Joel Madison Blount is a singer/songwriters from Birmingham, but he grew up in Mobile and went to Murphy High School. He is playing at The Hangout on Saturday night at the 92 Zew Reach for the Beach Contest when he opens for 28 North.
You went to Murphy High School in Mobile. How many years did you live in Mobile and what affect did living on the coast have on your music?
I was born in Mobile and lived there through the end of my freshman year of high school at Murphy. My family moved to Birmingham the summer before my sophomore year. My parents are both from Mobile and we still have a lot of family and friends living there. Mobile is a great city with so much character and I have many fond memories of my time there. I feel like folks living on the coast are a bit more laid back and relaxed than people living in other places I’ve been. I think that easy going lifestyle influenced the music I listened to as a kid and continues to influence the music I write today.
How do you describe your music? Why is it important that your songs offer hope?
My new album, entitled Taming the Wind, is predominantly a rock record. I could make arguments that it has classic rock, pop, folk, or even Americana/roots influences, but I find it easier to just describe it as a rock record. I’m very proud of the album and stand firmly behind the songs, production, and artwork – everything came together in a truly beautiful package. I really took my time in developing ideas, crafting lyrics and shaping melodies for each song. I was also privileged to work with an incredible group of musicians and engineers to produce the amazing sounds on the album.
I think it’s important that my songs offer hope because I prefer to live life in the light instead of the darkness. There are a lot of dark lyrics, sounds and textures on Taming the Wind because I think they help to reveal the true beauty and power of the light that emerges throughout the album.
Your songs are often about finding peace in troubled times. Has music helped your through your own dark times?
The songs on Taming the Wind are all about dark times and struggles in life. When I wrote most of the songs on the album the economy was tanking, I had friends and family members losing jobs, struggling with health issues, addiction, and depression. It was a rough season for my family and several close friends. I think it’s important we recognize our pain and loss – and memorialize the experience, but don’t dwell on it. I believe it’s best to keep moving and have faith that better days are ahead.
How long were you a CPA? That isn’t the typical day job for a musician. How did you cross over to singer and songwriter?
The way I see it is that I’ve always been a musician and I picked up accounting as a hobby in college as a way to pay some bills. I worked full time as a CPA in public accounting for 12 years. It was a great job and I may return to it one day, but my focus is on making music for the time being. I thought about making music every day for 12 years and just got tired of thinking about it – so, now I’m giving it a go. It may only last a few months or a few years, but I couldn’t bear to go on thinking “what if” anymore.
Are any of your songs autobiographical? “Four Winds Blow” sounds like it could be about the time of changing over from accounting to music and the questions and criticism you may have received about chasing after a dream like music.
I’d say there are autobiographical elements in many of my songs – not that I’m singing my diary, but in the way my lyrics are shaped by personal experience and perspective. However, I will say that “Four Winds Blow” is a great representation of the struggle between the left and right hemispheres of my brain. I approach songwriting with the goal of finding ways to connect emotionally with others and hope that a melody will help a lyric weave its way into someone’s life – so that the song becomes a part of their life, not just a reflection of my own experiences.
Describe your songwriting.
Songwriting is an integral part of my work life – which also includes recording, performing and producing material for other artists. When I’m focused on writing new material I wake up early and treat each day like a regular 8-5 work day. I spent a lot of time last November and December working on new material and made a goal to complete a new song each week. It’s incredibly fulfilling to reach the end of a week and listen back to a demo recording of a song that did not exist the previous Monday. I know a few songwriters that shoot for a song a day, but I’ve found starting from scratch to develop an idea, then craft lyrics and a melody, on average, takes me about a week. I’ve had 15 minute song epiphanies a few times before, but I can count those experiences on one hand.
How is your music different with a band?
I love playing music with others – there’s really nothing else like the experience of interacting with other people, in real time, to create something new and beautiful. When I play my own songs I love how they continually evolve depending on what musicians are in the room. Up to now, due to time restrictions and recording budgets, I’ve written and recorded all of my own songs, then brought in studio players to re-record my own basic ideas. Over the past year I’ve been working with a great band – Mason Boyd, Josh Vignuelle and Will Weir – to hone a live show and develop new material. It’s been an amazing experience to grow with these guys as a group and challenge each other creatively.
If you could open for any act, who would it be and why?
Led Zeppelin – they’re rock & roll legends.
What would winning a chance to play at the Hangout mean to you?
We are so thankful to even be considered a contender. I sent in the application materials for the contest and didn’t give it much thought beyond that. I’ve received a LOT of rejections and/or non-responses to a seemingly never-ending stream of submissions, requests, and pleas as a musician – so I really wasn’t expecting anything. I was at a wedding when I got the call that we were a finalist and may have been more excited than the bride & groom – I was literally jumping up and down in a closet.
What is the story behind “Beautiful Birmingham?”
UAB’s Alys Stephens Center is running a contest called “The ASC Commissions Birmingham” – to encourage artists to write a song or compose a piece of music about the city of Birmingham. There are a lot of good things happening in Birmingham right now and this is a great opportunity for us as artists to reflect on these positive changes and create something beautiful for our city.
Last time I checked there were over 50 new songs written about the city of Birmingham for the contest. It’s such a great idea and fantastic way for us to help encourage our community.“Beautiful Birmingham” is the song I wrote for the contest. I set out to build upon the idea that we are more than the typical stereotypes assigned to us, more than our past, and that we are stronger and more beautiful together, united by this place we call home. The chorus line “You Are Beautiful” comes from a graffiti artist who stirred up a lot of controversy a few years back by painting the phrase on buildings, walls, and viaducts all over town.