If Nashville's respective music scenes were high school sports teams, electro-pop would likely (and unjustifiably) find itself on the JV team. It just hasn't been embraced in the way Americana and "Outlaw" (is that still a thing?) country have been as of late. Hell, even butt rock has earned a seat at the table recently. But when it comes to pop artists, they are in an arena (more so an auxiliary gym) of their own in Nashville. Maybe that's necessary, so as to sift through the rich kids whose parents are bank rolling (aka "Pulling a T. Swift") their music "careers," as they buy followers, views, and co-writes in order to maintain a facade. But such a scenario is indicative of Nashville's music scene as a whole - in fact, its probably more of an outlier than a commonality. There's still some indie spirit in Nashville's pop scene, point and case being Jonie (musical nom de guerre of Joseph Barrios).
Now/Its met with Barrios at Portland Brew in 12 South.
Joseph – Its always really funny to come here and see the people that have just arrived in Nashville with suitcases in hand. There’s a group of ten girls, all with big luggage, and I’m like, “You didn’t even stop at the Airbnb before you got here?”
N/I – Yeah, its funny. Well, actually, point and case right there…
A group of young women with suitcases in tow enter Portland Brew.
N/I – Actually, you know what? I think the aforementioned group may have just entered. I can only assume.
Joseph – [Laughs] Next question.
N/I – [Laughs] Right. It is funny. I’d be interested see what your take on [stuff like that] is, because you’ve been in Nashville long enough to where…
Joseph – I’ve definitely been around to see a little bit of change.
N/I – Right. You’ve managed to achieve “native” status, whatever indeterminable, vague meaning that might have.
Joseph – Yeah. Its interesting, because growing up in Nashville, I had this view of Nashville that has changed a lot since I’ve been here. Because Nashville used to be like “Oh, its another city in Tennessee that has some country music going on,” but not a “hip city” or anything like that.
N/I – Right. Well it wasn’t even bigger than Memphis at the time, which may not have been an immediate thought, but at the time I would imagine it was well within the collective subconscious that Memphis was always going to be bigger than Nashville, at least at that point in time.
Joseph – And that just changed recently, right?
N/I – I think it happened in May, or sometime around then. So very, very recently. But it did seem like Memphis was the stoic big brother to Nashville.
Joseph – Well I think Memphis has always had a chip on its shoulder with Nashville, especially with the state politics that go on. Because a lot of people feel like Memphis doesn’t have as much of a voice in state matters. Its funny, with all the Preds stuff going on recently, there was a lot of debate [amongst Memphians] about “Should we support the Preds? Should we be in favor of Nashville winning this?” Its like “Yeah! Who fucking cares?”
N/I – I know, right. I saw in the NBA playoffs that the Grizzlies made a big marketing push to support the Predators in hopes of gaining some sort of overlap, but unfortunately I don’t know how much of that there actually was.
Joseph – No, probably not.
N/I – I suppose that’s… Well, actually, I was going to say that’s neither here nor there, but I think that’s actually pretty on point. Anyway, you released your single today, “Cherry 7Up.”
Joseph – Yes! Today is the day.
N/I – And it was through Vents Magazine, right? How’d you find them? Or did they find you?
Joseph – That was through Nick Yacovazzi, who I’ve been working with at AGD [Entertainment]. Its this smaller, indie focused music blog that’s based out of somewhere like Puerto Rico, I think is where they said? So with this first release, I wanted to push for something that was less of a Nashville-specific blog and catered to more of a national audience. So they were willing and sent over a Q&A, and actually had some really good questions. I’m glad it worked out.
N/I – Sure, yeah I’m all for the indie blogs. It seems like more substantial remnants of journalism remain in tact within that realm.
Joseph – Yeah, I think the blogger-spirit is still there.
N/I – Right. So do you want to avoid something like getting pigeon-holed as a pop act from Nashville? Or is something like Vents Magazine more along the lines of simply trying to get it in front of as many different eyes and ears as possible?
