4-8 Minutes of Fame: Joe Yoga

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments
4-8 Minutes of Fame, wherein one of our local demi-celebrities allows other local folk to ask some questions. What kind of questions? Read on, MacDuff.
This week’s victim is Joe Yoga, who plays guitar in his solo project and his band Downward Dogs, and bass in Coach and Kill the Band.
Rebecca Florence
How long have you had that little notebook you write in/how many notebooks do you have?
A little spiral notebook usually lasts me around three months. I usually have a couple going; I try to keep them separate (one for lyric/poem ideas, day to day stuff, one bigger one for actually working out song structures, monologues, etc. one pocket sized one to jot down anything that comes to mind if I’m on the go. It’s probably no surprise to anyone who knows me when I say they all kind of bleed into each other as far as what actually goes into them, but I go through let’s say one every two months. I’ve got stacks of them going back to 1996. Most of them are archived but I try and keep the ones from the last three years or so out on my desk to make sure I don’t forget anything.
What’s your writing process when it comes to music? Lyrics or instrumental first?
I’d say 80% of the time it’s lyrics first, in the sense that I’ll think of a phrase or an idea for a song and then write the song. But it’s probably more accurate to say, at least for the last two/three years or so, that they develop independently. I always have scraps of musical ideas that I record and keep in a separate folder on my computer or mp3 player. Then I’ll go through these while looking at my notebooks and I’ll try and match them up together. Once in a while I’ll be playing something and the lyric comes to my head in the moment but that’s pretty rare.
What’s your first thought when you get on stage?
Is my fly open? Don’t rush. Breathe.
Are you f***ing kidding me?
I certainly am not.
Daniel Saftler
How did your vacation go?
Vacation is going fine so far (I’m in the middle of it as of this writing). I was feeling pretty burnt out at work so it’s nice to be able to sleep in and stay out late.
How has the music you’ve listened to recently influenced your writing?
The majority of music I’ve been listening to the past year and a half or so has been hip hop. I’m obsessed with the new school coming up – Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q, J. Cole, and so on. It’s definitely made me more conscious of lyrical phrasing, wordplay, and rhythm.
What does comedy and theater do for your development as a solo artist?
It helped me to rely less on my instincts and try to develop a rapport with the audience, to see what they want. Comedy especially. Theater is good because it lets you think of the long game, and less about the success and failure of any individual moment.
How much have you recorded yourself to this point?
I write faster than I record these days. But I would say I have a workable demo of about 60-70% of my songs. Finished, polished recordings? Probably 30%.
Is everything an illusion?
Depends on what you mean by “everything” and “illusion” but I’m inclined to say no.
Is most of your music personal in nature? Or fictional though evocative of your life experiences?
If my life is the book The Shining, my songs are like the Kubrick film version. A re-imagining – a re-interpretation. But my intentions and process are always evolving. The current project I’m working on is a 20-song cycle with a more or less coherent narrative, which is giving me plenty of space to work with writing in character, which is something I never really tried to do to any significant extent.
Ben Krieger
You seem to have been part of the Monday scene on and off for years, and then some time in the past year you assimilated with the AntiFolk hive. From your perspective, how did that come about?
There’s a long answer and a short answer here and the long one is probably unpublishable so I’ll go with what’s less narcissistic and, I think, closer to the ultimate truth of the matter. I think it’s a chicken and the egg thing – did I start having more satisfying and honest experiences on stage and start cultivating deeper and more rewarding friendships off stage because I put in more effort? Or did I start putting in more effort because I started having more positive experiences? The Sidewalk Open Mic intimidated and frustrated me for a long time and at some point, it must have been last summer, it just kind of clicked. For whatever reason, I finally “got it.” To whatever extent I’ve assimilated with the hive is a direct result of the friends I’ve made there. People letting me in to their lives and their art and having patience with me while I struggle to do the same is why I am drawn to any stage/community.
Unlike some artists with a trademark sound, you seem to jump around a bit between various projects. What in your approach would you say ties your various guises together?
Fear of a trademark sound, maybe? This is a great question, and one I don’t really know how to answer. This is one of those “artistic statement” questions. Through my art I’m always trying to reach out to people, to communicate, to relate. Kurt Vonnegut has a great quote, where one of his writing students asked “Why bother? Why make art at all?” and his answer was “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”  One of the things I’ve learned in my performance career is that it’s important to keep challenging yourself and your audience. You can’t do that by doing the same thing every time you set out to produce a piece of art. And you can’t do that by locking yourself in a room and writing and writing until you produce the perfect song/poem/whatever. You have to be social, you have to sort of give yourself over to the collective unconscious in a sense if you want to be able to interpret it in a way that’s meaningful to people. By participating in several projects, each with their own vision, it gives you an opportunity to do something new, to see art from a different perspective. And you put each of those perspectives, and everything you learn from them, in your toolbox so you can use them to communicate. So the answer to this question is probably “The belief that a big toolbox with lots of different tools will enable me to most effectively communicate to people that they are not alone.”
Why did you initially pick up the bass guitar?
I heard Alice Cooper’s Love it to Death and knew I had to be a rock and roll musician. I didn’t know how – but I knew it was my path. I fell in love with Dennis Dunnaway’s playing on that album – really, all of those early Alice Cooper band albums – the melodic approach, tone, the way he would poke out of the music when there was room, all of that became the blueprint for me. But I still thought I would be a guitar player. But when I was 15 I started working in the stockroom of the local Waldbaum’s and one of the guys there was selling his bass. I bought it – a cherry red Applause bass with a hard shell case – for $100. Then it all really fell into place for me.
James Bannon
Where do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I draw my inspiration from artists – both those I know and those I don’t – who are constantly taking risks, constantly challenging themselves to be better, constantly unsatisfied with one fully realized vision; artists who push boundaries, both with the audience and with themselves. Why? Because stagnation is death, and as the only constant in the universe is change, everything changes, people change, circumstances change, what people need out of art changes, so why wouldn’t you try to really be tapped into that and adapt? Some artists can go back to the well over and over again and while there’s a certain charm in dependability and consistency, that’s not what drives me to sit down and write a new song. What drives me to sit down and write a new song is the nagging feeling that somehow, now, the current sum total of songs in the world is now insufficient to explain what’s actually going on (because my perspective has changed somewhat – because I got dumped, or fell in love, or read this great book, etc) so I must sit down and communicate this new experience to the world. It’s likely that someone else experienced something like this too – maybe I can produce a piece of art that makes the world (this new world, born out of the new experience) more tolerable, less frightening, less confusing, clearer.
What do think when you hear these words:
- Puma 
I think of old Puma sneakers.
- Jungle
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle”
- Orca
Vegetable or whale?
- Submarine
This picture I saw on the internet of an old rusty submarine that washed up on shore somewhere in Russia.
- Marijuana
Yes please.
What’s the best thing about AntiFolk, in your opinion? The worst?
I don’t feel right answering this question, because any answer I give is going to be far more representative of my own prejudices than it is going to be about anything about Antifolk itself. We are Antifolk, right? So to paraphrase the mighty Mos Def, Antifolk is going where we’re going. Antifolk is doing how we’re doing. So the next time you ask yourself what’s the best and worst thing about Antifolk, ask yourself, “What’s the best and worst thing about me?”
I’m a newbie to the AntiFolk scene: What advice do you have?
Your time on stage, while probably the most immediately satisfying part of the night, is also the least important, in the big picture. Talk to the other artists. Listen. Make friends.
Tell us an AntiFolk joke!
“If you can’t take a joke, don’t have children” – John Murdock

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