Joe Peacock writes about his experiences of songwriting as well as, being a musician. His work is available on bandcamp, spotify and elsewhere. Joe is supporting Grant Sharkey at Artefact on Saturday March the 19th in Stirchley, Birmingham.
My musical beginnings
Music has always been a massive part of my life. My parents were a big influence on how I saw music, especially my dad. He wasn’t a musician, he was a music journalist in his younger days and we had a whole wall of our living room dedicated to shelves of vinyl. He had very diverse taste, so he loved a bit of Hendrix, the Stones and all those massive rock acts, but he is also a big Captain Beefheart fan and one of his favourite memories is of going on tour with The Magic Band. He’s got a photo up on the wall at home of him with John and Yoko in the garden of their house when he was there to interview them. There was also loads of jazz, classical, soul, funk, reggae, not really metal ever, but most other styles were present and being played at some time.
That’s probably why the music I write has always been so diverse and I find it very hard to stick to writing in one style. I never had any formal lessons to teach me how to play the guitar, so I have terrible technique, but just picked up bits from different people. I did music GCSE at school, but never learnt any instrument to the level where I could read and play written music. I began as a drummer and was much in demand then because there are never enough drummers to go round, so I was playing in about three or four bands at one time when I was at sixth form. I never just wanted to bash drums, though, I had an urge to write music even before I could play guitar properly.
Exploring my creative side through songwriting
Even when I was playing drums I wrote lyrics prolifically and in the first band I was in aged 15, they used a couple of the lyrics I wrote. I always used to write very vague and indirect lyrics – very different from the storytelling kind of style that I use now. By the time I was at uni, I was the singer and main songwriter in terms of lyrics for my band and had even started writing a few riffs that were used in the songs. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I moved out from behind the drums and started playing guitar, though.
I think songwriting became a bit of an addiction for me. I had a need to express things and this was the vehicle I found to do that. It was cathartic, but also enjoyable. I still get a real buzz from writing a song and will listen to it again and again when I’ve written something new. It gives me an enormous amount of pleasure.
My experiences of music abroad
I lived in Russia for quite a long time. When I was first there, I wrote songs with another English student about the things we were experiencing – they were quite lighthearted and in a mixture of Russian and English. When I was back there more long-term and l got a band together, the songwriting was very much all mine and the Russian guys playing with me expected me to tell them what to do, rather than it being a collaborative process. I was writing heavier punky/grungy rock in those days mainly. I wrote one song about Putin fairly soon after he came to power, but luckily didn’t get into trouble for it, as I never got a big enough audience to trouble him. I played in some really good clubs around St Petersburg, though. It was a really good experience.
Being Burnt out and my return to songwriting
Basically, I didn’t feel I had the drive to put together another band and have to be the creative and promotional force behind it all again when I moved back here from Russia. I had recorded a few songs with my band before I left Russia and the plan was to try to push those somehow, but they never got finished properly. I got involved in environmental campaigning and that took a lot of my energy, then I had kids, so with all those things happening I fell out of the habit of playing and writing. Then lockdown happened and I was furloughed. I needed an escape from all the home educating of my children and music provided a great escape. I started off learning to play lots of cover versions and then realised I really wanted to play my own songs again. Having seen how all those songs by other people fitted together, songs just started pouring out of me. Also, I had been writing short stories and poems just before that, so I was really into storytelling and creating things with words, so everything just came together really well. I realised I could record it all on myself at home and got some good feedback, so it all progressed from there.
My creative inspirations
I get inspiration from all kinds of things for my lyrics. I have written some about friends and family, remembering particularly striking incidents from the past. Some songs are about people I admire, such as writers whose work I think is brilliant, while others are about people who have done horrible things, such as Henry Morton Stanley, Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin. Sometimes, I just read about something that strikes me as poetic in some way, such as radioactive pigs roaming the deserted lands around Fukushima or some bees being painted into an altar and remaining perfectly preserved for over a hundred years. Just the usual things that most pop stars write about, really!
Most of my songs don’t have a slogan, or a call to action in the way that you do when you’re campaigning. Although I have a few songs that can be considered protest songs in some way, generally, I just want to tell people stories and make the listener think: “Why would anyone do that?” or “How did nobody stop that from happening?” Sometimes the listener might be thinking: “Well at least we don’t do that anymore”, or: “We need more people to be like that”, but it depends on the subject.
I’m creating art. It’s a form of escapism for me and takes my mind off what’s immediately around me. I try to create societal change through campaigning and getting involved in politics. There’s a philosophical aspect to the music I write and it has a social conscience, but my aim in writing songs is not to change society, because I know that to do that you need to create something that’s going to reach masses of people. It feels good to contribute some songs to the artistic landscape that have a certain message, but I’m under no illusion that I can bring down Boris Johnson through my tunes any time soon.