This week, we got the chance to speak with Joe Usher, an up-and-coming 21-year-old musician based in Bristol who is originally from Carlisle, Cumbria. Joe has experimented with a variety of genres in the past, but is now slowly settling into R&B. His tracks often leave you feeling a strong sense of nostalgia for past days spent around old friends and romantic interests. Joe’s work also boasts a strong lyrical ability and he often reflects on living and loving with authenticity while sprinkling in a variety of pop culture references that perfectly reflect the mood of his tracks.
In addition to our own love for Joe’s style, BBC Radio 1’s Introducing recently featured Joe’s track ‘Stay With You’ from his new EP ‘Burnside’. Joe has also got a whopping 200k views on his recent TikTok where he surprises his friends and family with the news of his song being featured- it is super wholesome, so we recommend you check it out.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Joe and discuss how he first got into music, his thoughts on musical authenticity and his post-covid plans and future goals…
Joe is definitely a young musician to keep an eye on as his music goes from strength to strength. You can follow him on Instagram and TikTok and stream ‘Burnside’ here and here. Make sure you turn on post notifications so you can keep up with Joe’s newest releases as they come out.
Tell us about how you first got into music
I’ve been shown great music since I was born, my parents are both big music lovers, they don’t play instruments or perform or anything, but they’ve always been so into music and loads of different types as well. The people I hung around with growing up and my extended family all had such varied music tastes as well, I was listening to loads jazz, rap, stuff from Manchester in the 80s and 90s and R&B, I had such a wide music taste and I never had enough time in the day to listen to everything I wanted to. I’ve always just been obsessed.
I started taking music seriously when I went down a musical theatre route with StagedRight Youth Theatre in Carlisle. I was a footballer growing up, that’s what I really was focused on. All the music stuff was kind of a hobby and secondary in a way. But doing StagedRight helped me find my passion for singing in different ways and I learnt to play the guitar myself as well so I could get a better understanding of how music works in general really and from there my passion has just skyrocketed- its become a bit of an obsession really.
What are your biggest musical influences and inspirations?
That’s a tough question really! I have favourite artists, but they don’t necessarily match up to the kind of songs I create. There are a lot of people who inspire me to write music on an individual level. I listen to a lot of Tyler the Creator, Mac Miller, Brent Faiyaz, I listen to a lot of R&B and I feel like that is the way I’m starting to go with my music.
I released an EP in 2020 that contained a lot of different genres, it was good in a way to show my versatility and I really enjoyed making it, but I think it’s good to home in on a specific sound and I feel like I’m heading towards that. There’s a lot of people I listen to and when I’m half-way through their song or album it can give me inspiration to write.
What is your creative process like?
It really differs, there’s always a question of what comes first, you know it can start with making a beat, lyrics or melody. I don’t really know how I end up with a song, it is always a mess and muddle and then all of a sudden something comes out of it, I kind of listen back and I don’t really remember where the building blocks were or how it came about. Without sounding very cringey, I get a specific kind of feeling where I’m like ‘oh I need to write today’ today is a good day for it and some other days I feel like I couldn’t write one good line.
I’ll get the feeling where I think 'I need to stop what I’m doing and I need and go write today because I feel inspired today or something’s happened'.
I like being truthful in the things that I write, I think when a lot of people start out they write what they think people want to hear rather than what is actually true to them. I’ve always found that very easy to see through, if an artist has a wall up. So much today seems to be about the actual artists character rather than the music, people seem to buy into the whole package rather than 'oh I like that song', but I think when that smokescreen comes down and when it’s real what they’re saying, people buy into it more.
I try to incorporate real experiences that I’ve had both good and bad, that’s when it's weird being a songwriter because when bad things happen there’s a little voice in your head like ‘oh this is good because at least it gives you something to write about’.
There aren’t loads of artists and singers from Cumbria or when they are it's mostly acoustic stuff, I feel like the genre I play with isn’t well represented here like other places. My pet peeve is when people don’t sing in their authentic accent, I try to make a point of staying true to the northerners, I like hearing people’s voices when they sing.
Has the pandemic affected your creative process at all?
The pandemic was kind of a blessing for me, I’m an emotional person inside but I’m not very outwardly emotional.
It’s that thing of being a northern lad, you feel like you have to keep your emotions in. In the first EP there were a couple of topics that were kind of upsetting, as much as I kind of ignored those things in normal life, I felt like when the pandemic hit, it held up a big mirror to us all and you had to confront those feelings you’ve been ignoring because all you’re left with is your own presence and thoughts. I think having this was a really positive thing for me, at the start of the pandemic I felt very low, we’ve lost a lot of amazing people to it.
