Joe Purdy Talks Songwriting, How To Lose A Job and The Office

You may not instantly recognize the name but if you're a fan of prime time dramas on network television there is a chance you may have heard the songs of Joe Purdy. The Arkansas singer-songwriter has had songs appear on Lost, House, and has become a bit of a regular on Grey's Anatomy. The exposure gained from appearing on those shows has lead audiences to the singer's work - and there is a lot of it. Joe Purdy often releases two or three albums a year.

Purdy's headed out on tour in support of his latest, This American, released in December of last year. That tour will bring him to the Rhythm Room on Wednesday, April 27.

Up on the Sun recently caught up with Joe Purdy as he was building a porch for his house in Arkansas. He was nice enough to take time out from his home project to talk to us about the song-writing process, how to lose a job, and The Office.

Up on the Sun: You put out sometimes two or three records a year. Does it ever surprise you how much output you have creatively?

Joe Purdy: It doesn't anymore. I don't know if it ever did. When I started I didn't really think about it but, you know, I hadn't written a song until I was nearly 21 years old and I had no idea I could even write a song until then either. I mean one just came out and from there, that week, I wrote another nine or ten songs and the week after that I recorded those nine or ten songs I just had written. That was my first record. That's one you can definitely see a difference as the records go on. I definitely didn't write all my material, save it up and then start with one record that was great. I kinda recorded them as I went. I just wanted to have art for art's sake, I just wanted to have it out there and so I guess after a while it sorta became a little bit of a thing; people started noticing how much I was putting out there, how much I was writing. When I was on the road I'd never play the songs that were on the album. I'd play the songs I'd just written so it became a little bit of a thing.

UOTS: Do you feel like the songwriting process has gotten easier for you as you've gone along in your career?

JP: I'd say it's actually about the same. I think the sounds have changed, the challenges have changed. When I started out I had two or three jobs at a time, painting houses or personal assistant work when I was in L.A. and taking tickets at a theatre or something. And I'd be doing all those jobs, but literally when I started out, when I was really fired up and young just barely into writing songs, if I started writing a song and I hadn't finished it by the time it was time to go to work and I'd turn my phone off and that was it. I wouldn't answer the phone, I wouldn't do anything until I had written it, recorded it and had it down and then I'd leave the house again. It's a really good way to lose jobs but I just felt like that was the most important thing, if that's what I really wanted to do then I was going to have to be selfish a while in that way.

But now the jobs, the responsibility that I have is getting to the next show and playing the next show or making an appearance on whatever it is and those I don't want to miss. So my process has just gotten different in the way of how busy I've gotten and the things I'm busy with I have to do, I want to do. So I've gotten really good putting down snippets of my song, like Garage Band has been my best friend for a few years now because I'll get an idea for a song, chords for a song or something but I gotta leave and I don't have time to finish throughout so I'll put those down those ideas on Garage Band, because I just open the session really quick and I'll get that idea down. I'm always about seeing it the way I heard it in my mind first, 'cause I'm really bad about evolving them and changing them over time but my favorite will always be that initial instinct of how it came out.

UOTS: Listening to the songs on your latest album This American they seem to take you back in time a little bit. What were some of the inspirations for these songs?

JP: Well, definitely sort of personal experiences is as specific as I can get probably without embarrassing myself. It's just that I took quite a few personal experiences that I had recently and sort of mixed that with trying to put in a time whether was I guess great depression or like the dust bowl days and stuff like that. And trying to make it relate to where if set in olden times, basically I guess to disguise the things that I'm talking about and I also like the nostalgic feel of it. A guy like me that grew up listening to Dylan, Kristofferson, James Taylor, all the great storytellers you don't really want to talk about cell phones in the song, you don't want to talk about modern things because that's not what my brain relates to as a good song, for right or wrong my brain is more attached to nostalgic things in classic setting, timeless settings that could've happened at any point in history.

UOTS: A lot of people are probably familiar with your music through either hearing it on television or through commercials. What did that type of exposure do for you as a musician?

JP: I mean it's a lucky thing I guess. Being chosen to have a song put somewhere like that, it's just a really very lucky thing because for a guy like me who's an independent artist who isn't attached to a major label, who doesn't have a big push behind him. Every tour comes out of my pocket, every record comes out of my pocket and, you know, granted I reap the benefit of that because when I sell records the money comes to me so it's a trade off and it's a slower process and one that I enjoy more just because I'll always get to be slowly making steps up. Something like having tunes on national syndicated programs is a game changer; I mean you can't deny it.

UOTS: You don't strike me as a big TV watcher but were you ever a fan of the shows your songs appeared on like Lost, Greys Anatomy or House?

JP: [Laughs] Honestly, I've seen, as much as this tattles on me, I've seen most of the shows that had my music on them, I've seen those episodes but I'm not a big TV watcher. I love film and there is certain television that I like. For one, I don't have the time and there's no way I can catch every episode of any program every week. Every time I get hooked on something I miss half of it, I'll miss half a season because I'm gone. Except, I'll tell you the one guilty pleasure is The Office and I've only gotten into The Office the last two years or so but they play all these reruns on three different networks so I just let them queue up while I'm gone and when I get back I'll just watch a bunch of episodes in a row. A comedy, something that is light, I don't want to watch heavy, I've got heavy, like, I know what that is, I got that covered, so its really nice to just escape for a minute and be reminded that life doesn't have to be so serious.

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Mike Escoto