It feels like a misnomer that Glaswegian musician Joesef chose to write a love letter to his hometown in the heart of the English countryside. His experiences working away from home, he says, have become the basis for his latest single, ‘East End Coast’. “We got the chance to work in a studio in the middle of nowhere,” he beams as we sit in a blacked-out central London recording studio, hidden from the ever-rising heatwave. “Basically, it was an isolated farm – very much like Midsommar vibes, lots of people drinking Kombucha and growing their own basil.”
This ‘nowhere’ (located on the coast near Plymouth, he thinks) gave the 27-year-old a much-needed break following a tumultuous relationship. “When we wrote East End Coast, I was very much going through it,” he explains. “My producer Barney Lister knew it was time to put our heads together, isolated. But in the end it was one of those easy things, he played the melody on the piano and I just sang the tune and from there it wrote itself.”
The single follows ‘It’s Been A Little Heavy Lately’ released back in February, and the two tracks released side-by-side shows us a glimpse of the full breadth of genres Joesef can effortlessly lend his silky vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyricism to – pop, soul, funk, indie – and hints at what’s to come.
“I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve put something out and I feel like this is me putting my best foot forward,” he says with a grin. “It’s a song I’m really proud of lyrically and musically. Sometimes you miss exactly what you wanted to say, but I’ve said exactly what I wanted to on this tune.”
Below, Joesef shares what inspired ‘East End Coast’, from heartbreak and homesickness to DiY records and Danny Boyle .
Joesef explains that he began feeling homesick almost immediately upon moving to London last summer. “I felt so displaced from everything – my mates, my family – that every time I went back to Glasgow I felt a wee bit further away from it,” he says. “And then I met this person when I was in London and we fell in love. It was quite tumultuous at times, but he felt like my new home, my home away from home. He became my safe place.”
It’s a familiar feeling for many expats searching for community and connection in a strange new city, and has been compounded by the pandemic’s lockdowns. Now dubbed ‘lockdown couples’, we all have at least one friend who embarked on a new, unknowingly-accelerated serious relationship, whether through forced circumstances, loneliness or sheer boredom. “It was like the world had gone to shit but we had each other,” Joesef says with a small headshake, as if to remove misplaced nostalgia like cobwebs. “I wanted to capture that feeling of finding home in someone while also paying tribute to Glasgow.”
I felt so displaced from everything – my mates, my family – that every time I went back to Glasgow I felt a wee bit further away from it.
He says it “just made sense” for this to be his next single: “Aye, it’s a big shout out to my hometown of Glasgow, which I love. My mum is one of my biggest influences I’d say and she’s like a straight up Glasgow Maw.”
While many artists enjoy referencing and paying homage to their hometowns or countries, every part of Joesef’s artistry feels infused with his Scottish heritage. “I feel like when you’re in Glasgow, you’re so immersed in it, it’s a part of you and you can never shake it off even if you wanted to,” he says, quickly clarifying, “Not that I would want to. But I feel like when people leave Glasgow, they realise how much influence it’s had on your entire being.”
Capturing the essence of Glasgow at its gloomiest, ‘East End Coast’ fades in with rain sounds. “I feel like it adds texture,” he begins, “And in the context of the song, it also makes sense. When the song climaxes, we added thunder too, and then it fades out at the end, and I think it just feels like Glasgow to me, it feels a bit dangerous, a bit messy.”
‘Geraldine’ & Shuggie Bain
One such influence comes in an unlikely place for a soul singer. “One of my favourite album’s is Glasvegas’ first album when they were singing about Geraldine the social worker and all that,” he laughs. “I feel like that’s probably an album that I’ll always go back to, even just sonically, like our guitars and this ‘wall of sound’ 60s thing that they had going on.” While he might not sing with quite the same inflection, he says their writing style has been a longtime inspiration. “I’m obsessed with them, and with writers like Douglas Stewart.”
When I asked what he was listening to while recording, Joesef admits that when he’s isolated in the studio he is listening to “fuck all”. Instead, he was reading Scottish author Douglas Stewart’s 2020 Booker Prize-winning novel which tells the story of a queer youth living with his alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow. He explains, “I was so taken aback by his use of language – he describes Glasgow in a way that feels like it accurately depicts it, but also makes it so beautiful at the same time. I wanted to try and be specific in my choice of language so that it’s not totally straightforward and capture it as he has.”
That’s the dichotomy of being Scottish – we always have to have a punch line, even during the hardest times.
Unlike Joesef’s previous EPs, 2019’s Play Me Something Nice and 2020’s Does It Make You Feel Good?, there’s a heightened level of sonic finesse that can be heard on the newest single, like a momentum building. As his star has continued to rise so too has his production, though he’s careful not to forget his DIY origins.
“When I first started and before I got signed, I was in my bedroom with my guitar and my laptop just throwing absolute shit against the wall until it stuck,” he admits. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to be scared to cowboy something until it sounds good, because if it sounds good to you then it is good. You don’t need the best gear, like I’ve been to a couple of studios where the gear is vintage from the 60s and it’s an amazing £8000 amp, but it’s like, if I can make something that sounds like that, then why not try?”
Soffia Coppola & Trainspotting
As we chat, Joesef is preparing for his accompanying music video shoot with director Luis Hindman. The pair previously worked together on the video for ‘It’s Been A Little Heavy Lately’: “We have the same colour references and movie references. We’ve got a couple of videos booked to try and create this wee world that my new music will live in and I’m really excited to see that.”
For the ‘East End Coast’ video, Joesef is searching through a crowded club for his ex-partner. “I was rehearsing with a boy in the video and it was getting a bit hot and heavy,” he says, feigning shock. “We had to dance together, like head against head, but I was fucking sweating. It was like 38 degrees, I felt like I was on Strictly or something!”
Visuals have long been an important component of Joesef’s output, with his previous EPs shrouded in a youthful blush pink. “My favourite director is Sofia Coppola, I’ve always loved that glazed, pastel colour palette,” he gushes. For ‘East End Coast’ however, Joesef says he turned back to his roots for his next aesthetic inspiration – Danny Boyle’s cult-classic film, Trainspotting: “It feels dirty and dark but with these pops of acid colours.”
He continues, “I feel like Danny Boyle has always been good at having that absolute horror of the reality of a situation, and then have it also be funny. Similarly to Shuggie Bain, or like Derry Girls. The writer of Derry Girls, she said something online about how she’s never seen an accurate depiction of the Troubles because it’s never been funny. Irish people are inherently some of the funniest people. And similarly, that’s the dichotomy of being Scottish – we always have to have a punch line, even during the hardest times.”
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