Joe Peacock is a prolific singer-songwriter from Birmingham (UK). Joe grew up in rural Herefordshire. The family house was a long way from anywhere. It was hard to get to see other children, so Joe spent a lot of time on his own. Boredom was quite a good spur for creativity and he began writing poetry and lyrics as a teenager. Lockdown has made him write more songs than ever before.
How do you think your hometown and current home has affected you and your music today?
“Musically, there wasn’t any kind of scene where we lived and I moved to another pretty unfashionable place, Stoke, to go to university. After university, I lived in St. Petersburg, (Russia) for about seven years before moving to Birmingham. I largely hang around with people in the metal scene there, although I was playing something more like grunge/alt rock at the time. I’ve lived in Birmingham longer than anywhere else now, so I guess it’s home. There’s a pretty diverse music culture here. I’ve seen folky bands, off the wall indie bands, world music, ska, metal and some bigger rock bands. I love Birmingham and I think that diversity suits me very well.”
You started out as a drummer. Aged 21 you switched to playing guitar. Was there a particular reason for switching instruments?
“I loved playing the drums, and I think I was pretty good at it, but I had very much become a songwriter and I wanted to sing and play my songs. I knew I couldn’t do them justice from behind a drum kit. As a drummer, you’re always so in demand, so it was a bold move, but one I don’t regret. I sold my drum kit and bought the guitar and effects unit I still have today and I became a proper frontman for the bands I played in.”
What kind of sounds were playing around you as you were growing up? What artists did you listen to growing up? Have your musical tastes changed over the years?
“My dad had been a music journalist and had a whole wall devoted to shelves of vinyl. He thought he’d written everything he could about rock music and left when he thought it was all getting a bit stale – just before punk! We always had music on, much more than the telly. My parents’ taste was very diverse – everything from heavy opera, through jazz, folk, rock, psychedelia, reggae and soul to funk and disco. I think I was as influenced by what my parents disliked as much as what they liked, probably. They really slated pompous, over the top rock stars, so I’ve always hated Queen and that more excessively showy prog rock or metal. The first album I bought was by Madness, but they were a favourite of the whole family. The first artist I got really obsessed about was Prince. Once I discovered his genius, I went back and bought all his albums and would sit in my room listening to them back to back.”
“I think I developed my own taste for the music I associate myself with now when I was introduced to Pixies by a friend. Immediately, I knew that was my music and those spikier or gloomier indie bands weren’t so much to my parents’ taste. I don’t think they ever really got shoegaze, Sonic Youth or when I started listening to trance techno and stuff like that. I like to think I still have pretty diverse taste and the last couple of years have been brilliant for discovering new music through all the contacts I’ve made with the music community on Twitter.”
Is there a song you wish you’d written yourself?
“To be honest, no. The joy for me in songwriting is the process and the feeling that it gives me when everything comes together, so I wouldn’t want to just take credit for someone else’s song, or claim something that I haven’t invested a lot of myself into. Obviously there are so many brilliant songs in the world which inspire me. There are singers with amazing voices that send shivers down my spine, guitarists who are able to write the most incredible riffs and lyricists who tell stories absolutely perfectly, but within the limitations of my own talents, I am always happiest with my last song – that gives me the biggest buzz.”
If you could be a fly on the wall for the recording of any album in history, what album would it be?
“That’s a really tough question. In a way, I think it would take away the magic of the albums if you saw all the problems and arguments that happened when the band was making them. There are a few Radiohead albums that I’d have loved to have been there to see some of the magic happening, though! ‘OK Computer’, ‘Kid A’, ‘In Rainbows’, or ‘Hail to the Thief’ would all have been amazing to watch. Get Back gave us that opportunity for the Beatles. It was fascinating to watch in places, but it reminded me how much more difficult the creative process is for a band than when you’re doing it solo.”
You released your second album ‘Before the robots told us where to go’ in December 2021. What are your plans for 2022?
“I’m hoping to release three albums this year. I have so much material written already. They’re going to be three very different albums, though. The first one, which I’m working on at the moment, will be much more electronic and less guitar-oriented than my first two albums. I will still release it under my own name, but it’s a bit like when Thom Yorke (Radiohead, ed.) or Damon Albarn (Blur, ed.) go off and do side projects where they experiment with different styles.”
“The second one will be more of a rock album, although I am starting to write a bit differently, so some of the complexity might surprise people who have listened to the first two albums.”
“For the third one, I want to collaborate with a friend and do something folkier and more acoustic. She plays the fiddle and has a beautiful voice. We performed together last year in the summer and have been intending to do something together again, but it takes a while to line these things up when other things in life get in the way. It might be just the two of us, or it might grow into something slightly bigger. Those are the plans in my head, but we’ll see whether I can make them all happen.”