Joseph – Yeah. It was definitely more of the reach aspect. I’m fine with being associated with Nashville. I think the music community here has done a lot of great things for me as an artist and just constantly being inspired to do better around the people here. But that being said, I don’t really consider myself to be a Nashville artist, because I do relate so much to Memphis. And also, when you first say “Nashville,” people have a certain connotation in mind about what your music should sound like, and I want to destroy that stereotype, but also be true to who I am as an artist living in Nashville. So maybe I should identify as a Nashville artist…
N/I – In service of the mission…
Joseph – Yeah. To help the community out.
N/I – Right. So what is that connotation to you? Because I could possibly surmise what my version of that “Nashville” connotation might be…
Joseph – Sure. I honestly think its more of an aesthetics type thing. Its denim, boots, Stetsons, like the hat.
N/I – Flat-brimmed, though, not cowboy hats.
Joseph – No. Its got to be trendy. Which… There’s nothing wrong with that, per se – and I like a lot of the music that comes out of here – like I love a lot of folk and Americana. Its not what I’m trying to make, personally, but there’s so much talent that goes into that. There is this visual stereotype that people have, like you need a beard, and a trendy haircut. I don’t really want to relate to that aspect of it as much.
N/I – That’s fair.
Joseph – I don’t know. I feel like a grocery store musician right now, because I’m taking the good parts of Nashville – like the musicianship and the dedication to your art – those are the things I really like about Nashville. But you can keep your raw denim at home.
N/I – Well you say that like it’s a bad thing, because it definitely doesn’t sound that way to me.
Joseph – No, definitely not. I’m unapologetic about my raw denim beliefs.
N/I – Aren’t we all? So do you ever get any weird pushback on your music with regard to being unapologetic about your views on that stuff?
Joseph – Not pushback, but some interesting responses. Because my background is in more of the indie rock world, and now I’m trying to reposition into more of an electronic, pop with plenty of the indie influences in there. A lot of people have maybe pushed back on the electronic aspect of the music.
N/I – Really?
Joseph – Well, what people seem to only relate to electronic music is the rave music or dubstep or…
N/I – Or like deep house.
Joseph – Yeah, that has its own aesthetic connotation. So I think its kind of funny because its so much of a spectrum within electronic music as there is in rock music or pop music, but people only know like Skrillex and Diplo types.
N/I – Right. The Top-40 DJ, producer, collaborators, basically.
Joseph – Exactly. I kind of like the “indietronic” descriptor, because it maybe dispels some of that attribution.
N/I – Well anyone in particular? I would assume Toro Y Moi…
Joseph – Yeah, that’s a big one. A lot of the [laughs] “chillwave” guys – big quotations on that – I really love Neon Indian, I got to see him last year.
N/I – At Exit/In?
Joseph – Yes! And that was a really cool show just to see how he was able to recreate these crazy sounds on the record live, and it works so well. Because its just soul and funk and disco music, but with different production techniques. So that has always captured my ear – classic songwriting and arrangements of soul music and disco, a lot of which stems from my Memphis background, but with the pop gloss on it. Like a Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones flavor to it. I just find it really interesting. Because they’re really all the same songs, except there’s an acoustic drum kit from 1965 and a LinnDrum machine on the other. Its all very similar.
N/I – Yeah. There’s an almost instantaneous crossover in which the aesthetic can diverge in certain ways, but also…
Joseph – Also compliment it.
N/I – Right. Its definitive enough to be able to identify what’s different in X, Y, and Z, but can also see what’s similar in A, B, and C.
Joseph – Yep. No doubt.
N/I – So when you perform live, are you trying to – I hesitate to say “replicate” it – bring it to its fullest production quality? Like Neon Indian or someone in that vein.
