Back in the mid nineties at the height of powerpop’s golden age when there was a steady flow of great albums week after week, Star Collector’s debut album “Songs For The Whole Family” was an obvious classic from the moment it hit our ears. Great melodic songs, superb, intelligent playing, blissful harmony vocals, all lightly wrapped in the template Jellyfish had set out, but taken from the authentic musical end rather than the gimmicky cartoon pop that other lesser Jellyfish inspired combos hoisted on us. This was a band of real talent and substance. Of that there was no doubt. Always hoping for but never expecting a follow up album, when a new Star Collector finally did arrive our collective hearts sank, not that is was crap, it was a very fine album in itself, the only problem was it wasn’t the same band but a Canadian band (produced by Kevin Kane from the Grapes Of Wrath). The real Star Collector second album we craved was never to happen.
A few years later The JTG Implosion’s “All The People Some of The Time” was a stand out release on Not Lame, though to be fair 70% of that label’s releases was pretty stand out. It was certainly the most psyched out Not Lame album and that’s saying something. The JTG in question was Joe Giddings, one quarter of Star Collector and the album was just as sensational as his previous combo. Shot through with great melodies and riffs, startling playing, enough hooks to fill a Velcro factory and sweet lingering songs that were not just pop confection but a altogether more substantial nourishment. Classy and classic creativity dripped from every moment.
A couple of months back I stumbled across Joe’s huge Youtube channel and was utterly beguiled by all the amazing, and numerous cover tunes he had done for some project called Theme Music
(spearheaded by Matt Brown of the legendary Uncle Green no less). It was all confident, beautifully played and sang with real love and understanding and a big friendly smile, perfectly done and with Joe’s unmistakable charisma imprinted all over it. And my word what a guitarist, when he steps in with a solo your heart just soars like a bird at his wild and masterful playing, an intelligent swagger that brings a smile to your ears. And this led me to his Bandcamp page and the two collection of said covers “All Themes Considered” available there as name your price downloads, along with strange stuff by his perverse alter ego Pippy Barfylips (which I’ll leave you to discover for your own amusement) and most importantly “Irrelevant,” the lead single from his forthcoming new album "Better From Here" which promises to be something special from this powerpop master. Spend a real fun hour or so immersed in his Youtube channel and its clear that Joe’s a great guy, a real sweetheart and an effortlessly smart creative talent. Time to sit down with this fine gentleman and get him to tell us his story in classic Art Into Dust style. So I’ll catch up with you at the end and hand you over to Joe.
I was born late 1965 in New London, Connecticut. Later on Norwich, Connecticut was home for a number of years. My earliest musical memories are listening to the Monkees on cereal box records, no less, The Beatles and everything that was on AM radio. Also my dad’s Roy Orbison, Elvis and Ricky Nelson records. I picked up the guitar at around eight years of age when my uncle, Jim Palermo gave me an acoustic guitar with a few strings. I would listen to Sly Stone and Steppenwolf and play the melody on whatever strings were left. Eventually, around the age of twelve I got a cheap acoustic and learned the basic chords of “On Top Of Old Smokey” and “Red River Valley”. Didn’t really do much with it, but I loved it. The very first song I wrote was called “I Want Her”. Luckily, there is no recording of it. Around thirteen I got into Kiss and Queen and my very supportive parents gave me my first electric guitar.
After my family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts I played in a band called Adrenalin from the age of fifteen to seventeen. We were playing in clubs at that age, though not legally. We recorded a song I wrote at recess called “My Friend J.D.” which told the story of my friend who nearly died of alcohol poisoning… but in a fun way. I played in a metal cover band after that called Scratch for a year or two and then I quit and joined the military after graduating High School for about five months. Yes, five months. I received a medical discharge from the US Navy in 1986. When I got home I joined a band that did some original recordings called Time and Place in 1987. But then I stopped pursuing a music career for many years for personal reasons until in 1994 when I moved to Atlanta to join a band that broke up six months after I moved there. My wife and I married soon after moving to Georgia.
