certain characters. It’s just about explaining that film to other people.”
So you dropped your new song today [7th October 2014] ‘Hot Air Balloon (All I Want Is You)’ so it’s going to be a free download tomorrow.
“Yes it is, I’m going to put it up for free download tomorrow. It was just the case of we didn’t feel quite ready to drop anything quite massive or anything like that. I’ve been working on this song, wrote it in Berlin a couple of months ago and I just really liked it.
Recorded this nice little demo of it, so I thought let’s just put it out, don’t always go for the long process of putting it out on iTunes because iTunes get all the money anyway. Let’s just put it out and give it for free download. So we premiered it on Clash Magazine today and they’ve got it for 24 hours after that we’re just going to give it to people.”
A little quick-fire round inspired by your song ‘Out of the Two’. So, out of the two…
Nottingham OR London? (I’m sorry about that)
“Oh this is amazing! Oh my days! Okay.
Acoustic guitar OR Electric guitar?
“Electric guitar – that’s my first love.”
Sunset OR Sunrise?
“That’s really hard. Sunrise you know, even though I never see it, I never ever see it. But sunrise, definitely.”
Rudimental OR Clean Bandit?
“Out of the two – Clean Bandit because they’ve got my favourite song. ‘Rather Be’ I think is an incredible song.”
I thought it would be too harsh for me to ask you Kendrick Lemar or Ben Howard?
“Haha oooh, yeah that would be hard but I would say Ben Howard though.”
MP3 OR Vinyl?
“MP3 just because it’s quicker”