You’ve written more songs than ever. Do you enjoy the process of creating? What can you tell me about your creative process?
“I wouldn’t be doing music if I didn’t! Honestly, it’s my favourite thing. I feel so proud each time I write a new song – it’s a childlike innocent joy, really! I think it’s something that I didn’t do enough for a long time, so I’ve got all this bottled up creativity, which is now pouring out of me. There is also a buzz that you can get from performing, but for me writing songs is my favourite thing in the world. You can probably tell from my songs that I don’t write like most people, I like to write about very different subjects and everything I write has to be interesting to me and teach me something new.”
Is there a process to your writing? Do you write at a certain place, at a certain time?
“The only standard thing about my writing is that I write the music first and then fit the lyrics to it. I wish I had more time to devote to writing music, but I also have a job and a family, so I have to fit in writing and recording music around them. I’m quite a night owl, so I can write lyrics and keyboard parts late at night, but recording guitars and vocals have to be done before people go to bed. To say I have a home studio would be rather a grand term for it. I have a laptop, a guitar and mic which go through a preamp and a keyboard with a midi lead that plugs into my computer. That’s it. Everything I write is recorded using those and Logic Pro. I have loads of half-finished songs that are waiting for me to complete the lyrics or add an intro/outro/guitar solo or whatever. I’m not very good at making notes of what I played when I wrote something, so I have to work it out afresh each time when I go back to it. It’s all quite a disorganised mess, really, I’m afraid.”
You co-wrote ‘Keep the Nightmares Out’ about American poet Anne Sexton with Joe Adhemar. What inspired you to write a song about her?
“I really love poetry, so you may have noticed there were three songs about poets on the last album. Anne Sexton was an incredibly talented writer and there’s something about her that I really connect with. I feel that she should be as well known as her friend Sylvia Plath, but for some reason, she is much less famous. I feel desperately sad that her life ended tragically young and that she didn’t have the right support to get through her mental health issues. As a subject for a song she had so much that inspired me – beautiful words, interesting views and things she did and a really strong emotional pull.”
“Joe Adhemar was involved in changing the chords around a little while he was working on it as producer, which is why he gets a co-writing credit. He said that was the song on the album that he was most proud of.”
Is there anyone else you’d like to work with?
“There are lots of people I’d like to work with. I would find it hard to specify one in particular. As a solo artist, I am always open to the idea of having someone else bringing an extra dimension to my music, as Joe Adhemar did on the last album as a producer, but also contributing his skills on the keyboards, too. I’d be interested in working with other producers, but also singers who could take the vocal lines somewhere that I can’t. I’d also love to get a band together and play some songs live at some stage.”
What social issues are you most passionate about?
“I take a pretty holistic view of social issues. That means basically that most of the ills in our society are caused by one big problem – inequality, or the hoarding of resources by a small number of people. Every big problem is linked to this. Climate change is overwhelmingly caused by the very rich and the way that they control “democracies” to work in their interests and allow them to keep amassing more money than anyone could ever need is hideous. It’s the 7th of January today and this is the day when the CEOs of Britain’s biggest companies will already have made more money this year than the average worker will in their lifetime! Their tax avoidance and greedy actions cause people to go hungry and end up trapped in awful situations. I genuinely believe that they are the parasites who are killing this planet and I feel horribly pessimistic about the future because I don’t see how this will change.”
Is there anything that keeps you up at night?
“There are lots of things that keep me up at night. Having music in my head that I need to write is one thing, but if I start thinking about politics, that’s not good for my chances of sleeping. I didn’t start caring about the climate emergency when I had children, but the thought that the world could become such a scary place due to the collapse of eco-systems during their lifetimes weighs very heavily on my mind.”
What makes a great piece of music?
“Music is incredibly subjective. One person’s masterpiece is another person’s torture instrument. For me, what makes a piece of music great is the emotional connection, whether that’s through the sound, the way it’s played or the story that it tells. I have to connect with at least one of those things for music to touch me and for it to mean something to me.”
What message do you hope your music sends to listeners?
“I don’t think there’s one message in my music – each song is a different story, but I guess with all of them I am challenging people to think about things a little more deeply. Being a storyteller, I think you want that engagement with the subjects you’re talking about and that’s why I write blog posts about the stories behind pretty much every song that I release. I’m not into disposable, throwaway culture where it’s all pretty on the surface, but there’s nothing underneath.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?
“You ask such difficult questions! It’s absolutely full of brilliant songs. I really love Joe Ademar’s ‘Off and On’ and the Sky Diving Penguins’ Hermit song already, but the one that caught me off guard and really intrigued me was ‘Evil worm’ by Marveline. I will be going back and listening to that a few more times, as that was new to me.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“I have a top ten songs of 2021, but my absolute favourite song of the last year is ‘Take my Picture‘ by Wyndow.”