Joe Driscoll is the true definition of an artist; painting and spraying rhythm, sculpting words and weaving integrity into what is undoubtedly some of the most inspirational music of the 21st Century. His fresh one man band throw up of singing, rapping, beat boxing plus playing the guitar, harmonica and more with the aid of the ever nifty loop pedal; have all gained him worldwide respect and zeal.
Winner of last year’s INDY Music Award for Best Solo Act, Driscoll provides a long-awaited digestibly conscious flow, entwined with self crafted opinions and awareness. This is soul at its finest and most pure.
After being inspired by his music in a way my words cannot describe, I figured it was about time to track the man down and learn some more…
Where are you originally from and how much do you think the place you grew up in has influenced your music?
Joe Driscoll: I grew up in Syracuse, northern New York but my extended family is all from Staten Island so I spent much time in New York City while growing up. It has been a huge influence on my music, really what it is all rooted in. The neighbourhoods I grew up in were very economically, culturally, and social diverse which was the major theme of my school years. New York State is such a melting pot, that it has instilled in me a great curiosity and respect for studying other cultures.
When did you first start creating songs and trying to make it as an artist?
Joe Driscoll: I have been attempting to be a performer as far back as I can remember. I did musical theatre growing, played guitar and piano from the age of 10 or so. I began performing as a solo folk artist around the age of fourteen. I have been doing it full time since my early twenties.
What was the initial reception to your unique style like?
Joe Driscoll: My style has been steadily evolving, and so has the response. Early on, people were pretty confused, but as my style matured people came to understand more. The response I have received in the last few years has been amazing, I am just really excited to have people relate to it without having to force into any boxes.
Do you have an all time favourite album / albums?
Joe Driscoll: Far too many to even name. So many different moods require different music. If I had to name just a few from my formative years, The Beatles ‘White Album’, Bob Marley's ‘Rastaman Vibration’, De La Soul's ‘3 Feet High and Rising’, Arrested Development ‘3 Years, 5 months and 2 days’, Beastie Boys – All their albums, and loads of Ani Difranco- she was a huge inspiration on both the writer and live performance tip.
What do you class yourself as first? Singer? Musician? Rapper? Beat boxer?
Joe Driscoll: The words and the melodies, that's what I am most proud of, what my favourite part of it is. Being a songwriter is what I have always been amazed by, so that is the craft I am most concerned with.
Is it all more about who you are as opposed to what you do?
Joe Driscoll: Who you are as opposed to what you do? I definitely hope not. The part of the show that is my persona, I hope, will ultimately be a background. An artist as a person, like all people, is a very flawed being. There are so many artists who have expressed spiritual wisdom to me who's personal behaviour left me with many questions. In the end, it is the jewel of the music that I hope to impart, and my life to be distant in the background.
When you travel do you feel you pick up different things from all the places and people you encounter? Do you think it's important to leave your comfort zone in order to become secure in your identity and your music?
Joe Driscoll: Yes, definitely. What feeds me creatively is interacting with different cultures and landscapes. From early childhood I was always engaged by different cultures and each one's unique understanding of life and music. I think it's important to leave one's comfort zone, but that doesn't have to be geographical. Some of my friends who are amazing writers stay pretty stationary and have great results. I think on my path, leaving my home to travel was what helped my identity and music to blossom, but I think it's different for everybody.
What do you think are the biggest issues that need some direct action at the moment? Globally or locally?
Joe Driscoll: Well, apathy is the first for me, globally and locally. I see it in myself, in my friends, in the media, art, music. The new advances in media and technology have brought about a detachment from our world and our fellow human beings. It is a natural by-product of the rapid growth, but we seem to watch the problems of the world like a T.V. show. All our enemies are faceless global corporations, and we face this every day living in urban cities. We have yet to find an effective way to make the voice of common people heard on many issues, or to bring about change. The internet will be a huge deciding factor in the battlefield of the struggle.
Do you believe in revolution? Do you think we're ready for one?
Joe Driscoll: I do believe in revolution. I don't know if we are ready for one with all the apathy at work. I think the overthrowing of the current governmental powers would prove very difficult without a free press.