Joseph – There’s a balance there. I think its really important to strip everything away to what the root of the song is – what’s actually being said in the songwriting. And then from there, you can build it back up in the Y-set. So for the recording process, some of those songs have 60 tracks in them. I can’t have fifty plus musicians up onstage, and it wouldn’t sound good if I did – if I tried to recreate it exactly how it is on the record. But, with that classic soul and funk and disco influence, I can kind of go back and be like “Okay, how did these guys do it?” Because they didn’t have all the recording mumbo jumbo that we have now and I’ve been able to use, and if you recreated it that way with a core group of musicians that are really, really tight and really, really good, it works really, really well. I had a show last week where we knew, “Okay, we can’t have everything that’s in the recording,” and we didn’t really want to rely on a track too heavily so we had to figure out what we needed to do to make it sound good. So we just stripped it down to the really cool, core components, and it was fun. I haven’t had a live experience like that, where everyone was dancing and having a good time. I think it really goes back to that kind of set up – just a core group of members that are really talented and really good at their instruments.
N/I – So how many band members are you playing with?
Joseph – Right now its four. I would like to expand it out just a little bit, so we could add in fun stuff like auxiliary percussion or background vocals. But those are the things that serve as little flavors on top.
N/I – So what is it right now then? A synth, guitar, bass?
Joseph – Its mainly keys, which is mostly piano sounds, so more organic. Me playing guitar and singing. A bass player who also does a little bit of synth stuff, and also a drummer who has a SPD pad to where he can do so electronic drum sounds and stuff like that.
N/I – So no presets or anything?
Joseph – There’s a few loops for the percussion that we run in the background and on the recording, I did a lot of sampling, and that stuff is being triggered live, but it… I think it becomes difficult when you try and have too much coming from a box or a computer. The first show ever that we did, we relied a little too heavily on technology, and Murphy’s Law came in full force and my laptop came to a screeching halt and wouldn’t work for most of the show. So definitely learned a valuable lesson on that.
N/I – Was it overloaded with too much bandwidth?
Joseph – Yeah, there was something weird with my keyboard I was playing, and it was just… definitely a good lesson learned.
N/I – Oh yeah, I’m sure. I don’t think I’ve ever asked, but how long has Jonie, Jonietapes, and all of that been in existence?
Joseph – Probably since October of last year. It stemmed from me being a little frustrated with music and where I was at, and the music that I was making. I was playing in a band that wasn’t really going anywhere, and I really wanted to produce my own music and have more freedom in the decision making process, and so I ended up learning Logic and some production stuff, and writing some songs, and getting really interested in synthesizers and sampling and drum machines and getting more familiar with the electronic aspects of music. All of these songs all stemmed from what were effectively music exercises and then they just became songs, but it started from a place of “I want to learn how to sample a song,” and “I want to learn of to program a drum pattern” and then from there it was “Okay, I want to learn how to arrange all of these things to make a song,” and “I want to learn how to mix all of these elements into a final product,” and then it was just done. I had five or six songs that I stripped down to three and I was like “I guess I’ve got a record.” So I began to think that maybe I should put this out as a mixtape or an experiment. So that’s where it all stemmed from – trying to learn new things.
N/I – So did it just click immediately for you then? Like if you’re teaching yourself logic and you’re teaching yourself how to sample songs, that can’t be easy, is it? It would seem you might need to rely heavily upon an engineer or producer when you’re starting out.
Joseph – You know, I really enjoy the technical side, and I’ve been a songwriter for a while, but musical production is definitely anew thing for me, but it made me curious right away, and once I started diving headfirst into it – I just kind of learned one thing, which led to another thing, which led to another thing. So its still very much new, but its still exciting. I get what you’re asking though – I’ve always been in the position of having a producer or and engineer in the studio, but once I got a little bedroom studio set up and just started making beats and little experimental things, I was like “Oh, I can make this sound cool and make it sound more like what I want it to sound like than what an engineer or another producer wants it to sound like.” So, I think that freedom fueled that curiosity in that desire to learn more about that art of production.
N/I – Well its effectively one less exchange of hands.
Joseph – Yeah. And I think technology with music is at a really exciting point, because you can have a full recording studio for under $500… really under $300, if you get creative with it and $300 now can buy you what $50,000 bought you twenty years ago. So I feel like that technology is really going to influence the next wave of musicians that have grown up with computer music and all these really cool programs. I think you’re really starting to see it in a lot of rap music and hip-hop, too. There’s basically this whole fruity loops generation. There are beatmakers – like some really young, talented dudes that have never stepped in a recording studio before.
