JOE PEACOCK: The Man Behind The Music
JOE PEACOCK’S ‘Before The Robots Told Us Where To Go’ album is now available via Bandcamp. It’s a deeply personal piece of work, fuelled by injustice, but at the same time offering hope of better tomorrows.
Joe has been busy online promoting his latest album and has spoken of music being an escape for him. But if the contents of ‘Robots’ are anything to go by its far more than that, it is a vehicle that offers a voice to those who would otherwise remain silent.
So, let’s meet the man behind the music.
“This is the second album I’ve put out this year,” he said. “I started writing songs in huge numbers last year. I was furloughed and was doing the educating kids at home thing and just had to find an escape, to have another space to go to mentally and other things to occupy my mind. I would have gone totally stir crazy otherwise.
“That escape was finding all these stories about people whose lives I found fascinating and then taking them on musical journeys. I put 11 songs out on the first album. It was all done myself and the production was very amateurish. I held some songs back which I thought I could work on a bit more and so they make up about half of the album, plus I’ve continued writing new songs throughout this year and exploring different themes.
“The idea behind this album is really about learning from mistakes from the past. The ‘Robots’ thing is a bit tongue in cheek. I’m not suggesting we should all follow our AI masters, but we do have so much more knowledge now, and it’s so easy to look up information, that some mistakes should certainly be easier to avoid, so long as we’re not talking about matters of the heart.”
But a lingering sense of unhappiness with certain aspects of the albums production resulted in Joe enlisting the assistance of producer, Joe Adhemar.
“I feel really lucky Joe Adhemar noticed my song writing and thought there was something there that needed help to be realised. He approached me about doing some production on my songs and I was delighted to get some assistance. Once he’d done the first couple, I was totally sold on the idea and asked him to produce the album.
“How the process works is that I send him what he calls a demo, but for me is the best I can do at recording everything at home, and he then either pulls it apart a bit and redoes things, or he really likes it and just tweaks the mix and the sounds of the instruments.
“So, for example ‘Is Not Everything Morbid?’ was changed massively from how it originally sounded, whereas some of the punkier songs didn’t change that much at all. It’s just good to have another pair of ears on everything and someone who will challenge me to make everything as good as it can be.”
And singer-songwriter and producer Joe Adhemar added, “Joe started out as a drummer, so his song structures are full of clever little extra bars and stops that is the sort of musicality that is lacking in a lot of song writing these days.”
“He places the lyric at the front of the song, which as a producer is often hard to work around because I’m trying to keep the hooks and the phrases sympathetic to them. This on occasions caused a real tug of war between us.
“He re-wrote about three choruses or verses at my request because I thought they diminished the song and to give praise to him, he always took these criticisms well and delivered.
“To summarise, Joe is one of the kindest hearts I know. His musical output is only hampered by his technological befuddlement and if he can really get to grips with its complexity as a home recording musician, he will always create songs that will challenge and inspire his listeners.”
A heady mix of Phil Spector, Blur, feverish punk anthems, and others, it is on ‘Lightning Telegram,’ a song about the poetry of imprisoned revolutionary Vladimir Mayakovsky, we are able to witness Joe Peacock at his stripped back, emotive best.
“There are a few songs about tragic poets on the album, all of whom had very unhappy endings to their lives. The whole ‘tortured artist who dies early’ thing used to fascinate me to a rather unhealthy degree, and I used to think I might go the same way, but luckily I stabilised and stopped having those kinds of thoughts a long time ago. I still find the art of people who have very dark thoughts inspiring though. I think you can do that without going to extremely dark places yourself.”
Clearly unafraid of wearing his political heart on his sleeve, Joe challenges the listener on ‘I Never Thought’ a song dealing with bullying, a song of morality, a song of integrity a song which deserves our attention.
“The track ‘I Never Thought’ is as much me beating myself up about not standing up to bullies, as it is a protest song,” he added. “When I’m not doing music, I work for a charity that supports adults with Learning Disabilities, to stand up for their rights and get their voices heard.
“The lines, ‘Don’t laugh along with racists, sexist pigs, homophobic arseholes and don’t use ableist slurs,’ are as much a mantra for me as an instruction for others. I do get into trouble by challenging such things now and I make people uncomfortable, but I’m not going to stop doing it.
“I was brought up protesting. My mum took me on marches around nuclear bases with CND from an early age and I’ve never stopped. Even when I was living in Russia and playing with a band there I wrote a song about Putin, which in hindsight was probably not the cleverest idea, but luckily we didn’t have a big audience so I was never locked up like Pussy Riot!”
In the absence of any latter day, worthwhile protest singer, could this be a mantle Peacock may one day come to accept?
“I think I would quite like the idea of being a troubadour, more than purely writing protest songs and campaigning through my music. That can probably get a bit one dimensional if you do too much of it. I will always fight for the things I believe in and try not to be too hypocritical, but nobody’s perfect, are they?
“Overall, there have been lots of awful protest songs and very few that I think are good. It’s very easy to be crass and come across as a bit of a knob when trying to sing slogans. If you’re not Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, it’s pretty hard, but my take on it is to try to relate things to the personal.
“I love a bit of Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello, both of whom are incredibly clever in the way they weave stories into political songs, but nobody wants to be Bono preaching about poverty while dodging taxes and living this cosseted rock star lifestyle. That’s such a bad look, isn’t it?
“I want to provide a way of promoting certain issues without ramming slogans down people’s throats, although I am very tempted to do something using the ‘keep the oil in the soil, keep the coal in the hole’ slogan, as I just think that works so well.”
“Whatever power I have as a songwriter will be determined by how many people like the songs. At the moment, I haven’t reached enough people with my music to really feel that it has that much power. I would obviously love to have a bigger audience and feel that people are changing their opinions because they’ve thought about the stories I’ve told, and it’s lit some sort of fire in them.
“I love the songs I’ve written and they’re really special to me, but I need those songs to connect with an audience that’s ready to hear things like that and be challenged to listen to some uncomfortable things.”
‘Before The Robots Told Us Where To Go’ now available via Joe’s Bandcamp site: