Testing the Timber

Q: Where will I be the night of Sunday, May 17th?
A: Nashville’s The Basement for an evening with Joe Pug

I stumbled upon “Hymn #101” late last year and fell in love with the heavy Nebraska vibe.  Pug’s style also coincides with another personal favorite of mine, which Twangville eloquently conveyed in a recent review: “Much in the way of Josh Ritter’s recent breakthrough, Joe Pug is able to sound like a wise old sage with a million stories and a memory that captures each detail and refuses to let them dim.”

This week, Pug became even more appealing after discovering that Joe was a fellow Tar Heel and attended UNC in hopes of becoming a playwright. The day before his senior year, he sat down for a cup of coffee (probably on Franklin Street?!) and realized “I am profoundly unhappy here.” (as inconceivable as that may seem to alumni like myself) 

Following this realization, Pug dropped out and headed north to Chicago. Working as a carpenter by day, the 23 year-old spent nights playing the guitar he hadn’t picked up since his teenage years.  Using ideas originally slated for a play he was writing, Joe began creating the songs that would eventually make up the Nation of Heat EP.

In addition to the Springsteen and Ritter comparisons, I find Pug’s lyrical style akin to old-school Cat Stevens.  As Daytrotter put it, “Every song is another chapter in a lifelong search for Pug, whose main goal lyrically is to get to the crux of not just where he’s headed, but where his father and his father’s father were trying to get to before the years came after them and stopped their progress. It’s a course bearing down on fulfillment, on maximizing the time spent here and finding reason to observe a day of rest on Sunday as well as needing to make right with the luminous figures and sorts up there on the horizon.” Fortunately, you can and should download Pug’s entire Daytrotter session online.

As if the Springsteen, Ritter, and Cat similarities weren’t enough, here’s what the musician had to say for himself regarding influences in an older online interview:

Well, certainly Dylan and Prine are huge for me. They might be obvious, but I think that’s okay. Because there’s something very fundamental about both of those guys that makes them accessible, so you can go off on a tangent of your own. They taught me that a song can be original in its logic or phrasing or spirit even while its using a structure or melody that’s been around for a hundred years. 

Steinbeck and Whitman are huge for me. Whitman explained once that poetry isn’t meant to confuse people. That trying to articulate your feelings as clearly as you can is cryptic enough as it is. You don’t need to fool anyone. You don’t need to prove to anybody that you know things that they don’t know. Because of course you do. So just try to say it as clearly as you can. Steinbeck, for me, embodies that ethos, whether he meant to or not. You see it most strikingly in The Grapes of Wrath when he begins that harrowing passage that begins, “And this I know…”. You’ll never read something so lucid. I suppose right now, that’s what I strive for.

Pug wins more cool points by understanding the value of honest word of mouth advertising.  The following message was posted on his website on March 1st.  No worries, I’ve requested copies to pass out to everyone:

If you’re insulted by the songs they loop on the radio all day. If you’re tired of your parents repeating the phrase “music meant something in my day” with baseless contempt. Here’s a chance to do something about it…

I want you to give my music away.

The thing is, there’s no subsidiary of Viacom shoe-horning my latest single onto radio playlists. There’s no carefully worded advertisements assaulting you at the bus-stop. There’s no ringles. 

You heard about my music from a friend. Simple as that. Which means you listen to music because of its substance, not its convenience. And that’s precisely why I’m asking for your help.

Think of some likeminded friends who haven’t heard my songs. Then let me know how many sampler CDs I should send you to give to them.

All I need…

Mailing Address
Email Address
How many CDs you want.

Send the requests to nationofheat@gmail.com

Thanks for your interest, thanks for your help…


For anyone still in the Triangle area, Joe will be coming back to play at the Local 506 amongst other places across the country in the upcoming months.  If you’re still not convinced, his performances from Laundro Matinee should do the trick:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’re both too cheap to buy the EP on iTunes and can’t wait for a free sampler, you can also download three of his tracks instantly at his website.

2 Responses to “Testing the Timber”

  1. cbgb Says:

    this guy is good. and he gets +5 for that dimple…like you didn’t think i’d notice.

  2. Mommie Says:

    I noticed that dimple right away too 🙂

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