Life is full of simple pleasures. At least it ought to be. Little things that make us smile as we go through the day, fond reflections as the night closes in. One of life’s little pleasures for me is discovering new music. This is all the more true when that music comes through friends. One of the things that’s always intrigued me is the social aspect of music. The ability to share life through song.
I recently received an e-mail from someone who knew some of the friends I made while a student at Southern Seminary. That someone was Joe Garner and Joe Garner plays music. As a result of those e-mails, I have found myself listening quite a bit lately to Joe’s EP, Mourning Birds. The EP was recorded at a studio in the mountains of east Tennessee and is currently released independently.
At six songs, it leaves you fulfilled yet wanting more. Mastered by TW Walsh, formerly of Pedro the Lion, Garner’s songs exist somewhere between alt. country, folk, Americana and roots music and Pedro the Lion fans will find much to love here. Sparse but not spare, barren but not bare, most of the music centers around Garner, his voice and guitar. With flourishes of subtle piano, cello and trumpet, With hints of Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Iron and Wine and others, Garner travels well-worn roads while leaving his own indelible footprints along the way. Garner’s profile at Sonicbids describes Garner and his music this way:
Son to a life-long and road-weary Country ‘n’ Western picker, Garner comes by his music honest. While not too concerned with slaying the forefathers of his genre or recreating the wagon wheel, Joe Garner has been able to move in and inhabit the best sensibilities of a songwriting once known as Country Music, but upon its exit from the country now labeled ‘Roots’.
I like to describe some music as “comfortable.” Some music feels as though it’s been part of your life all along, even when you’re hearing it for the first time. There is some spark there that instantly connects and it’s as if you’ve always lived with that music. Listen and connect with Joe Garner. Here is a live video of Joe performing “Bury the Hatchet:”
To help introduce you to Joe Garner and his music, I asked him a few questions about his faith, his music and their relationship. Here’s what he had to say:
- When/how did you first begin writing your own songs?
I began playing guitar when I was 18 after hearing Buddy Holly. My dad made a living playing country music in Nashville, so we had guitars all over the house, but I was into Silverchair and Pearl Jam and all that until I really heard ’50s music my senior year of high school; mainly through my dad. I fell in love with the raw sounds, especially Buddy Holly. So, I got my dad to teach me “Peggy Sue” and probably 3 years later I wrote a song about a man whom I knew from the church I attended after he passed away. I remember being really satisfied having worked through my thoughts with the guitar, and I still feel the same way.
- For those who haven’t had a chance to hear your music yet, how would you describe it?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure the music so far is what I’m going for but I think it’s really trying to connect with the lives of those around me as well as my own experience in a way that eludes us (both) on a day to day basis.
- What role does music play in your own life?
I think Bruce Springsteen said he could learn more from a 5 minute song than from 4 years of college or something crazy like that. I really relate to that. I love working and living at my own pace, so being able to push “pause” and “repeat” on a CD player to really saturate myself with someone’s thoughts is something I love. It doesn’t work so well with books because I start feeling really insecure and behind because it takes me so long to finish them. I still read, of course, but songs keep me in the loop.
- Who are some artists who have influenced you?
- How does your faith influence your music?
It’s impossible to divorce the two while making music for the right reasons. I don’t want to create music that is a means to human success, but I still believe that music is, in fact, a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Wow, that’s confusing. The first time I saw Sam Beam I was taken aback at the community he created in the place when he began singing; you could hear a pin drop for a solid hour. At that show I realized the bond a song could create. And we know that Christ lives within the community of believers. So I hope that as I craft songs the mysteries of the faith float around the room that Christ may bring the listener closer to himself. But I want to do that in a way that’s good y’know?
- What is your view of “Christian” music?
Well, that’s a tough question because I think it’s great to gather and sing songs as a body to God, even though I’ve never felt totally comfortable in that setting, but once I started hearing Bob Dylan songs and old slave ballads that really captured the most devastating (and realistic) of human experiences, all the pop Christian music I’d heard became really cheap and meaningless. I have a friend that says the evangelical position in culture many times is “whatever you can do we can do later” and I think this really comes to light in the Christian music industry. All that said, I still really love Rich Mullins, not necessarily because of his music but because of the way he lives his life.
- Are there any artists you think are getting this mix of Christian faith and music right?
Well, I’ve learned more from agnostic writing and even related more to that than those folks who have the same belief that I do, so I appreciate when someone just is who they are. In the same way that Pete Seeger just rubs me the wrong way when he’s singing a propagandistic song, I get really put off when a Christian songwriter hides a snake under the tablecloth for 3 minutes when you already know it’s there. Just put it on the table! Now we can write a song.
- What’s next?
Since this is my first album not much is happening quite yet. I’m just writing away and hoping that enough people like what I’m doing to allow me to do it more. I’m just really getting started and I’d love to chat next year to see where we’ve gotten. Oh, and tell your friends!