Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.

Arts and Entertainment

No Average Joe: Welcome to Mr. Pug's Nation of Heat

Support your source for local news!
The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.


Photos by Amber Meairs via Joe Pug's MySpace

The story goes like this: When Joe Pug was a junior studying playwriting at the University of North Carolina he had an two sequential epiphanies. He decided that he was unhappy in his studies, and he wanted to pursue a career as a musician. So he picked up his things, packed up his car, and headed for Chicago. Three years later, Joe Pug has released his first EP Nation of Heat upon the world, and we are all thrilled he made such a bold choice.

The essence of any good singer/songwriter are the lyrics. With just an acoustic guitar and occasionally a harmonica, the singer/songwriter's voice is stripped bare to his audience. As listeners we are forced to examine every syllable that is uttered, so they better be good. There is no bass beat or synthesizer or distorted guitars to cover up dumb lyrics here. You can't get away with repeating the same lines over and over, either. Which is why when someone writes well people sit up and notice. When people write beautifully...people show up in droves.

Support for LAist comes from

Joe Pug writes beautifully, the kind of lyrics you want to write down on the back of your arm and spout prophetically and unattributed as your own. When I saw him in Waukegan, the hair on the back of my neck stood up on end with delight, and you can check your own arms for goosebumps on Thursday at Hotel Cafe. Joe Pug was kind enough to talk to us this weekend. Here is some of what was said.

Joe Pug - I Do My Father's Drugs

What made you decide to pick up an instrument?
I picked the guitar up when I was pretty young. My father was a musician. He played the piano and the guitar got me into music. Oh and when I heard Nirvana's album Nevermind. A record like that would make anyone want to be a musician.

I read that you were studying at the University of North Carolina and you had an epiphany and just left. Did you finish your degree?
No, I didn’t finished my degree. I was one year short. I just picked up and moved to Chicago.

Why did you move to Chicago?
The week before I moved out there, I visited a friend in Chicago. I just fell in love with the city, wholeheartedly. I mean, I'm from the East Coast and I thought about going to New York City. There are things I dig about New York, but living in there is like a full time job. In Chicago you can practice your art and get by financially.

I heard that you were working as a carpenter when you moved. Are you still?
No, I haven’t swung a hammer in six months. I now have the best job in the world. This is pretty much the dream realized. I’ll wake up write a song, hang out, and then either play a gig or rehearse. That’s my job now. I mean, I'm not making a king's ransom, but it's awesome.

Are you signed by a record label now?
No, no not yet. I haven't found anything that felt quite right. I was signed by a booking agency, though. They’ve been great by me. They get me great gigs. They have a supreme amount of faith in me. I mean I bet they have a rough time trying to sell me. They're probably like, "He’s this guy. He’s a solo act. Give him a shot." But once they get me in, I can win them over. It's getting your foot in the door that's the hard part.

Nation of Heat

What was the worst show you ever played?
It was at this bar in South Dakota. It was a sports bar with a venue in the basement. For some reason they didn't have enough space on the bill for me in the basement, so the guy was like, "We'll just put you upstairs at the bar." Now normally I would have left out of pride, but I needed the couple hundred bucks to put gas in my tank. Literally. I wouldn't have gotten out of South Dakota otherwise. So they set me up in this corner, there wasn't any room for the PA. There was this...what do you call them? Where women have a party before they get married?

Batchelorette party?
Yeah! There was one of those going on and there were all these guys watching TV at the bar. Then the guy who owned the place turned off the Nelly and the NASCAR and announced that I was here to play some folk songs.

Oh God.

Yeah, everyone turned around and glared at me. Then they went back to talking. They completely ignored me. I could barely hear myself play.

What is the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?
When I was playing in New York City, there were some girls at the show, who were wearing t-shirts with my face on them.

Woah, weird. Were they serious?

No, it was just a joke. They were really nice and bought some CDs after the show, but when I was playing I thought they were serious. It was really strange.

If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
Oh, I plan on changing many things.

Support for LAist comes from

Such as?
(Laughs) I'm not going to tell you that. Then everyone is going to start doing it. I want to be one to shake things up.

Bury Me Far from My Uniform is one of the best anti-war songs I’ve heard in years. And I don’t mean anti-Iraqi war, I mean anti-war in general.
I’m glad you saw that distinction. A lot of people miss that.

What inspired that song?
I try to refrain as much as possible from moralizing in my music. That song had been brewing in me for awhile. I wrote it one morning in my favorite bookstore. I had just I found out that a family friend was killed in Iraq. He done a couple tours, and he was going to come back in a few weeks.

I'm so sorry to hear that. Do you often write in bookstores? What is your writing process like?
Basically songs come when they’re going to come. Although I try and have a regular schedule for writing. I mean, if ninety percent of what you write is really miserable bad stuff and only ten percent is actually good, then you’re working on a masterful level. So I try and write as often as I can. Usually I like to put lyrics down and then write the music for them, but I'm trying it the other way around for fun.

What is the worst thing about touring?
I mean, you got understand. I’ve been doing since the summer, so I really love all of it. I mean sometimes it's hard to find personal space, but that's about it. Maybe in a year or two I'll be bitter about it.

Okay, what do you love about touring?

When you go to a place and they know your music. I love it when I can get people to connect with my music. Oh and I also like it when no one knows who you are. People are really skeptical of me with my acoustic guitar, but I am determined to change their minds by the end of the set.

So you love it when they know who you are and you love it when they don't?
(Laughs) Yeah, I guess I like it all the time. Although when you play a gig you can’t figure out what it takes to connect the with the audience it's extremely frustrating. Part of the game of performing is to get your audience to connect with you.

You’re giving your cd away for free on your website. What prompted that idea?
Well it got to the point where we were talking to all these different record labels, but none of them really felt right. So we decided, screw it, let's just promote ourselves and give the album away for free. It's not very cost effective, but we get the point across.

Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
I’m sure I do. I really like that version of Love Hurtsthat Gram Parsonsdoes. That’s pretty embarrassing. I love R. Kelly’s album Chocolate Factory, but I'm proud of that. I’ll tell that to anyone who asks.

If you could sing with one person, who would it be?

Probably either Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris. There is a woman in Chicago that I sing with, who is really great. I mean, I don’t think Lucinda Williams will play for fifty bucks a gig.

That’s probably true.

Be sure to go see Joe Pug at the Hotel Cafe this Thursday at 9pm.

Most Read