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Joseph Arthur: Nonstop Rock

In the mid-'90s, Joseph Arthur was an obscure singer-songwriter from Ohio when Peter Gabriel discovered him and invited him to participate in the "Big Blue Ball" sessions at Gabriel's personal studios in England.

Since launching his career with three records on Gabriel's label, Real World Records, and gaining a devoted fan base, Arthur has been incredibly prolific. In 2008 alone, he has released four EPs and one full-length record, Temporary People, on his own label.

Despite producing such a large volume of material, Arthur says he still finds time to sleep.

"I love to work," he says. "What I call my work, I would do even if it wasn't my work, so I think that's the key to it. I do just hang out a lot. I have a lot of down time, as well."

Describing his new record, Arthur says, "The album to me is about a journey, reaching toward the light through your spirit, trying to overcome your demons through your spirit."

Arthur has battled substance abuse, noting, "It's definitely something I've been dealing with for quite a long time, and it's something that I feel I'm on the good end of right now."

Music, and this record in particular, has helped him deal with his addiction.

"It's kind of a result of how prolific this year has been, is just through sobriety," he says. "I'm not one of these sober people that thinks drugs are bad, but I do know for me, in this point of my life, clarity is much more interesting and exciting to me."

On his 2008 EP Could We Survive, there's a political song with acoustic guitar and harmonica, told from the point of view of a soldier, called "Rages of Babylon."

"Writing politically is not a natural fit for me," Arthur says. "It's something I kind of have to force myself to do, and I just felt there was such a call for it."

Arthur says he read about the high divorce and suicide rates among veterans.

"That hit me," he says. "Particularly the divorce rate, what it would do to your relationship to be gone and how brutal that is. It's kind of from that point of view that I wrote the song."

Arthur is not just a prolific musician, he's also a painter.

"Painting for me is a darker expression than music," he says. "I see it as more of the midnight energy. Music to me is more like celebratory and light. Painting is solitary expression. You're removed from your audience when you paint."

Arthur says that while he loves all kinds of types of music, his doesn't have a definitive genre or style.

"I think it's interesting how people comment on the style of music over the substance," he says. "I think there is sometimes a lack of substance in music that has led people to be more focused on the style."

He cites Picasso, another artist who "explored all the different styles," as a hero.

"The style of music is like the outfit I'm wearing," he says. "I could be wearing this or I could be wearing jeans and a T-shirt."

He says his new listeners should start with Temporary People, adding, "It's a true record, in that it works as a record, it works as a body of work [and] it tells a story."

What is that story?

"Reaching into your soul to overcome your weaknesses and survive with hope." He adds, "With a rock 'n' roll soundtrack."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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