An interview with Joe Volume

1) Hey Joe, what’s up? What’s new in your world?

Hey, that feels like an odd question at the time cuz honestly everything has changed, and I’m afraid that lots of aspects of my life have taken a turn for the worse. First up I got attacked in my apartment, which opened up a court case trial. I had a pending arrest and subsequent trial I had to get done with. Which really wasn’t a big problem except for the hefty fines I’d to pay to the fine Metropolitan Courthouse and the Los Angeles Police Department. Short after that my kidney collapsed and I had to swear off a lot of things, not booze of course. You know what’s funny? Doc told me I had more damage from eating all the hormone-grown greasy bullshit than actual alcohol damage. So there you go. Then I got thrown into a State Psych-Ward because of another incident, completely unrelated, they actually ended up kind of apologizing for the whole ordeal, but still.

It was an interesting experience, might as well take it that way. I wrote the last batch of songs in the Recreation room, in an out of tune piano. I know it sounds too romantic for its own good, but yeah, I wrote a little number called ‘Sweetheart of the Psych-Ward’, you know, because of The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That seemed to crack everyone up. And I was lucky and crazy enough not to end up in jail. They just saw I had bipolar disorder and for the first time in my life that helped me, so they threw me in with the crazies instead of the criminals.

That week my grandma died and my dad had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, so I let the outside get to me in the inside and I was going ,well yeah, fuckin’ crazy. I feel I should have my lawyer on speed-dial sometimes. Even tough he only helps in certain things. I do most on my own. Both of my parents were lawyers so I can call and ask, you know? And money wise this pretty much has kept my career on the down-low.

Also the LA scene is really cool but filled with cliques and this is Hollywood, after all. So the mindset is very money oriented. So I’m still at a loss on how to make that work. An actual album release. I come from a very self-sustained scene where sponsors and famous friends were welcomed, but not particularly required, sometimes even disdained. But at the same time that’s me being grumpy ol’ me. Truth is: I love LA and I have excellent people around me. Maybe not a lot of friends, but that because I’m an arrogant dick, believe me I know. But definitely like-minded people who guide me through the fog of it all. And I’m proud I’ve been able to make some albums, in spite of it all. Even if they’re still unreleased. It’s been a painful, slow process. A little dance with death, if you will.

2) Any news on the new album? Pretty stoked about it.

Well, there are three albums right now. And that’s why I’m proud, you see? Even with all of this dragging through the mud, I’ve been able to get up, dust out and keep on going. The Joe Volume album is finished, just a couple more details. It’s called The Sullen Years for obvious reasons. I gave a rough-master copy to some guys from Vice magazine, who’ve always have been kind to us, both in Mexico and here. They wrote back the next day and they were really into it, they said it sounded like Springsteen on crack and that was good enough for me. The album wasn’t even mixed at that point. Also I ditched having a band and played everything myself. The last time I did that was for the I heart broken hearts record, so I’m happy, for good or worse that’s me on everything. It’s certainly an ego thing. I don’t care. We all need reassurance and this is how I find it. So fuck it. And I get to play the bass, which I love. Then there’s the live EP we will be recording on Live FM on KPFK, a big public radio station here in LA. They’ve helped us since forever and we will be playing completely new material because after two years, I’ve stacked up a lot of songs. Also theirs is a lovely studio to play, an historic staple in the heart of Hollywood, so it’s an honor. I have lots of love for public radio, sometimes I’ll listen to it. It feels like the voice of the doomed, in a good way, because right there you have an outlet for expression. For the doomed, the broken.