Star CollectorI was introduced to Cord W. (AKA: Cord Stone: rhythm, occasional lead guitar) on his birthday by someone I’d just met that day through an advert in the paper to start a band which I’d answered. I played my demo of “Beatle” and he played me his demo for “Flag” and we hit it off, much to the chagrin of the guy who introduced us. We started writing and recording and looking for other members who were into powerpop and classic pop. We were huge fans of Jellyfish, Teenage Fanclub, Redd Kross, Queen, The Beach Boys, Fountains Of Wayne and The Beatles. Anything that had a ton of rich harmony and chord progressions that were NOT just simple three chord rock songs. We soon met Michael Brown at a copy shop while making a flyer to find a bass player. When he told us he played bass we didn’t make the copies of the flyer. He came over the next day and played so well he got the gig. I just kept telling him to do what Paul McCartney would do. He did that, and more. Dusty Edinger answered our ad for a drummer and though he did not look like the stereotypical rocker he played drums standing up and could harmonise and eventually brought songs to the group, too.
After a few months practice we started playing live around the many clubs in Atlanta and were getting nice things said about our harmonies and playing. It was a blast having four lead singers all up front. Jellyfish was our biggest influence. We used to do a spot on cover of 10cc’s “The Things We Do For Love” and that got us noticed by some local papers. We had full band practices and then vocal practices where we would go over the harmonies all night long. We worked very hard to sound tight live. That really worked to our advantage when we started recording. At first Star Collector recorded demos on an 8-track cassette recorder which sounded great. When we decided to actually do the album, “Songs For The Whole Family”, Cord bought a 16 track digital recorder and we recorded tracks for about six months, mostly in Cord’s living room. The drums and a few other tracks were recorded at the bands practice space very late at night. If I had my choice I’d work in a studio. I have fun playing live but the studio really let’s me be creative and in control. We got a local engineer, Bruce Bennet to help us out and we dumped our 16 tracks to a big studio set-up and properly mixed it at Exocet studios in Atlanta.
The album sold well- nearly 2000 copies and received great reviews in the local Atlanta papers and even US and international powerpop/rock magazines like Bucketful of Brains, Amplifier and Magnet. It did well in the UK and Japan. The album made a number of top 10 lists in 1999. Then in early 2000 our music lawyers suggested we pick one lead singer in order to get us signed to a major label and that killed the band. It was all of us or none of us. We did cover of Sir's Paul and Declan's "My Brave Face" for the "Coming Up" Macca tribute that came out in 2000. It was the very last thing Star Collector recorded together. To this day AMG lists our album with the albums done by the Canadian band of the same name and give them credit for it. I have tried in vain, numerous times to get them to change it.
After Star Collector I quit playing for a few years. I just didn’t care. I got into a mild depression that got worse over time. I was invited to play with Matt Brown from Uncle Green/3lb Thrill. They had broken up and he needed a lead guitarist. It didn’t work out because although I enjoyed it I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit. Just wasn’t ready to get back on stage. I had started writing songs again just before Star Collector broke up. We had played them live but never recorded them. The two that went onto the JTG Implosion record were “Biggest Liar In The World” and “I Could Never B/W You”. I recorded them as soon as I got my own 8 track digital recorder and that got me excited about writing again. So I wrote about eight songs and recorded them with a drum machine at home.When I write songs they start with lyrics that as I write them are being played by a full band…in my head. So by the time I finish the lyrics I have heard the whole song in my head very nearly the way it will sound when I record it. Then I grab a guitar, play it till I figure out what key my head was playing the song in and write out the chords I was thinking of. Sometimes I will just start playing guitar and come up with an entire song off the cuff and record it as I’m writing it, adding all the parts to the one-take recording till it’s a complete song. Those are fun.
When I was going through the early stages of my depression a lot of childhood memories of being picked on and not fitting in all came up…so there’s a lot of songs about that on the record. I intended it to be a concept album about me falling apart into myself, (thus the JTG Implosion…not Explosion as it has been printed many times incorrectly online.) and coming to grips with my past and losing Star Collector and disliking the music business and it’s focus on power and status. I tried to do a lot of styles on that record and some mistook that for lack of focus and thought it was too “all-over-the-place” Well, psychologically, I was all-over-the-place. Bruce Brodeen, from Not Lame records had really wanted to put out Star Collector back in 1999 but we said no thank you because we wanted full control of the recording. Looking back it couldn’t have hurt us. Bruce is such an incredibly supportive, honest and helpful man. He loved my new stuff and wanted to release it. The only thing holding me up was that I wanted a real drummer on the tracks. I had a friend that owned a small studio and he knew a great drummer Joe Lee who came in after hearing the demos for less than two days and nailed it. Completely blew me away. To this day, though, some songs still have drum machine on them, but only a few know which ones. All the songs were dumped from my 8-track digi-recorder to Protools and mixed at Sh’Bang studios in Atlanta.