The media is the most key element in guiding the masses towards a common goal. The problem in the West is that we are pretty confident we live with a free press, when over 2/3 of media outlets are in the hands of 10 or 12 people who are all working together with common corporate interests. Until we figure out a true way to bring a unifying vision of revolution to the common people: through art, music, and writing – it is hard to say if we are ready for it. We don't yet know what it would look like, or even what type of shape it would be.
Hip hop gets a lot of slating for the disrespect many rappers seem to have towards women. Is this an issue that bothers you at all? Who do you think is to blame?
Joe Driscoll: It does take a lot of disrespect, and in the mainstream it deserves a lot of the bad press. Yes, it bothers me a lot. I think it's a case of lowest common denominator. People seem fascinated by thugs and gangsters, sexist men of violence. Indigo Girls have a line, 'The darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and the lightness has a call that's hard to hear'. We seem drawn to this persona of the violent angry pimp, and the big corporations are happy to make millions off of it. I think it's a shame, and we all (definitely myself included) take share in the blame for being drawn towards and tolerating this attitude.
How do you view the disposable 'fast food', quick and easy attitude the Western world, especially the youth seem to have? Do you feel that as an artist it's something you can't help getting caught up in?
Joe Driscoll: It bothers me much, and I don't believe it's something we can avoid getting caught up in. It permeates all of society, and I don't think any of us are immune to it. To the youth, I would just hope they spend some time appreciating silence and listening to one's own thoughts. In this world of constant stimulation, it is important to limit the amount of distractions you allow in your life. I highly recommend walks in the woods, being in touch with nature makes life much more of a learning journey.
Are you into spoken word poetry at all? Do you think it has a place in modern day hip hop?
Joe Driscoll: Most definitely, rap should be spoken poetry. I started doing slams when I was eighteen.The loss of lyrical content nowadays makes us forget that, but many masters of hip-hop I consider to be my favourite poets, MF Doom, De La Soul. Doing shows with artists like Polarbear, Saul Williams and Scroobius Pip have definitely illustrated to me the relevance of spoken word today.
What makes you smile every time you think of it?
Joe Driscoll: Music.
What makes you want to scream in anger and frustration every time you think of it?
Joe Driscoll: George Bush, Jr. & Sr.
What was the last thing you did that really terrified you?
Joe Driscoll: Falling in love I guess.
Your track 'Inspiration' talks about how the rhythm is something that came from within you from the start… what is it that really inspires you daily?
Joe Driscoll: D.I.Y. Getting up and doing something, making something out of nothing. I love art and creativity in all its forms. Putting pencil to paper, brush to canvas, turning a dream in to something tangible. This is what I focus on to stay inspired. Changing the way people feel about life and the world around them. Great literature, poems, paintings… I constantly surround myself with art, artists, and people who truly appreciate creativity. Travel inspires me quite a bit as well.
Who would you most like to inspire?
Joe Driscoll: Anyone, ya know. I hope it reaches people who need it, that it brings some spiritual sunshine to those who have been having cloudy days.
If you had to describe the music you make as a colour of the rainbow, which colour would you pick and why?
Joe Driscoll: I guess red, I always associate that with fire, and passion. I'm Aries, so fire is a big theme.
Are you more for finding the hottest spots and taking your work there? Or would you rather build up your own scene on your home turf?
Joe Driscoll: Yeah, I go where the love is for now. Yeah, I would definitely like to have the kind of success I've had in Europe back in America (outside of New York), but I guess I'll just keep grindin and see what comes.
Do you agree that age and experience always wins over youth and ambition?
Joe Driscoll: Definitely not. The only sure thing is that you never know! I have seen people succeed due to years and years of training and honing their craft, and I have seen many others just ride in on confidence and blind luck. I also have to say that sometimes the blind luck characters are even more fun.
Do you miss your childhood? Do you feel like kids today don't make enough of it?
Joe Driscoll: Well, my childhood was a bit rough… I do and I don't, ya know? It’s like watching a movie. I loved the early scenes, but I am more anxious to see the next scene than to press rewind. I definitely feel kids nowadays don't make enough of it, but it’s not their fault. It’s a mad world we live in, they have to grow up so fast. I feel bad for ‘em sometimes.
Did you have any weird childhood behaviours that others deemed as unordinary, but you wouldn't be where you are now without ‘em?
