Tribe House Blog

Joel Strauss

Posted : July 8th, 2011 by

Joel’s a great guy with an incredibly unique sound. And luckily for us, he’s got a brand-spankin’ new album out called Fountain of Youth. Some have said things like “it’s  got a real 20s feel to it” or “man, this sounds like Dylan”.

We got a chance to ask him about his vision for the album and here’s what he said:

Tribe House: What do you plan to do with this album?

Joel Strauss: So far, this album has been made available online, but physical copies will also soon be pressed. It’s an album I will probably always keep with me, ready to give out, while then adding “here is when I really started to develop my sound.”

TH: What do you hope most people will say after they listen to this?

JS: My hope is that people are moved by it. There is definitely a lot of emotion in this music. I felt like the writing came out a lot better when I let that emotion “come undone”, and I hope that people can get a sense of the passion and intensity I had been feeling. There is a lot of musical diversity on here too, which I hope people appreciate.

TH: Who do you compare yourself to as an artist?

JS: Sometimes I compare myself to John Lennon, sometimes Frank Sinatra, sometimes Dylan. Sometimes I am Billy Corgan, Thom Yorke, or Leonard Cohen. I think I also love to embody the raw power of Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits.

TH: Who’s your most inspiration artist?

While there are lot of musical groups that have inspired me, Bob Dylan has probably effected me most, singularly, as an artist. I am inspired by how different he is, and was at the time he arrived on the music scene. Regardless of any circumstance, he didn’t try to change himself or morph into what his musical or cultural environment was tuning into. People had to either embrace him or ignore him, but he always seemed to stay who he was.

People often compare me to him, but I’m not sure it’s because I sound so much like him anymore. In fact, I feel like my sound is quite different now in a lot of ways, but I think that people identify in me the same type of “uniqueness” that he brought to the music scene.

TH: What inspired most of these tunes?

A lot of these songs were written over a year ago, and I think it was at a unique point in my life where I couldn’t help but see how messed up everything seemed to be, to be perfectly honest. I think a type of pessimism in one’s early 20s isn’t uncommon, and it’s certainly something I experienced. I do see things differently now, but I was struggling to see a point and purpose to things, even though I was blessed to have been born into a supportive family and environment. A lot of these songs encompass the “What is going on here?” and “What am I doing here?” questions. Fortunately, through this type of confusion I was able to pour out some great material. Often I wouldn’t think too much about fine tuning the lyrics, just letting my intuition pour out. There is certainly a lot of darkness on this record, but a type of darkness where hope and aspiration shine through too.

TH: What’s the theme of the record (if there is one)?

There’s no set “theme” to the record, but I will fill you in on a few of the different song meanings.

Songs like “Ocean Transfix” and “December Star” are definitely songs about the existential crisis, containing lyrics such as “I can do what is allowed of me“, showing the human limitations a person might feel, and “My only roads are in these miles of sand“, showing a walk through the uncertainties and unanswered questions of the human experience.

Beyond My Flesh And Bone” was partially inspired by a book by Victor E. Frankl called “Man’s Search For Meaning“, and it was after reading this book that I realized just how important it is for any human being to acquire purpose and direction in life. This is something that seems to be inbred within the human condition; that intrinsically there is something more than just pure ‘survival’ as a reason to exist.

Not everything is this intense, though! “Like The Mermaid” is simply an ode to some of the great music that came before the rock and roll revolution. Because the rock and roll revolution was so immense, there is some great sounds that captured a unique moment in history that can get overlooked. The ancient sounds of Louis Armstrong, the Ink Spots, Vera Lynn, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby sound fresh to me, precisely because they are so ancient. Frank Sinatra is another singer who really lights me up because of this. A lot of these sounds can also be identified in my music.

Break A Spell” is an ode to the early impressionist painters like Turner and Monet. I had the chance to travel through Europe last summer and was blessed to be able to see some great art. Before the late 1800s, art was basically restricted to religious depictions and ‘coloring in the lines’, so to speak. There was also an expectation that you couldn’t reveal technique within your work. Impressionism was the breaking through of that cultural standard, where art was suddenly able to flourish like it never had before. It was the time when artists declared “in art, there are no rules!” So I have a line in this song that says “Wanna shout it to the sun, say that we are the brighter ones”.

Civilization Embodiment” is a song about surrender. Not a surrender to forces of oppression or injustice, but a type of ‘letting go of the self’ in order to really surrender to love. The lines “there a glimmer of hope lay in Pietro’s Intermezzo, the mountains along the Coquihalla highway” are when a person is stopped in his tracks by something like beauty, so that his guard can be let down.

The title track “Fountain Of Youth” is a hesitation to be optimistic towards the notion of Utopianism: the idea that institutions and/or governments, technology and science will be able to one day bring humanity to a real contentment. It’s sort of a song about the competitive element of capitalism and the media. The line “we still don’t feel young in their fountain of youth” reveals my reaction to most television commercials and advertisements. But it is also interesting how scientists are actually revealing a ‘fountain of youth’, an ability to prolong age. Fascinating! But I can’t help but foresee some grave consequences as well.

TH: What are your thoughts on combining arts, faith, and justice?

My thoughts on combining arts, faith, and justice? Well, of course this is a wonderful combination. Some people create out of faith (or lack of), some out of a need for justice. We should definitely be aware of our roles as artists, in that we really do have the ability to reach people on these issues in ways that other people might not be able to reach. I don’t think songs can change things in the way that actions can though. As artists, we are simply able to inspire people.

TH: What do you think of the concept of Tribe House as an artist collective?

Love it. I just wrote a new song a few days ago called “Forest” which is sort of about community and fellowship. It’s an amazing thing for artists everywhere to really feel they are a part of something, that they are not feeling polarized but supported and encouraged. It seems that with this type of artist collective, it doesn’t matter what age, or what ‘scene’ you are a part of, or even what level of skill you have. If you make art, are passionate about it, you benefit greatly from being able to connect with other artists. I would think that you could also learn a lot from others, while also being inspired. Tribe House is like a slogan that says “you don’t need to be alone”.

TH: Thanks for existing Joel. This is great stuff. It’s great to see such depth in your writing & looking forward to walking with you…

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