I think trying to find any kind of goodness in this horrible situation is the best way to go. I gave myself time as well because we weren’t doing too much, so all I did was write and write and got my ideas down. It was helpful and mostly positive for me in terms of music. I don’t know if those 2 projects would have happened without the pandemic, because one was made in the first lockdown and the next in the third lockdown.
A lot of my songwriting previously was concerned with ‘what should I be singing’ or ‘what should someone with my accent be signing’ or ‘what do people from around here sound like’. But holding that mirror to myself and letting myself be vulnerable in my own head and thinking ‘what do you want to say and put across’ has helped me move away from that.
I don’t want to put out an empty song, every line of my songs is like oh yeah that happened and that happened. I eventually want to hone my writing skills and then have people be able to personally relate to my songs.
So far, what has been the proudest moment of your music career?
The Radio thing is great, like obviously I’ve always wanted it and I've always hoped ‘one day I’ll have a song on the radio’ I do love when my music is getting listened to by a lot of people. I think when there’s a song about a specific thing that’s happened to me and another person or people close to me know the experience I’m talking about in a song and when they hear it, and they're like 'oh you put that really nicely'. Or when friends from secondary school reach out who I haven’t spoken to in a while and they say like oh 'you’re really doing well'- I really love that. For me personally, it’s quite cathartic to be able to put out whatever happens in music.
I do really want to make people from Carlisle and Cumbria and my friends and the people I spend my time around proud and to think oh ‘this is one of our own out there really giving it a go’ and trying to do something. So, when those people say I’m really proud I’m really happy that you’re doing that, that makes me feel better than anything really.
It’s good to hold onto the reasons you started doing music. I think for any artist, singer or dancer there’s that aspect of catharsis. In most cases there’s people you’re trying to make proud as well as yourself, one of the biggest reasons I started doing it is because of my family, a lot of it is family oriented. My older brother Matthew is a music genius he’s incredible, so when I release something, I’ll send it over to him-I don’t really take too much criticism from people outside my family to heart. I don’t really show anybody outside my family until it's out because I want it to stay true to me. My family are an extension of me, and their help is really great. So much of it is for them.
I make most of my music in Bristol because I do Uni here but I’m hoping after Covid to do a show in Carlisle asap, I would love to do something there, maybe even a free gig or something to celebrate the end of Covid.
My pet peeve is when people don’t sing in their authentic accent. I try to make a point of staying true to the northerners, I like hearing people’s voices when they sing.
We noticed that in addition to your music career, you are also an actor, can you tell us about your journey with acting?
I started with StagedRight when I was 14/15, did that for a few years which was all musical theatre stuff, but I had to leave there because I got a pro contract with Queen of the South, a football team in Dumfries. At this point I felt like ‘ok, I’ve made my decision’ because a lot of the time I had two things going on at once with acting and football, but after a year of this I just really didn’t feel fulfilled I really wanted to make a go of the acting and doing things in the arts. I knew that I was a creative person and that was what really fulfilled me.
Acting wise, I did a few shows in London, NYMT, etc. and there was a head of acting there from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School who said I should audition for their 3-year course. I didn’t really know much about acting schools and stuff because in Carlisle it feels like you don’t really see much of this thing, but I managed to get in and I’m now in my second year of a three-year course. I’m hoping to do more with my acting after I graduated and I’m enjoying my training right now, I’m learning a lot.
I don’t feel like singing or acting get in the way of each other like I felt it did with football and acting. I get similar feelings when I write songs and perform and when I act, hopefully I will be able to keep doing both. I was never pushed to do football, I absolutely loved all sports, but that is what I was brought up doing and this was a thing I found myself and it was completely my own decision. It was such an organic way I found it and it found me. I feel so at ease when I’m writing or on stage and I feel so much more at home.
What plans and future goals do you have for your career overall?
I’m going to keep writing music, I’ve got absolutely loads I haven’t released yet and I’m still making some. I am going to keep doing that while I’m in acting school, then graduate and get a good agent.
Really at the moment I’m loving making music and loving that it’s my decision and that I don’t have anyone telling me ‘you have to do this or that’ I’m still at these nice early stages where it’s all absolutely what I want to make. By Summer 2022 I want to have played at least one festival like Kendal Calling, I’d love to play there.
I do want to represent Carlisle and Cumbria; I want everyone from the city to be proud and be like that’s our boy doing well, that’s the goal definitely.
I’m trying to go at it in a way that’s real and natural, you know, I don’t want to get in touch with big managers and put my stuff on fake playlists- I want it to be natural and I feel proud when it happens in the organic way of people finding me and adding me to their playlists and sharing my stuff on their own.