I played one CD release party at the Hard Rock Café in Atlanta with a full band that rocked and worked very hard to get all the parts right. However I felt so uncomfortable on stage that I just gave up on it that very night. I was happy that the record had a bit of success, in that I was in Star Collector and folks wanted to hear what I’d done solo. But I knew I wasn’t going to play any more shows for that record.
The sound guy whose band also played that night, Adam McIntyre and I became friends. I’d go see his band, The Pinx playing around town. After their bassist quit the day before a show I joined and played that gig. I played bass for The Pinx for a few years and recorded “Look What You Made Me Do” with them at Killybegs studio in Atlanta. We also recorded a killer e.p. at Southern Tracks appropriately titled “Southern Tracks”. I’m very proud of those records. I co-wrote a couple of the songs and even wrote one for the e.p.
Then in June 2010 we left Atlanta because my wife got a great job in Columbus, Ohio…and that’s where I am now. And I’m very, very happy to be here.
Matt Brown (Uncle Green) started Theme Music on Facebook in April 2012. He’s our Fearless Leader and now resides in New Jersey. Every week he presents a new theme, such as food, weather, colours and we choose covers or write original songs relating to that week’s theme. I’ve recorded covers ranging from Kiss to Van Halen to The Knack to Dusty Springfield to TV Theme songs. Really whatever the theme’s about often reminds me of songs I’ve always loved but never attempted to play. I’ve written a bunch of songs for the group, as well. And within one to five hours I have a completed cover/original song and video. It’s really a creativity booster as well as a fantastic tool for keeping up my chops as a player. “Theme Music” is celebrating its one-year anniversary at the end of April.It started with a handful of friends and acquaintances and now has around 800 members from around the world. Folks have to make a video of their song. Some are filmed on a flip-phone, some are pro-production, multi-camera, MTV quality videos with top studio quality audio recordings, and then there’s everything in between. The best part is that it’s a fantastic community for support as a musician. Everyone is encouraging, helpful, kind and caring. The one’s who are doing the high quality stuff DO NOT look down on or make light/fun of those who are recording through their computer microphone, many for the first time in public. One of the coolest parts are the collaborations where two to thirty people will send files to one person who mixes all the audio tracks and then edits the video together from bits and pieces sent from all over the world. It’s amazing.
There’s such a strong bond in the group that we’ve actually had forty members from around the country meet and play a show together in Atlanta last year called Themestock and we’re doing it again this year in October. So many good musicians were in attendance that we had a rotating band throughout the night. We played fifty songs together with nearly fifty different combinations of us, all in three hours. Getting to meet people you’ve only met online and played music with from afar was both surreal and transcendent. It was the single most satisfying musical experience of my life. No joke.
Recently I was invited by Andrew Curry to be on his new compilation called “Drink a Toast to Innocence- A Tribute to Lite Rock”. It was completely funded by a Kickstarter campaign and is an amazing collection of Lite Rock classics re-recorded and in some cases, rearranged by some of my favourite top-shelf powerpop artists including Michael Carpenter, Bleu, Mike Viola, Willie Wisely, Cliff Hillis and Seth Swirsky. Oddly enough, he asked me to do the project because he’d seen my cover of “Thunder Island” by Jay Furguson, which was a collaboration I’d done for Theme Music. I recorded the 70’s hit “Undercover Angel” for the project with friends from Theme Music.
Better From Here
As far as my own original music is concerned the new album I’ve been working on was written as soon as I unpacked and plugged in my computer after moving to Columbus. I wrote and recorded about 11 songs in 4 months at home. The new record will be called “Better From Here” and have at least 10 songs. They range from songs about joy and hope and moving forward to the perils of being in the music biz and my complete and utter lack of desire to be a “star”. Again, the main reason it’s not released it the lack of real drums. I’m hoping that will be fixed soon. The first single “Irrelevant”, is available on my Bandcamp page. The album will probably only get a digital release this summer. I can’t afford to print up actual discs. Who knows…I might start a Kickstarter fund-drive. It works. I’ve seen it happen.
So there you have it folks, I for one cannot wait to hear the new album and in the meantime I’m having great times listing to his covers albums and checking his facebook page for his latest Theme Music cover song. Come and join the party yourself at the following linkage.