Joseph Arthur talks about getting an R.E.M. breakup text from Michael Stipe and protesting on Wall Street

​Joseph Arthur is a low-key type of guy, having gone vastly unnoticed and living humbly as the existence of a shy folk-star; one whom everyone's heard of, but nobody really knows.

Arthur first came onto the scene in 1996, when Peter Gabriel discovered him, immediately fell in love with him, and signed him as the first artist to his label. That was just the beginning. His song "In the Sun" has been covered by Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Chris Martin (Coldplay), and even remixed by Justin Timberlake. With eight studio albums and a cosmic plethora of EPs, Arthur is a protean artist; he's a creator, but ultimately, a soulful expressionist -- his music and art rely heavily on one another. 

This Saturday night, Arthur will be performing at the Varsity Theater in support of his new album, Graduation Ceremony. Fans will also have the chance to catch his new song, "We Stand As One," which is being acclaimed as one of the national anthems for Occupy Wall Street activists.

Gimme Noise had a chance to catch up with Joseph Arthur prior to his performance, where he answered questions while standing amongst the protesters on Wall Street. 

Joseph! Where are you, it's awfully loud? 

I'm standing down on Wall Street, with the protesters for Occupy Wall Street. I'm down here, supporting it, but I don't have a sign. 

Do you live in New York? 

Yeah, I live in Brooklyn. 

Can you tell me if we've ever met? Because I think that you wrote the song "Black Lexus" about me, and my car... 

I don't know... Did we used to live together? [Sirens in the background.] 

I have never given an interview to someone who was in the middle of a government protest, this is interesting. 

There's a first time for everything. Ok I think I found a quiet space, if I don't get kicked out we'll be fine. 

Talk to me about "Black Lexus." 

I mean that was kind of based on a true story. What do you want to know about? 

Get into it; get into the hairy, emotional details. Was the girl a Pisces, was she like a beautiful gypsy lady that just wouldn't stick around? 

Yes, a beautiful gypsy lady, and a Virgo. But actually, we're really good friends. We're very close. Actually that car ended up dying, on the way to pick up a printer for me. She was a very nice person. That car is gone though, the black Lexus. It had a lot of miles on it when it died. Like 250,000, maybe 300,000 - those things last forever, kind of. 

I have a gold Lexus with roughly that many miles on it. They're good cars. 

Oh man! All I'd have to do when I come to Minneapolis is change one word in that song, and you can even personalize it that much more. 

Actually, that was the first song I heard from you. And a guy had sent it to me, and all my friends were like "Dude, you're this crazy chick in the song."

So you have a hard time keeping it together huh? [Chuckling

Tell me what it was like to tour with Tracy Chapman? What kind of a lady is she? 

I actually hadn't spent that much time with her, I toured with her once in America, but it wasn't really that long, like a week or something. I don't have any juicy gossip on Tracy Chapman. I'm the wrong person for that. She's a cool lady though, first time I toured with her I became really good friends with a woman she was seeing, and we texted back and forth for a while. So that was nice. 

How did the disbanding of R.E.M affect you, given your connections with them? 

I actually got a text from Michael before the news dropped. I was really amazed that he sent me a text telling me. So I was kind of blown away, and even flattered. But at the same time, they're one of my favorite bands, and now they're split up. I don't know, I think it's cool, it's whatever they want. If that's what they want to do, then I support that, it's cool. They've had an amazing career, and a body of work--it's hard to be sad about something that they've achieved that much, and that meant that much to people, and has been around that long. Every member of that band, even though I never met Bill Berry; all the rest are all amazing people and really amazing different people too. But all three are totally amazing, really great guys. For especially for how huge they were, or are. It's like what happens when a loved one dies, it's like very sad, but at the same time you reflect on how amazing they were as a person. It gives you an opportunity to celebrate their life. R.E.M breaking up opens up other avenues of creativity for those guys. So there's nothing to be sad about, I wonder what will be encouraged, or come from it. 

Do you still roll with Peter Gabriel? 

Yeah! I still roll with Peter Gabriel a little bit. I love that guy; I got to fly in his private jet recently. That's not how I normally roll. It was only the once, and it was really recently. 

I don't really picture you in a private jet, more like an old broken down Lexus. 

