To coincide with the release of his stunning new album Apparitions, we were blessed with an in-depth chat with guitarist and artist Joe Hodgson, to find out more about his background as a musician, his creative process, the story behind this album, and much more. Here’s the conversation in full.
* * *
Hi Joe – great to finally chat, how are things with you?
Hi Rebecca, all is good thanks, and it’s great to finally catch up with you too.
It’s been an incredibly busy time for me recently, I’ve been flat out trying to get things in place for the album release on 27th November. It’s been pretty much non-stop every day for the last 6 months, and I’m doing everything myself, so it’s pretty challenging.
Congrats on the new album – what can you tell us about it?
Well it’s a totally instrumental album titled Apparitions, and although it’s rooted in the rock and blues that I grew up with, I was determined not to be trapped genre-wise, as has happened to me in the past, and I wanted to experiment without being musically shackled. So you’ll hear elements of funk, jazz, and even Latin Music creep in at various points during the record. There is a definite melting pot of sounds going on, and I only had one rule, there are no rules.
A lot of people have said to me that the music is very intense, and I think that can be attributed to the fact that it was written against the backdrop of my return to Northern Ireland in 2017 to nurse my terminally-ill Mum in the last year of her life. She had Motor Neurone Disease, so it was a pretty harrowing experience, but I was glad I was there for her. It took a terrible toll on our whole family because we all adored her.
My Mum was was my biggest supporter and she was a source of endless encouragement when it came to my music. She always told me to never give up, no matter how hard things got, and she always believed in me. She heard 13 of the 15 tracks and when I played them to her just before she died, she simply wrote on a bit of paper ”Lovely melodies”. That meant more to me than anything. So the album is dedicated to her.
With Apparitions – how did you decide upon the title, and is there a thread or concept that unites the tracks?
Well, the title comes from my Mum’s favourite poem “The Apparitions” by W.B. Yeats, and the lines ‘Fifteen Apparitions have I seen: / The worst a coat upon a coat hanger” gave me the number of tracks I decided to write for it. The circumstances of my Mum’s illness led me into a period of deep introspection and around that time I read a book by W.G. Sebald called ‘The Rings of Saturn’. This led me into thinking about how nothing ever stays the same in life, everything changes or decays; we live our lives, we all lose lovers and loved ones, but looking forward is the one thing we can all do. We may have regrets, but hope and optimism are usually only around the next corner. So in conjunction with the idea of the songs as apparitions, that became the theme behind it all.
The cover of the album was shot by an amazing photographer called Tony Moore and we brought this to life. So if you look closely, you’ll see that the Yeats poem and the themes I’ve talked about are visually represented, along with a few other markers and symbols that are of importance in my life.
You mentioned, regarding the first single, that it was inspired by true events. Is this generally how melodies and ideas come to you, or is there no set way to create?
Well with every track, there’s a little story behind it; some event or other that’s made some kind of impression on me. As far as the process of writing goes, I’ll start with either a chord progression or a melody that I like, program some drums and develop it until the point where I’m ready to get other musicians involved. That way, I have a definite idea of the groove and feel that I want. I had some fantastic musicians play on the album; Vinzenz Benjamin (Go West, Paul Young, Belinda Carlisle) played bass, Max Saidi (Will Young, Shane Filan) was on drums, and Nick Gilmore (Odyssey) played keyboards.
I went to Hamilton Ontario to get it mixed by a great mix engineer called Chris James Ryan. That was a great experience and he did an amazing job. John Davis mastered it, he did all the Led Zeppelin remasters, so I was in good hands there. It’s the first record I’ve produced myself, and it was quite a daunting task, but I couldn’t be happier with the results. I just hope people enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.
For those who don’t know, who or what first inspired you to pick up the guitar, and what keeps you playing and creating to this day?
Hearing Rory Gallagher play was what first got me into the guitar. He was a legend in Ireland and his playing was just electrifying. Then I discovered another Irish guitar player, Gary Moore, and hearing him totally changed my life. He was mesmeric, and to this day I’ve never heard anyone who I think comes close to him; Van Halen perhaps, but I always thought Gary had the edge in every department.
What keeps me playing? That’s easy, I just love it, and to this day I’ve not discovered anything that comes close to the feeling I get from playing the guitar. I tried to quit and do something sensible once, but that didn’t last for long… I play every day and music is always rattling around in my head from morning until night.
What’s the live guitar scene like in your part of the world lately, prior to Covid of course?
I’m from Co. Tyrone and live quite close to Derry. There are lots of great players around here, but it’s a very small scene, and a lot of the venues pay bands scandalously low money. Playing-wise, there’s one guy in particular that has always blown my mind, any time I’ve heard him, that’s Tommy Hopkins. I can safely say that even during my two decades in London, I never heard anyone there as good as him. We’re great friends as well, and he recently contributed to a documentary that was made about me and the making of Apparitions, called “Who The **** Is Joe Hodgson?” We’ve spoken about doing a track together at some stage in 2021, that’ll be great fun, but I’ll know I’ll be hard pushed to even keep up with him.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given in life?
My English teacher at school, Mr. Gourley, always said if you’re gonna do anything in life, do it properly, no matter what it is or how menial it may seem. From that way of thinking, I came up with my own motto for life, “When you think you’ve given everything, that’s when you should give some more”.
Is there anything else we should know?
Just that my album will be available for streaming and download on all major platforms, and also in physical CD format from my website www.joehodgsonmusic.com
I’d really urge people to go for the physical product. In an era where albums are a disposable commodity that we rarely possess, never mind physically hold, I wanted to present a beautiful piece of art that reflected the care and love taken in the making of the music itself. What you’ll get is an array of imagery which, like the old days, drives the search for reason and meaning and gives the listener something tangible that I think truly complements the intensity and depth of the music.
* * *