N/I – That’s what blew Metro Boomin’s spot up – the recording in a basement.
Joseph – Yeah! I saw a video of him and he was mixing on a Beats Pill - which is the little portable boombox – and he was mixing something for, I don’t know, like Gucci Mane or someone like that; basically something that was bound to be huge.
N/I – Well that to me is totally surreal that he’s 23 and literally have Gucci Mane or Kanye hitting him up personally to cut tracks. That’s totally beyond my comprehension.
Joseph – And that whole world is interesting to me, because I feel like with indie music or more rock oriented genres, there’s a set of rules in place, and a certain aesthetic that goes along with that and you really can’t step outside of that because there’s not a space for that. But with hip-hop, the rules are being rewritten because anyone can load the software onto their computer and just start making beats and no one really cares what you look like, if you’re super goofy, or weird. If you make good music, people are going to respond to it. I really like the indie rap, indie hip-hop scene that’s sprouting up right now. I want to start making music that’s a little more beat oriented and hip-hop inspired than, say, indie inspired.
N/I – So you’re more of the SoundCloud generation’s spirit? I understand SoundCloud itself has its own unique connotation…
Joseph – [Laughs] Its an interesting paradox, because that SoundCloud vs. Bandcamp meme – I’m really hesitant to say that I’m a SoundCloud artist…
N/I – Right, and I’m not trying to say that you are part of the “unique” connotation.
Joseph – No worries [laughs]. I think SoundCloud is an interesting platform that is rewriting the rules of music, because it is more single oriented and “what’s going to grab the listener in the first fifteen seconds?” So a lot of producers are aiming their sound at things that really capture your attention right off the bat. So really bombastic sounds and things that are really punchy and really loud, weird synths…
N/I – Samples that come out of left field…
Joseph – Yeah, exactly. So I think that stuff is interesting, but I think its… not dangerous, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a SoundCloud producer. Because if someone listened to my music on SoundCloud, streaming, Bandcamp, or whatever, I want there to still be a dialogue between the artist and the audience – where I’m invested in them, they’re invested in me. Its not like “I have to hit you with the chorus before twenty seconds.” There’s just some songwriting things that I think are different there. But I do think SoundCloud is really rewriting the rules for a lot of electronic producers, because that is such a big platform for them to reach out to people on. I’m interested to see where it goes.
N/I – Sure. It kind of feels – obviously, I wasn’t present when it happened – but kind of feels like the 70s punk rock wave. It seems like [SoundCloud] could be hip-hop’s version of that. It’s the new rock n roll. It’s the biggest genre at the moment that feels primed for a forced maneuver.
Joseph – That’s true. I think you’re seeing a lot of what happened with rock music in the 70s and 80s, where you had these big rock bands that were super glitzy and had huge stage shows and people started to get tired of that, eventually pivoting toward punk rock music. I think you’re starting to see a lot of that with rap in that there are a lot of 40-year old, 50-year old rappers.
N/I – Definitely. Busta [Rhymes] is pushing 50 at this point…
Joseph – Exactly, its wild to see. Because you’re getting young guys that dress like Mac DeMarco instead of dressing like Jay-Z. Its an interesting time in the hip-hop world.
N/I – Absolutely. So circling back to the SoundCloud discussion - you are oddly cognizant of the listening masse – it seems. You can speak very eloquently about understanding what your role is in the artist to listener relationship – is that something you’ve always focused on? Or is it something that’s become more of a byproduct of producing a podcast like Yadee Yadah?
Joseph – I’m definitely more cognizant of it now. After playing with a few bands and seeing the different approaches that they had in the past – its something that I’m aware of, but its not something that I let dictate what I’m doing.
N/I – Sure. I’d imagine it probably serves as more of a far off reminder?