The third album is one that Daniel Goldaracena and I have been working for literally years now. El Desdichado. I think the first sessions are from 2010. But he lived in Mexico City, now he’s living in Amsterdam and it’s not like we Skype or anything. It’s a trial and error kind of thing. But I blindly trust Daniel. I usually resent having too much opinion from my producer, but with Daniel it’s like “Paint it green“. I’ll go ahead and try to do my best to paint it green. It’s a beautifully crafted record. And they have a lot in common. Well, one is not even recorded yet but you know what I mean. I wrote them at the height of my alcoholism, wrote them in recovery at the hospital, on tour with Los  Shadows, at the psych-ward, on napkins in Hollywood dive-bars, pretty much took them anywhere I went basically.  So they got crumbled and dusty. I remember waking up one day at Union Station with no wallet, no ID, no money, just a receipt with the words for a number I later wrote called ‘Misbehaved’. And that’s the first single, actually. They’re covered in blood I guess. So I’m confident with them. They’re honest.

3) Any particular influences for this batch of songs?

Revenge. Redemption. My musical influences we’re there. Dylan, Cave, Waits, British 77 punk, dark blues. But honestly I was writing out of spite. A lot of people in Mexico, specially a couple of former band-mates were talking shit. Saying I was a drug addict and an alcoholic and I couldn’t write another tune. So my main motivation was not musical and it was fairly aggressive. A “You’ll see motherfuckers, I’ll make you eat your fucking words” kind of approach. That’s why I ditched the band. I had to prove it to myself, and once I let that beast out I just kept on recording. Specially in The Sullen Years since I got kicked out of the band I created, so I wrote a lot about that experience. It was real tough. Them carrying on, playing my songs while saying shit like that. While I was drinking and blacking-out everyday they just turned their backs and took away my songs. Luckily I wrote some more, wrote about them. On the other side that probably worsened my booze intake. Right now I’m only in speaking terms with Daniel Barquet. He’s such a nice guy. I gave him a good turntable and some records when he left because he was the only polite and honestly caring guy with me. I stayed with this little 15 watt-porta-turntable, which I am happily listening right now. And there’s a song for him in the album too. Or maybe about him. He gets to choose.

4) Regarding the greatest hits album, when is the release date?

I dunno, hopefully soon. The guys over at the label and I, we just realized we were doing it too quickly and kinda did a half-effort. Just throwing songs around or putting the hits. Honestly, we thought the curation was sloppy. We went for the hits and we should listen to the fans. There’s a new master and it’s ready to go, so like I said, hopefully soon. Hopefully the guys from Sick City listen to this haha. Nah, honestly they’re great people and they have helped a lot. They are just nice people and they deserve to be mega. They really work hard and take care of the bands, which is what you want from (a label) to start with. And I’ve met some really cool bands through them, Ramblin’ Eddie and Electric Children. The guys from DR Records, The Pocket Rockets, MecaChief, they have their own label based on East LA that makes the best tape compilations, we listen to them while we drive around. It’s just like-minded people, you know? We’ve talked loosely about doing something together cuz they have their own studio. I admire that sort of, vision and, yeah ambition, why not? Hopefully it will happen soon.

5) What’s the status regarding any Mexican shows? Do you think there’s a chance you’ll take a trip back?

Yeah, it’s my country and I love it. I miss it so. Sometimes people will try to give me shit saying I only like to criticize the Mexican Rock Scene and they totally and tragically miss the point that I’m being critical because I actually do care, too much. Fact is: I’ve made some enemies in high places, big places. Like I remember throwing my shoes at the organizer of Vive Latino Festival, drunk as fuck. That guy alone can make my life a living hell. Then adding fuel to the fire is the fact that a lot of the corrupt people in the industry I refused to befriend, as corrupt people that they are, we’re starting to take jobs for the government, the most immediate example was Mafer Olvera, who used to own Madame Records, the label I was signed with. After the Vive Latino debacle she kicked me out and actually hired someone to ghost-write a memo saying to everyone they will face problems if they hire me, and that I smoked crack. Can you believe it? A line here and there, but no crack for me. Anyways, Mafer Olvera is now the Director and Chief of the National Institute for Youth, INJUVE in Spanish. Oh and I think she also owns a newspaper, so there you go. She can actually send cops and stop a show. And she’ll do it, fuckin’ psycho lady. So there’s definitely that element of exile in my existence in Los Angeles. And it’s true: lots of places are still afraid to hire us. Our shows were nasty, bloody. We had to stop the songs at every fucking show because someone was getting beaten up. We destroyed those stages. So it’s a weird mixture of fear of external repercussion and fear of what might actually will take place onstage. And Rock is making money in Mexico. They don’t need me heckling the crowd if they don’t dance. And the guys from, once again, Vice said we were the third best act only behind The Chemical Brothers and some other dudes. We fuckin’ swept that fuckin’ festival [Vive Latino].

