Joe Pug at Underbelly

by Faith Bennett
Chicago’s Joe Pug may have only begun performing his deeply emotional folk music in 2007, but the resulting work suggests years of musical and life experience. Luckily for Jacksonville, Underbelly is among the stops during Pug’s first time touring in Florida.
For those who lament the aging of songwriters like Bob Dylan and worry that honest and talented singer songwriters are a dying breed, Pug is a great source of hope. The former carpenter may merely be in his twenties but his songs show wisdom beyond his years. Musically, he appeals to fans or Ryan Adams or Phosporescent, though his deeper drawl sets him apart vocally. He says he tends to work with the themes of “family and adulthood,” as well as “coming to know oneself.” Songs like “I Do My Father’s Drugs” are particularly exemplary of this. When it comes to writing he leans substantially toward Americana, country and post-gospel aesthetics. In songs like “Hymn 101” Pug subtly references God in a way Leonard Cohen or David Bazan might, though he doesn’t make any definitive statements on the matter. Pug says “I’m not a religious person but I think it would be hard to be a writer in the western world and avoid references to the bible, its so pervasive to our language.” The sense of Americana in his songwriting is partially due to the novelists that he draws the most inspiration from. “A lot of American novelists I really revere, such as Steinbeck and Hemingway. Also John Dos Pasos, Cormac McCarthy, the list could go on and on.”
Pug’s work is readily available for streaming on Spotify, like most artists, but he has also long been offering free physical copies of his Eps through his website. “I think if you really believe in what you’re doing, I just trust if people hear the music at least once, that there’s a good chance they’ll really like it and maybe they’ll buy a t-shirt or come to a show or whatever. So I think if you believe in what you’re doing, you just put it out there and worry about making money later,” He states describing the strategy which has clearly worked for him. He also remarks, “I’ve gotta tell ya. Playing music for a living, its a pretty charmed life, There’s obvious setbacks and difficulties like there is in any other line of work but you know I’ve had other jobs and this is by far the most rewarding and easy job that I’ve had for sure.”
For Joe Pug songwriting was less of a conscious career choice and more of a necessary route to take. “You know, ever since I was a kid I always felt compelled to write. That’s all. I just had to do it. Its like brushing your teeth, you have to do that every day too. So I don’t need a lot of outside motivation. I’d still be doing this if I was working my day job building houses. I’d still be doing the same thing.” The feeling of being “compelled” is no doubt a reason behind the brazen honesty that’s always present in his lyrics. Songs like “Not So Sure,” are as much confessions as they are an attempts at trying to map out his own feelings. The singer says this of his method of storytelling, “All of its really autobiographical but not about one particular situation, they’re more composites of several different situations or characters that I’ve known.”
Pug’s momentum has been steady since his beginnings and also in his latest work, The Great Despiser, only served as proof toward his growth. He says one of the nicest things about his career now is “the self discovery that comes along with it.” Whether or not he has himself entirely figured out yet, he is a work in progress that still surpasses more actualized artists out there. Joe Pug is not a musician to ignore at all and definitely one worth seeing live.