Joseph grew up in a big Quaker family in the North Carolina Piedmont. He’s spent the last ten years writing and singing with folk band Mipso.
“To call a howl “good for nothing” is a compliment. all of the best howls are.
i got a howl stuck in my head a few years ago when i started noticing the trees. somehow they’d escaped my imagination since i was a kid in the woods. i welcomed them back. sycamores in particular captured my attention. their bark is a cousin to skin. i learned there are sixty-two types of oaks in north carolina. the water oak is my favorite. its waxy teardrops droop over creeks. i thought a good bit about hackberry and greenbriar, too, and when summer ended i fell in love with goldenrod. it felt good to pay attention. they had been there all along.
i was moving around a lot at the time. i crashed with barry and susan, spent a while in alex and caroline’s basement. i quit trying to write all together, quit playing for a while too. then at the beginning of spring i started dragging a chair under a tree in the yard. wherever i was i would try to spend the morning outside with a guitar. i found a lot of songs that way, like they were already there, waiting for me to sing them out loud. i hope that sounds as strange as it felt.
i did my share of howling with chris in the studio in chapel hill. we had fun putting foam under the strings of old guitars and really working the channel strip. you can make a 1937 triple-o twenty eight sound like a kalimba. somebody cut down that rosewood tree in brazil 85 years ago and now it sounds new and strange, almost funny. i loved that. we rolled all the treble off of a ’35 D-18, which is a weird thing to do to a bright guitar. i tuned a ’42 LG-OO way up to a new open D (DADADF#) and Jerry asked me if i was crazy. to be fair it was his guitar getting torqued. we had a lot of fun, me and chris. jerry had fun, too.
chris wrote some beautiful string arrangements for libby, tati, and drew. matt and cameron came into the fold, and might be my favorite rhythm section in the history of rhythm. matt and evan added their smoothness to all the picking and plucking and i loved those sounds too. chessa and skylar and tift were the last to come, and their voices made the whole thing feel a little more human. this whole thing has been a process of asking friends for help.
i heard a howl float over the pasture in Randolph County where we erected a big sign for the album occasion. i grew up there. i liked the feeling of painting two hundred and sixteen square feet of plywood in a field on the backside of the farm, two miles from any road. we camped out afterward and ate persimmon pudding then burned the paper plates. the sign blew down in the big christmas storm. even better. it was good for nothing while it lasted.”