-Interview- Joey Todd: Tightening His Boots, Texas Cultural Hurdles, And A New EP

After establishing himself in several formidable sounds in the Southern music scene as a member of Lord North and The Magnolia Boys, Joey Todd is hitting reset with his sound. Nanobot Rock caught up with Joey.

Nanobot Rock: First and foremost, it’s always great to catch up. We’ve discussed your musical projects in the past and seen them follow a somewhat similar past.  Before we get into what’s next, let’s take a trip down memory lane. There was a brief rumor of a Lord North rebirth. Where did that go?

Joey Todd: Well, we recorded an entire album, and we intended to call it Faithless Living. We played a couple of high profile shows to promote it in the fall of last year, and a few Dallas/Fort Worth and North Texas radio stations were kind enough to give us the airwaves for a bit, but sometime in December, we started talks with one of our heroes, Ivan Julian of Richard Hell’s Voidoids about doing a record with him, in his new studio in New York. He seems to like the idea of a mostly live album, with which I couldn’t agree more. Honestly, I’m willing to follow his lead on this if he’s willing to gamble with producing us; the guy knows his stuff. Initially, we were thinking of rerecording the whole record with him, but we’re leaning toward releasing what we have independently, and then moving forward on new material with Julian. The band is by no means dead, it’s just that projects in that camp tend to move at a glacial pace since we’re entirely self-funded.

Nano: Self-funding can certainly be a major hurdle. But there are other hurdles you have faced in the past, yet you persevered. I want to talk about The Magnolia Boys.  Quite possibly one of the best albums I’ve ever encountered that may never see a true release. Is there any hope for the record to see light of day?

JT: I’m not gonna lie, dear. That’s a mighty sore spot for me. I’m not gonna act like that period of time hasn’t given me a less than savory reputation with a lot of ladies & gents. That was a great project, with some of my best friends, every one of them a fantastic artist in their own right. Those who know me know that I like to get down. There’s not a lot I usually say “no” to when I’m in the mood to raise an appropriate amount of hell. That being said, there have been times in my life where I’ve had to work hard to curb certain appetites, because they’ve very nearly done me in. Worse, those appetites, when I let them loose, have a nasty tendency to bring out a very ugly side of me. I’ve burned an awful lot of bridges with people I love and respect because of the way I acted. It’s no excuse. Just an explanation. That being said, we made some great music together, and it was definitely a prolific period for me (which is saying a lot. I’m quite a slow writer) and it was a huge growing period for all of us. Some of it actually ended up on some of Silas Nello’s releases since the band dissolved. He’s been a great friend through it all. I have no earthly idea where he gets the patience. As far as a real release, I honestly couldn’t tell you. There’s a lot of tension around that whole period now, and I honestly try to avoid the subject. I intend to record a couple of those tracks for other releases, sometime. Couldn’t tell you about the rest. As I said, bit of a sore spot, that one.

I’m not proud of what went down, but I learned from it.

Nano: You brought up Silas Nello. He was part of the Magnolia Boys and he’s releasing a new album. Matthew McNeal made contributions to the record. He’s releasing some great songwriter stuff. But all of this, and to an extent Lord North included, is rooted in a Texas Blues/Desert songwriter style. To your credit, you’ve put out some fantastic music in that vein.  But you’re stepping out of that realm. Why?

JT: Greg, darling, we are all products of our environment. There’s not thing to do about it. Call us deviants, because all three of us have deviated from that “desert songwriter” mold in some way. (Laughs)

Honestly, I just feel more secure in who I really am these days, and my music is always gonna reflect that. It’s unavoidable, and I’m at peace with it. Actually, that’s probably the first time ever I’ve been at peace with much at all in myself.

Nano: A departure, then, from the “Desert Songwriter” means what for you?

JT: You know, the old soft shoe. The desert sage with the battered wide brimmed hat and the imperfect voice. Equal parts Dylan & Parsons. We all came out of that. It’s certainly a huge part of the North Texas scene. We can’t help it. I think I tried a little too hard to fit that mold, myself.

To tell you the absolute truth, I think I’ve always approached my music in a slightly dishonest way. When you’re insecure with your personality, sometimes you invent little bit of padding to put in there. A bit of insulation, to help you seem like you have more in common with the people and things you admire. It’s a lame way to be. I was in danger of kinda becoming “The Liar You Love”, ya know? Enough is enough. I just wanna be me.

Nano: So you’re, in your words, breaking the mold; your environmental mold if you will. What does that sound like?

JT: If I had to put a label on it, I suppose things have gotten a bit post-punkish, dear. (Laughs)

The music is usually written after the lyrics, so it usually takes shape in a very spontaneous way. I still work with Bryan David as producer and lead engineer, and he just knows me so well. I can come into the studio with a poem and a melody, and after six hours, we’ll have a finished track. Keeps me honest. Bryan told me as soon as I came to him about a solo record that he’s not going to let me back away from my own unique sound because of some silly reservation I have about this trend or that. Especially if that reservation comes from a place of insecurity. I very much appreciate him for that. He’s got his own brand of tough love, and he’ll dish it out liberally when I need it.

Nano: And the result is The Wasted Angel EP.

Based on what you’ve explained, we should be in for something fresh here. What will your solo record deliver?

