Scottish soul-pop hero turning vulnerability into a rallying cry

Joesef is on stage at Glasgow’s SWG3 Galvanizers. It’s December 2019 and he’s headlining the 1250-capacity venue, making this his greatest present to this point – however he’s speechless for causes past the apparent. When the Scottish singer-songwriter seems to be out to the gang in entrance of him, he out of the blue finds himself in a fever dream state of affairs: standing there may be his ex. Y’know, solely the one which impressed the entire attractive, heartbreak-strewn songs that introduced folks to this very room.

“In that second, it felt like the entire crowd disappeared. He was the primary individual I noticed, and it made me very self-conscious,” says the 26-year-old, as he retells the story to NME nearly two years later. He takes an infinite, reflective pause, from which you concern he could by no means return. “However then I seemed again on the market and I used to be like, ‘Recover from it!’,” he exclaims, half-laughing, half-serious.

So-awkward-it-hurts run-in apart, one thing extraordinary occurred that evening. For Joesef, who launched his debut EP ‘Play Me One thing Good’ earlier that yr, the present was proof that his influence on his hometown – and people who lived there – had develop into unavoidable.

Credit score: Alexandra Waespi

Issues had moved at an astonishing tempo: solely 9 months prior, he had performed his debut present at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut – the identical venue the place Creation Data founder Alan McGee famously signed Oasis in Might 1993. Joesef offered that gig out, too, off the again of a “ridiculous” word-of-mouth marketing campaign that unfold by way of his locale. Crucially, at that time, he hadn’t even launched any music on-line.

However he spoke on to his viewers as a result of he was his viewers: younger, hopeful, and pleased with their upbringing. Born in Garthamlock, a suburb inside Glasgow’s full of life East Finish, Joesef’s expertise is in how he takes the retro splendour and swooning preparations of soul, and makes it extra relatable to folks like him, conjuring verses about love (falling out and in of it, then discovering it for your self) in your early twenties, and a fascination with the characters that make up your neighborhood. But his voice – rugged and swish – is the central character of the music, and he has beforehand been likened to James Blake. This isn’t a comparability that he has ever actually welcomed, although: “I don’t actually take all of that stuff critically… however it’s higher than being matched as much as like, fucking Mr. Blobby!”.

We are in a espresso store in east London – Joesef’s new stomping floor – to speak in regards to the previous few years and his rousing new sound. In dialog, he appears world-weary, however equally desirous to study all the things without delay in regards to the new, vibrant metropolis he now finds himself in. The songs, in the meantime, stay easy and introspective, with shadings of brass that enable them teeter on the fringes of jazz. Solely this time round, as showcased on latest single ‘Fireplace’, there’s a actual defiance – a leap from his second EP, 2020’s ‘Does It Make You Really feel Good?’, which explored each angle of a breakup by way of delicate storytelling.

After separating from his companion early final yr, Joesef discovered himself on the precipice of a impolite awakening. He realised that he wanted to get away from all the things that his metropolis had given him: the folks, the routines, the emotional weight. “There have been points in my life that I believed had been connected to Glasgow, so I wanted a means out,” he explains. “I’ve at all times been somebody that places feelings onto bodily gadgets. At residence, I’d say shit like, ‘Oh my god, [my ex] used to take a seat on that sofa.’” His nostril wrinkles on the considered his earlier scenario. “I used to be clinging onto the previous. I wanted to maneuver as a result of my home felt alive with unhealthy recollections.”

He offers voice to this concern on ‘Fireplace’, which was written whereas he was settling into the Large Smoke, and had realised that his heavy ideas had travelled south with him: “Now I can’t bear the burden of what I’m but to search out,” he sings. “This place ain’t large enough for me and what’s left behind”.

“Once I received to London, I began to suppose, ‘Why do I really feel fucking horrible?’. I knew that I ought to’ve been feeling on high of the world; I’ve such a robust sense of who I’m, what I wish to be, and the place I wish to be”, says Joesef. “However I needed to soldier on. It’s the kind of expertise that modifications you, and leaves you a special individual than you had been earlier than, again residence.”

Does he really feel responsible about shifting so far-off from the East Finish?

“Mm,” he says. Joesef is leaning ahead now, fingers folded round his glass of orange juice. “I’ve at all times needed to not simply do good for the East Finish, however stay myself. Within the music trade, you get put in lots of areas the place you’re left to really feel like a wild animal in comparison with different folks; it’s loopy how so many come from rich households or nepotism,” he says. “So for folks from residence to look again at me – a neighborhood boy that has finished nicely for himself – would possibly make them really feel like they’ll obtain issues, too.”

Joesef singer 2021
Credit score: Alexandra Waespi

NME brings up one thing that Joesef joked about earlier: being in comparison with James Blake. Three years in the past, the latter urged folks to cease labelling him as a “unhappy boy”, simply because he’s susceptible and emotional in his songwriting. A fast Google search shows that the identical time period remains to be getting used to explain Joesef in 2021 – however has anybody ever requested him if he’s OK with that?

“I’m grateful that I get to make brighter stuff out of terrible experiences,” he affords, with a confident nod. “However the ‘unhappy boy’ label undoubtedly trivialises the trauma side of being depressed, and that should change; it reduces the depth of the experiences that somebody has determined to share by way of their music.”

He continues: “But it surely’s the identical story with feminine acts. They’re at all times labelled as ‘confessional’ when sharing their life experiences – however they’re simply being trustworthy! It’s embarrassing to me.”

Whereas Joesef acknowledges the challenges that may include sharing his “purely autobiographical” lyrics with the world, he reaffirms that the brand new music will delve additional into each the discoveries and hardships that proceed to form his early maturity years – together with a lately rekindled romance with a sure somebody.

“Effectively, we received again collectively… after which broke up once more,” he says, sheepishly laughing. “However I realized a large lesson in that everytime you return to an individual or a spot, they gained’t be the identical anymore. And I’m OK with that.”

Joesef’s new single ‘Fireplace’ is out now

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