Joan Osborne

An interview with Singer Joan Osborne
by Tina Hall
June 2012

Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne is best known for the single One of Us of her debut album Relish. The Kentucky native has been making music from the soul since 1995. She appeared in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown in 2002 and did her version of Spoonful on Vivian Campbell’s(Def Leppard)album Two Sides of If. With seven studio albums under her belt her latest release Bring It On Home is out now.

Maximum Ink: What was it like growing up in Kentucky?
Joan Osborne: It was wonderful, a lot of freedom for myself and my brothers and sisters(I’m one of six). We lived in a place where everyone knew everyone else, where we went out in morning and ran in the woods all day and no one would worry about us. We were able to develop a real connection with the natural world, which I value now that I live in New York City. As for the music of the region, well, although we weren’t big country music fans it was always there and we loved John Denver and Elvis Presley, who also had a thread of rock n roll, rockabilly in his music. Country music and bluegrass was all around us. It was there that the seed of this amazing roots music was planted when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I got older that I really began to become a big fan of other kinds of country music, learn about bluegrass, and become a huge fan of artists like Bill Monroe, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams.

MI: What was your first day in New York like? Did you experience culture shock? 
JO: I did experience culture shock! I got out of a Trailways bus at the Port
Authority bus station and walked to my lodgings at the 8th and 34th Street YMCA and it was intense. That particular stretch of NYC is really grimy and crowded and noisy and I kind of loved it immediately. I loved walking down the street and feeling so much energy and seeing people of all different types and I was very excited by that. In a way I felt like I had walked into the right movie. 

MI: Is it true you got discovered as a songstress while performing Karaoke?
JO: It was actually not karaoke, and I don’t know that I was discovered in the classic sense. It was a bit of an accident how I got involved in music. I
was studying filmmaking at NYU, I wanted to make documentaries, and I went to a bar with a friend to get a drink. It was a blues bar and the piano player was still there playing at the end of the night and my friend dared me to get up and sing. And that’s when the piano player said ‘we have open mic night every Tuesday, why don’t you come back,’ and I did. That’s when I discovered a whole community of other clubs with blues and roots music and that’s where I got my start. It took me several years of working my way up, from open mic nights to creating a band, to working 5-6 nights a week and then branching out to other clubs, establishing myself as a regional presence. Then, after years of building to that point, I got approached by record labels. 

MI: What do you think you’d be doing at this point in your life if not for music?
JO: I was very interested in filmmaking and was fan of people like Barbara
Kopple and Ken Burns. It might have been an interesting career choice but I do not regret ever choosing music. It was a real godsend to discover music at the point I did, and I am very happy and grateful.

MI: How have you changed most since becoming a mother? 
JO: I think I’m a lot less self-indulgent than I used to me. There is no time to procrastinate about things and, in particular, about work. If it took 6 months to write a song in the past, now when I get inspired I might have two hours to get done and there’s no time to mess around. And just as far as my heart goes, I think I always was person whose emotions were readily accessible, but there is a whole other sub-basement of emotions that I’ve discovered.

MI: What was the best advice anyone ever gave you and who was it?
JO: When I was young my mother was very encouraging to all of us kids and always told us we can accomplish what we want as we work hard and put our minds to it. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true. There have been moments when I’ve ignored that advice and felt I could get by with not as much effort and doing that has always proved to be wrong. You really have to put your mind into it and work hard. If you do, then you can accomplish what you set out to do. Corny but true.

MI: How do you think the music industry has changed most since you first made the scene?
JO: I think the fact that it’s kind of splintered into a million pieces – it used to be that everyone wanted to sign to a record deal to reach a larger audience – means the old model of record companies making money from selling records is out the window. The advent of the internet and other means of communication has really changed things, making it easier in some respects to go directly to fans. I think it’s tougher for those trying to establish themselves now - there is so much out there that it’s harder to cut through the barrage of information we are avalanched with every day to get yourself heard. I was really lucky to get established when I did. It’s a lot harder for the younger kids now.

MI: Do you enjoy working in studio or on the road most? How do the two differ most?
JO: Well, I think the answer differs depending on when you ask me(laughs). Right before going on the road, I love the road best. It’s very exciting to do a live show. When everything feels right and you’re up on stage with the band and the crowd is with you, it’s like nothing else. It’s like flying. Ask me couple months into it when I’m tired and want to go home, and I would choose studio. The things you can discover while you’re in there, you can invent yourself, develop ideas and your craft. So I’d say you really have to have both, and I really love both.

MI: What was it like to work with Vivian Campbell? What is he like as an individual?
JO: Vivian is a very, very sweet and humble guy. I guess he knew about me through the film ‘Standing in Shadows of Motown’ and was very complimentary about what I did in it. We talked about the acts in the movie. He is a real scholar of Motown and blues and R&B and soul, so we bonded on that level. He is a real sweetheart, has no attitude, no rock star personality, he’s just a very down to earth person.

MI: Are there any little known things about you that people would be surprised to learn?
JO: I’m a great whistler. I can make really good bread pudding. I’m a huge foreign movie buff. I love European directors – Fellini, Almodovar.

MI: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
JO: I’m really, really grateful for the opportunity to keep doing this for my life and I know the only reason I can do this is because I have a lot of very devoted fans who have stayed with me for years and years. There are people who have been there before I had big records and I want to send a big thank you to all of them, and everyone who came after. I’ll still do it as long as you keep showing up to the shows(laughs)..

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CD: Bring It On Home Record Label: Saguaro Road Records
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