JT: I wanted to give voice to some things that have been weighing on me lately. A lot of things have changed, but one thing that hasn’t is that I’m still located in an insanely conservative bible-belt hellscape where certain social issues that have been long settled in other parts of the world are still pretty fiercely contested. Things are just different around here. There are places here where high school kids of color still get nooses in their lockers. That’s to say nothing of immigrants and the LGBTQ population. I still sing about love and sex and loss. I still sing about “me”, but it’s pretty cathartic to sing about what’s going AROUND me. Particularly when in this environment, there’s not a lot of other outlets for those kind of frustrations.

Nano: That’s a rather bold observation. And you believe you’ll execute on this in the new album?

JT: That’s not for me to say. I don’t think a person gets to put out something and say. “There it is. I have executed!”

Ya gotta deliver. I sure hope I will. Leonard Cohen said that a poet doesn’t get to call themselves one. They don’t get to even call what they’ve done “poetry”. Those words aren’t for them. They have to be attributed TO them. I think the job of music is to communicate. No one listens to music to feel alone. It’s the job of the artist to communicate a sentiment, and connect with someone. In my view, if I fail to connect with someone, it’s a failure. I’m not one for vanity art. I’m constantly in pursuit of that connection. It may be a flawed way of being, but I am what I am. If someone can connect to that, I’ll be happy & grateful. That’s what I hope for.

Nano: I can appreciate that. Greatly. If you’re putting it out there for the listeners interpretation, what technically are you doing with the album that mixes it up?

JT: The things I’m trying to communicate on this record are sentiments I’ve wanted to get out for a long time. Most of the lyrics have been written over the last year. I’ve spent a long time chasing my sound and trying to figure out what it actually is. I guess I’m done doing that. I’ve been coming into the studio with a thought and leaving with a song. I’ve never been secure enough with myself to do that, until now. On this record, I come fresh, every time. Whatever happens, happens. I’m gonna try to trust in myself to speak in my own voice.

On this EP, I fired a scattergun, and I’m pretty relieved all the pellets went the same direction. (Laughs)

Nano: So we’re not going to get a Motorhead Tribute followed by Aqua cover?

JT: You’ve got a lot of smartass in you, Greg, dearest. (Laughs) I appreciate having guys like you around to hold me accountable. You’re a good man.

Nano: Wishful thinking then?  So this is an EP built on a shotgun approach. Are you looking for a book of singles or did it all fall pretty linear?

JT: I think the idea of a book of singles has been pretty helpful in the process, but yeah, honestly it has seemed to fall into place as a pretty cohesive sound. I’ve always had trouble getting there. It’s kinda funny that the one time I let go and let the pieces fall where they may, I could actually see the picture in the puzzle.

Nano: Well I’m eagerly anticipating the new EP! To be fair, I do have to ask, if the listener of the EP allows themselves to get pulled into your sound, what would you say to them to assure them that this is not it? That this will not go the way of the Magnolia Boys?

JT: (Laughs) I make no promises! I WILL give my very best, though. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super excited for people to hear this EP. I’ve got great collaborators, I’m surrounded by positive people. I feel like I have something to say, for once. I’ve got the most supportive label in the world in Unfiltered Music Group, even though I’m a bit of a black sheep of that flock. (Laughs)

I can’t help look forward and be hopeful.

Nano: What about the label makes you feel like the black sheep?

JT: Nothing at all in how I’m treated. They feel like family. The label just started as a predominantly hip-hop label. But above all, really what they care about is raw & uncut emotion behind the music they release, no matter what genre it’s in. Scotty PM, Willy Woosah, and Zach Lawrence are all stone-cold wordsmiths that live to make their stories come to life. I’m honored they’d want me in their company. Scotty PM and I spent some time in Colorado a few years back scraping by and trying to find ourselves a bit, I guess. As soon as the label started picking up a little steam, he and the boys invited me aboard last Winter, and they’ve been working hard to make me feel at home. For the first time in my life, I’ve got a group of professionals working to further my brand, putting up real time and money because they believe in it. It’s a strange feeling. I hate to use this word because I don’t want to project any images here, but I feel pretty blessed.

Nano: It sounds like a great fit. Did any labelmates contribute to the EP or was it outsiders? Give me the lowdown on the contributors.

JT: Nah, they really gave me all the space I wanted, though. We will be working on an Unfiltered mixtape together very soon though that I couldn’t be more excited about. As for the “outsiders”, I think I’ll keep names close to the belt until release. (Laughs)

Nano: You’re gonna hold out?

I guess the only other thing is ask you is, considering your past experiences, your more recent reflections, and finding a sound that is possibly more you than we’ve ever heard, what comes after the release?

JT: In all reality, I’ll probably get right back to work in the studio on the full length after a few live dates and proper promotion. I’m probably gonna duck out of sight for a month or two, get healthy, get happy, get focused, and hit the live circuit hard. I’ve got a great band that’s gonna be backing me up, The Virgin Clay, and I intend to bring the more energy and more focus than I ever have to performances.

These releases are going to be the first of length I’ve done to really bear my name, alone. There’s a lot of comfort and freedom that comes with that, but it’s also a little scary, since if I fail here, I have to own it. All of it. But that can light quite the fire under one’s ass. I’ve never felt so driven in all my life.

Nano: Well all the best to you and thanks for chatting about your new music. Cheers!

JT: Stay classy, Greg. And never try to outrun a flock on geese when drenched in kerosene.

“Before The Bombs Went Off” by Joey Todd off the upcoming EP The Wasted Angel:

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