Well, that's how I normally would roll -- in an old broken down, black, or gold Lexus. I actually saw him in London recently; he's done great recently, what he's doing now he's pushing different envelopes and challenging people. It's a new kind of music really with the orchestra, but he's a real inspiring dude. 

Have you ever caught up with Phil Collins? 

No, never. Never have. 

Have you ever wanted to? 

Oh! Of course! 

Just for shits, like just to pull together some Genesis stuff. 

I'd love to be a fly on that wall! I can feel it in the air tonight... 

Ok, so don't take this offensively... 

Uh oh, I don't like a statement that starts out that way. 

Not to discredit your talent in anyway, but you seem to know a lot of the "right" people. How do all of these people come into your life? 

I think my talent brought them to me. Not to sound immodest or anything. I wasn't born with any connections, or anything. Peter Gabriel came into my life because of a cassette I made one day. So he randomly got a tape I made of the first song I ever wrote, he liked it, and called me up. Michael Stipe covered "In the Sun," that's how I got hooked up with the R.E.M people. I don't know, just lucky I guess. 

You do art, obviously... How do you do all of these creative things and stay so talented at all of them? I guess what I'm trying to say, are you a Pisces? 

No, but you keep bringing it up... What's up with you and Pisces? 

I just want to know... 

But you love the Pisces; the Black Lexus girl you thought was a Pisces. What are you, a Pisces? 

Of course I am. No, but seriously, my interactions with other Pisces don't go very well; relationships can be like a complete massacre. So I feel like every emotionally creative person I come in contact with is subsequently, a Pisces. 

You need a Libra. You need a Libra in your life. 

No I think I just need a cat, or a dog, or maybe a fish... 

You should get a fish; they're really easy to get along with. You should get an aquarium installed in the back of your Lexus. That would be the ultimate thing to do: A gold Lexus with an aquarium in it. 

Talk to me about your art though, what came first? Was it your art, or music? 

Well, I guess it's pretty similar. I've been making music since I was kid, and I've been making art since I was a kid. With music, like I went the music store and got a bass guitar. I think that you start doing something officially when you actually go to a store and buy it. I never went to college or anything, so I never claimed to be a painter until I went to the art store and bought the canvas and the paint and stuff, as an adult. Then I was like, woah, I guess I'm a painter. Then since then I just got lost. They both evolved. At this point, I'd probably have an easier time making a career out of being a painter than as a musician. 

Oh don't say that. 

Well it's true. I'll never quit doing music, ever, ever. I might stop touring, or slow down on touring. But I'll never stop recording or making music. It's engrained. I'll live and breathe that stuff. I couldn't imagine living without music; it's just how I survive. It's just as vital as eating or breathing to me. 

You seem very passionate. 

I don't want to come off like that, like goofy passionate, but it's true. In life, it's how I cope with living. Okay, well I guess breathing and eating ultimately are more important. But you get my drift. It's right under breathing, and drinking water, and eating... If ever I get discouraged about music or whatever, there's no way I would say, 'oh I'm going to give this up.' But the one relief I have, is... It's like being in a co-dependent relationship. I'm super co-dependent with my music. But art is that other relationship I have, feeds that other one that I have. It kind of gives me a place to go when the other one is treating me wrong. 

So what's your whole take on these Occupy protests going on? 

I think it's great, I mean I can't believe it's taken this long. It's amazing to be down here. I mean just coming down here, I'm also working with a record around downtown, so I'm totally into the movement, but I'm down here anyway. It's just really; it's great to be in here. I feel like it's a global awakening, and I don't really feel like it's going away. I also don't see the other side backing down anytime soon. I think it's going to be interesting to see how it evolves. It might get kind of crazy, like American Revolution type stuff. 

Now how come you don't have a sign? Are you trying to be a silent protester, because you don't want to get arrested? 

My particular protesting style is low-key. I'm a low-key protester. I'm doing my bit, but I'm not holding any signs just yet. I'm new at protesting, I'm just a newbie. 

I think that you should go and do one of your paintings, about this... Take your art out in political ways. 

That's awesome, you're right, that's a great idea! 

JOSEPH ARTHUR performs with BNLX on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, at the VARSITY THEATER. 18+. $20. 7 p.m.

Joseph Arthur talks about getting an R.E.M. breakup text from Michael Stipe and protesting on Wall Street
Photo by Myriam Santos

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