Joseph – Yeah. I think its important to make music unbounded and to really write for yourself before you consider what an audience is going to perceive what your music is really going to be. I’m at a really nice point right now because I’m a super new artist, so I haven’t really defined what my sound is yet, so it allows me to really try out a lot of new sounds. So part of what this project [Jonie] was putting out music in multiple volumes that would go in many different directions, like this first volume is very electronic and inspired by 80s ad 90 R&B and pop music. But with volume two, that’s going to be in more of a hip-hop direction and more beat oriented, as with volume three, I would like for things to be a little more live, and let more of my indie-influence come through. So, its good to know that you’re putting out quality songs, but not to let the pressure of how is someone else going to perceive hinder your initiative of making art.
N/I – So after volume three?
Joseph – I would like to put out a full-length. Or just something that is a little more adventurous. I’ve never done a full-length record, so I feel that after all of these experiments, that would be the time to say “Okay, I’ve figured this thing out, let’s try something a little more audacious.”
N/I – So switching back to your other project, Yadee Yadah – I know that you try to orient the podcast toward “alternative” Nashville acts. Not in the sense of literal alternative music, but alternative to the aforementioned “Nashville aesthetic.” Do you find more of a certain type of act easier to book or more receptive? Or is everyone open to the idea?
Joseph – Most people have been open to the idea. I don’t think I’ve gotten any no’s yet - which is great – but I guess the natural focus has been more on pop and indie acts as of late. And there have been a few folk artists, but people who are taking a really interesting spin on folk music, but I don’t want to limit the type of artists I talk to, because I want to place a spotlight on anybody that’s doing something interesting. But I feel like what I can contribute to the conversation is to show that there are artists outside of the “norm” that are doing really cool stuff. So that’s kind of where I want the podcast to be – showing the world that we have some really interesting people here [in Nashville], and that its not just that Stetson hat aesthetic.
N/I – Right – heavy twang and Stetsons. So do you see the podcast becoming anything bigger than what it is? Could it become an indie label? Sending mixtapes out and things of that nature…
Joseph – You know, its interesting that you ask that. So this next batch of podcasts that I’m working on, we’re actually transitioning away from being a “Nashville music podcast” to simply an “indie music podcast.” So after this season it’ll be “Yadee Yadah: the Music Podcast,” with a bent toward alternative music. So I’m going down to Memphis to interview a lot of interesting Memphis artists, because it was getting to a point that there were a lot of artists that I wanted to talk to, but because they weren’t in Nashville, they were a little hesitant, and I didn’t want to limit the scope of that. But I think the focus will always be people doing something different, and that’s totally relative in and of itself, but I have been really lucky to have some of the people that I’ve had on. They’ve had some really interesting ideas and I want to keep that dialogue going – people really pushing the boundaries of what music should sound like or can sound like.
N/I – Cool. But you won’t stop interviewing Nashville artists, right?
Joseph – Definitively not.
N/I – You’re just expanding the net.
Joseph – By nature of living here – it will mostly be Nashville artists, but at the same time, it won’t be restricted by such a fact.
N/I – Nice. So who are some Nashville artists you are particularly fond of as of late?
Joseph – I really love what Liza Anne is doing – she’s about to put out a new record that I’m super stoked for. There’s another artist named Eva Ross who just put out her EP, she’s doing some really cool stuff, too. There’s a girl who performs under the name “Bantug.” She put out an indie pop record that is awesome. There’s a lot of really great ideas on that record. And then there’s some people that are kind of outside the indie realm – Chancellor Warhol is about to make a huge splash. He’s really going to put Nashville hip-hop on the map. He’s done some work with an electronic producer called Super Duper, who I’ve been getting really into. Those guys are doing really cool stuff.
N/I – Chancellor kind of feels like a long time coming.
Joseph – I know! And its about to pop, for sure. He’s just had so many great songs that could be on the radio at any second – someone just needs to plug him in. There’s another producer named Jamie Lidell. He’s a solo artist, but he’s also producing a lot of other artists, and he’s done some electronic music with… What’s that band? I can’t remember their name. They’re a three piece, electronic, really cool light show, they’re on Skrillex’s label…
N/I – Oh, Basecamp?
Joseph – Yes! He’s worked with them and I got to hear some of the stuff that he’s done, and its just a really exciting time for that side of music in Nashville.