There has to be an element of weirdness, of wonder, violence, fear, the good kind of fear. It has to be loud. And we were fighting with all of that. They didn’t even let us play at the fuckin’ volume we wanted and this is Joe Volume? Fuck No. Also If I play in Mexico, I would love to do a big tour and go and meet the kids. Let them experience this live, but the country is very moralistic. We probably couldn’t get away with half of what we did on last year’s US tour. So it’s conflicting. My only hope is more people listens to the music so I can sneak my way back in. Or someone actually believing in the nature of the shows, cuz that’s what they are. I don’t come home and be like: “hey honey – smash a fuckin’ beer bottle on my head!” That doesn’t happen.

6) You’ve posted a few quotes and images from Hunter S. Thompson. In light of his “would be” birthday, how did his writing influence your musical writing? For that matter, any other literary influences you have?

I could talk for days about literary influences, and new ones too, which is real refreshing. You know, I’ve been forced to spent so much agonizing time by myself that it’s hard for me not leave home without a book on my briefcase or even with me. Also I met a girl that graduated from UCLA and sold me this case with 300 and something books, I had to open a storage for that damn thing, so I just go and take a couple of books out. Like an anything-goes library if you will. I’m reading a book on Chinese etiquette and it’s real interesting. The exchanges, stuff like that. And you know, to talk Hunter is to talk about a hero. Not because he did a lot of drugs or shot guns or whatever. That’s a spice to his character. His writing is just genius and timeless. Specially in this era of swine. Of real hell on earth. That makes him a hero. I was talking to my mom the other day about him and I told her I believed he was extraordinary because he had the guts to live his life the way he wanted and she responded “Well, then all of those beach bums are heroes?” and I guess some of them are.

7) I remember there was a film documentary about you from the people from You Make Me Sick, I Make Films. Any updates on this?

Yeah, we’re still filming and they’re still working it. Our job, being in different countries is to document life and they edit what works and what doesn’t. And I’t’s funny cuz I’m only guessing here. We (director Emmanuel Rivera and I) made a deal almost three years ago that I wouldn’t interfere with the documentary. And after three years of a very healthy work relationship he’s become my friend and confidant in a way. He’s the only person in Mexico who has listened to the single from The Sullen Years. But after three years I feel I’ve exposed so much of my life to him and his crew that it was sort of inevitable. Because I fully trust him. From day one, I wouldn’t be still committed to this as I am If I wouldn’t trust everyone involved in the project. And it should be hard, recounting all those years. We were never a band that was featured much in the media, very few people recorded us live, specially at the beginning, the shadow years, there’s not a lot, not even on youtube. A lot of it are just stories, word of mouth. So ultimately I am as intrigued as anyone. But intrigued is the right word. I’m not worried. But yeah, I have not seen one shot! Honest.

8) Let’s say a 16 year old asks you at a music shop what classic album she or he should listen to before picking up a guitar. Which album (or albums) do you suggest this hypothetical kid to check before grabbin’ a six string?

Well, first off: Don’t buy anything and go through your parents’ record collection, your parents were cool once. Or at least tried to and this makes for often hilarious discoveries in a house you thought you knew, or awesome ones, I still have my Dad’s copy of The Man with The Golden Arm. But If I would had to recommend an album, lets say working as a clerk or something. I would give them any of the first 3 Velvet Underground albums. It’s all right there. Everything. No questions asked.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

Joe Volume BandcampTwitter. SoundcloudFacebook.

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