London’s Joe Fox released his debut EP, The Acoustic Alley Sessions, late last year, and Live at Leeds 2017 saw him play an intimate set in the lounge at The Faversham, which has become an established venue for the metropolitan music festival in recent years.
It’s Joe’s dedication to craft and a total disregard for trends that makes his voice unique in the landscape of 2017. A student of every great songwriter, from the Beatles to Bob Marley, his debut presents a collection of raw, soulful, unadulterated songs that reveal the grit of an exceptional songwriting talent, while providing a nod as to why A$AP Rocky chose Joe to co-write five songs on his number one album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, after a chance meeting on the streets of Soho.
Having played a polished intimate acoustic performance in front of around 30 people, he was comfortable in a wooden chair in a bay window, relaxed at a table backstage. “Ah, you’re the guy who was at the front,” he said when I arrived, before standing up and greeting me with a warm handshake. His warmth is something that’s quite striking both on stage and away from the limelight.
His set – and indeed The Acoustic Alley Sessions EP – contains seemingly personal tracks such as ‘Like Jesus’ and ‘Autopilot,’ and I wondered if they make him feel at all vulnerable while performing them. “It’s sometimes weird singing them live, as they are incredibly personal. They always come from some kind of personal place. They don’t make me feel vulnerable; it sometimes makes it bizarre singing them when the crowd is so intimate. ‘Autopilot’ is a very personal song – maybe that makes me feel a bit vulnerable.”
The collaboration with A$AP Rocky is intriguing. Joe was busking and selling his own CDs in Wardour Street, in the early hours of the morning, when a passer-by asked him to play a song first. Joe obliged; that passer-by happened to be acclaimed US rapper A$AP Rocky, who liked Joe’s material so much he asked him to work in the studio together. The result was the number one album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, but Joe is adamant that the collaboration hasn’t changed his songwriting style. “My songwriting still comes from the same place, so that hasn’t changed my songs. It’s still the same.”
With Joe’s stateside connection, he gets to the US pretty often. Having just signed to American label Downtown Records, he feels that will help him going forward. He’s currently working on his first album, which he feels is a really exciting time. “It’s been a massive learning curve. Every day is something different – working in the studio with guitars and instruments. I don’t use anything electronic – it’s all ‘real’ instruments – so it takes ages recording anything!” This attention to detail may mean that the album is a little way off, as there’s no date for release yet. There is talk of a new single, too, but again this hasn’t been decided currently.
The stage door opens at the back of the room, and Joe’s attention is momentarily diverted, ‘What’s your band, mate?’ he calls to the figure making his way past the tables. ‘Cosima’, comes the response, a band he seemed to have enjoyed hearing play on the stage, the other side of the wall.
Joe will be playing some festivals later in the year, including a couple in Germany (the Haldern Pop Festival in August and the Reeperbahn Festival in September). “I’ve played in Germany before and I really like it. They’re very energetic crowds there.” He asks me what the best gig I’ve ever seen is and I tell him I love watching the smaller intimate gigs where bands put real energy into their set, he seemed to agree.
“My favourite was Leonard Cohen. It’s the connection, I guess. If you go to a really good gig, it’s when the whole crowd are feeling the same thing. The Leonard Cohen gig was almost like being in a church. It helps when people know the songs, but it’s about people feeling the same thing at the same time. That’s a good gig to me; it’s when everyone is unified. If people aren’t unified, it’s a bad gig, like when some people are talking and some are drinking. But if everyone’s having a good time together, then that’s why you go to a gig: to have a connection with strangers.
“There are some acts you would never listen to at home, but they sound amazing live,” he adds. “Some bands don’t capture that live sound on record.” It’s quite clear that Joe places importance on getting the right sound; perhaps that’s a hint as to the direction of the new album. Given Joe’s rise into the spotlight, perhaps reflected in the lyrics of his song, ‘Autopilot’, it seemed appropriate to ask him whether he’s ever met anyone he’s been starstruck with… “Yes – Denzel Washington in the US. I was pretty starstruck!”
As I made my way out of the Faversham, the warmth of Joe struck me again. An unassuming young man with a mind clearly brimming with ideas, his attention to detail in his music and his genuine interest in people was apparent. Watch this space: Joe Fox is rising up and has a voice to be heard.
A UK-wide headline tour is on the cards in September/October.
Words: Mike Powell