Joe Driscoll: Well, definitely. As I wrote in Origin Myth, at different points in my childhood I was diagnosed with turrets, epilepsy, A.D.D., and eventually given the title 'chemically imbalanced'. I used to start screaming, or singing, or running at random moments and freak everyone out. I used to have to have really intense episodes, but in hindsight I can see it was just struggling against society, the system, etc. I was an extremely unordinary child, and I am proud of that. It is definitely what made me what I am.
What's your favourite pastime when you're not making music?
Joe Driscoll: Well, I love to draw, paint, and read. I love girls ;-). But to be honest, I'm a movie junkie. I love a good movie, and I'm the type to watch the same flick thirty times if I really dig it.
Do all your tracks come from personal experiences and emotions? Are there any particular ones you could name us that you find yourself revisiting emotionally every time you perform them live?
Joe Driscoll: Not all the stuff I write, but definitely all of the album 'Origin Myths' is about very personal experiences & emotions. The title track, 'Origin Myth' as I explained, takes me right back to my childhood. I feel the memories while playing it every time: singing Bob Marley, being put in isolation, tight polyester pants.
Could you give us a few lines to sum up Joe Driscoll… who you are and what you do?
Joe Driscoll: Music is my love, music is my friend.
Do you prefer massive stadium audiences or more intimate sets?
Joe Driscoll: It’s evasive and corny, but they both have their charms. I love the bigger crowds. There is nothing like looking out on thousands and thousands of people dancing to the noise your making. Then again, there's nothing like speaking to an intimate crowd and really communicating.
Could you name a hip hop legend (dead / alive) you'd love to work with?
Joe Driscoll: Well, there's a ton. Would love to do something with De La, they are so damn good. Or MF Doom, not sure it would be a good track, but I'd just love to sit in the room with the guy. I'm currently doing a track with Speech from Arrested Development and Tre Hardson from Pharcyde, which is probably my dream collab… so damn, I'm a lucky boy.
Do you get more of a boost from positive or negative feedback?
Joe Driscoll: Well positive comes in all the time, and that’s the fuel in the tank; so yeah, I'd say positive. It does seem those few negative comments are the ones that stick in your memory and put the flame under your ass. I suppose they are what drive you on as well, but they also take their toll.
Is this the only thing you want to do for many years to come? Do you want to do a Lupe and just have a play then retire young? Do you think you'll quit before the buzz wears off? Or keep on until you literally can't do any more?
Joe Driscoll: Knowing me, keep going ‘till I can't anymore. I love music. I will do something with it ‘till I die, I'm pretty sure of that. I would like to get more into a production type role when my time in the limelight is done.
Are you a fan of underground British hip hop? After the tour this year… when can we next catch you in the U.K.?
Joe Driscoll: Yes, my love for underground British hip-hop was a big reason for moving here. Even some of the more mainstream cats like Roots Manuva, are free from so much of the garbage bling culture in America. When U.K. hip-hop is done proper and not trying to be American, it's some of my favourite stuff. After this tour, I'm back in the states for a while, then back for the U.K. summer festivals.
Which are your favourite spots to play in the U.K.?
Joe Driscoll: I love love love U.K. festivals. They are so amazing. The level of freedom you get at those events is outstanding. I can't wait.
Are you aware of any of our recent street music developments, such as grime?
Joe Driscoll: Oh yeah man, love my grime ting. Hey, good music is good music. The grime scene when done right, is another innovation on the form. Love it.
What differences do you see between British and American audiences?
Joe Driscoll: Well, I think U.K. audiences are just more open minded. Maybe its one of those grass is greener type things, but all round I find the U.K. more open to new ideas. I also find the U.K. more anti-establishment vibe than the U.S., which I really appreciate.
What are you planning to do after the tour? When will you next be in the studio?
Joe Driscoll: Well, I got a U.S. tour starting now, then another U.K. summer festival tour. I don't know when I'll stop touring. Got two new albums in the works, going really really well. One is a collaborative collage type thing with many different artists involved, the other is the one man band thing follow up to Origin Myths.
Any final words for the British hip hop audiences?
Joe Driscoll: Support your local artists!! That’s what it’s all about. Forget that Jay-Z framework that all hip-hop is supposed to fit in to. Listen to your mates tracks! Go to their shows! We have all the vibes we need without the help of corporate America.