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J. J. Voss, Saskatchewan Recording Artist interviewed by Andrea Lawrence

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   July 2, 2012 15:47

J.J. was raised on a farm in rural Saskatchewan and has toured to promote his albums  "Hillbilly Storybook" and "Show 'em Who's Voss" which was produced in Nashville.  J.J. has had the pleasure of warming up for Johnny Reid, The RoadHammers and had a showcase spot opening for Raul Malo (The Mavericks). J.J.'s debut single "It's a Pride Thing" has received radio play across Canada, and his video is being shown across Canada and the United States. J.J. is considered a blend of Country, Americana, and Folk Rock.  This young singer is gaining popularity and will surely be very successful soon! If you have a function coming up this summer and need a great performer, you better book him now!
You can find him on Facebook at:  

Andrea: When I first met you, you were doing the sound for other bands at the Pump Roadhouse in Regina, Saskatchewan. At what point did you say to yourself, 'hey, I can do this' or when did you pick up a guitar and decide you wanted to go into the music industry?
J.J.:  Well, the time that I worked at the Pump was probably three or four chapters along the road in my music career. I started playing in bands when I was 15 years old playing the ‘bar circuit' when there was such a thing. We toured Western Canada when there were six night gigs. I was the lead guitar player for a bunch of different bands over the years. As that scene started to die out, and dwindled from six nights to five nights then down to just weekends, I realized it was drying up and wasn't feasible any more. I was also getting older too, but it was a good experience for me in my 20s and it was a good way of learning my chops, develop my ear and learn about the industry, and it was a lot of fun.
Andrea: So it was good for you to understand what you were getting into after with your own band?
J.J.: Oh yes, as that would down and it was not feasible any more, it was either get a real job, or figure out some way to stay involved in the entertainment field and the music industry. That was when I started to develop as a mix engineer.
Andrea: Did you enjoy that time, did you have fun doing that?
J.J.:  I really do enjoy working as a mix engineer.  If there is a great band on stage, I have as much fun behind the sound board as I would if I was on stage.
Andrea: Did you meet a lot of good people through that time?
J.J.: I made a lot of connections through the years, working at the club, because they brought in a lot of touring acts. The club was committed to doing live entertainment, and they did all types of different genres from punk rock, country, blue grass to metal and everything in between. It was a great way to connect with people and I met people in the industry from all over the place with different backgrounds.
Andrea: So did that help you along in choosing your new career in which you put out an album of your own in 2008 called "Hillbilly Storybook"? Can you tell me a bit about that?
J.J.: That album was almost like going to university for me, what I was learning as a sound engineer I started to apply as a recording engineer. I started to get involved in digital recording. I took the knowledge that I had learned in one field and applied it to the next. I basically kept evolving and morphing and leapfrogging into different areas. For me I was side guy in cover bands for years and years, and then I got involved behind the scenes as a production guy. In the back of my mind as a little kid I always wanted to be as singer songwriter, and a solo recording artist, but for one reason or another I never jumped out and pursued it. In my late twenties, I got to the point where I had the experience in these different things and then it was natural. I thought, now I'm ready I can do this on my own. I didn't have a big bankroll to work with and everything I've done this far I've had to finance on my own. It was a logical step.
Andrea: Out of the songs are on "Hillbilly Storybook", can you tell me what was your number one on that album?
J.J.: I wrote three of the six songs on that project. Again that was me just learning how to do it and I was a very novice songwriter. The first song I ever started and finished I put on that album. From being a kid I always dabbled and wrote stuff down but I never really finished, and didn't know how to. I didn't have the discipline or the resolve to do it. Finally I had reached a point where I said I have to do this. I sat down and the first song I started and finished was called "Holy Man".  I got inspired and started to write the song  after all hell started to break loose in the Middle East after the attack happened on the World Trade Centre. I knew nothing about foreign politics and nothing about the Middle East. It was so relevant at the time and interesting but I had no idea what was really going on. I bought a book called "Holy War Incorporated" because I want to learn about it. It was dry, tough reading, but after I read this book, it really started to make sense, and inspired me to write the song.
Andrea: So you come from a small farm in rural Saskatchewan, can you tell me about that?
J.J.: Yes, it is about an hour north of Regina.
Andrea: Is that where your family still is and your roots are there?
J.J.: Oh Yes!  *smiling
Andrea: So you are familiar with farming and ranching?
J.J.: We still own and operate a little farm.
Andrea: Do you have a horse?
J.J.: Oh yes, we have three horses. The one horse, my dad and I bought together when I was about 13. Her name is Blaze and she's a feisty Arab!
Andrea: So you have to ride her more often then, is what you are saying?
J.J.: Oh yeah, I’d love to!  When I was in my teens, I rode a lot!  but my biggest obstacle was my allergies and  they seemed to have gotten worse as I got older. Now I really have a hard time being able to be around the horses.
Andrea: Oh No!  I bet you were glad when they cut out smoking in all the bars.
J.J.: Oh Huge difference, yes! It's too bad because I love animals and I love horses. My allergies vary with different types of animals, but especially with horse sweat.  In the summer, it is not even possible for me to ride. In the winter time I can go riding, but I have to be careful not to rub my eyes or touch my face or anything. But I still have the love and still have the horses out there. It's all good.
Andrea: That's too bad it is not wholesome and healthy for you to be out there for the most part!
J.J.: Well Dad still has a team that he hooks up every year.
Andrea: Does he do sleigh rides and stuff like that?
J.J.: Oh yeah, every year at Christmas time.
Andrea: In your Bio it says that your heroes include Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Steve Earle. Can you pick one, and tell me what inspired you about that person or why they are your hero?
J.J.: Steve Earle! He has to be the cornerstone just for the fact that, at the time when I was most impressionable growing up, his music was hitting me and it spoke to me right at that time. I became an avid fan and I followed him since I was 11 years old. I have every recording he's ever done, and well, I know too much about the guy.
Andrea: Now what do you consider your music to be is it country or pop or a mix?
J.J.: I try not to get too caught up in titles or branding it, but if you are trying to make a career or a living out of it, you do have to think about the business aspect of it. The reality of it is in Canada we have country music radio or modern rock or else classic rock. I am somewhere between southern guitar rock, and 90s country that was produced by Steve Earle, The Mavericks or Dwight Yoakam. That whole era between the mid 80s and early 90s is what really influenced the way I sound today. That's the music that I dig.
Andrea: So who do you write for when you write? Do you write for yourself or do you write for other people?
J.J.: Well right now I'm writing for myself.  because I want to write songs about things that I want to say as an artist and things that effect me.
Andrea: So, true stuff?
J.J.: Yes.
Andrea: What artist do you think you resemble most and why?
J.J.: Oh, Paul Thorn! When I found his music, it basically stoked the fire in me like it did when I discovered Steve Earle’s music. Paul is incredibly intelligent and the deals with very deep topics and sensitive issues, but he does it with a tongue in cheek humour,   but it's not stupid humour it's very intelligent. He looks at situations from a unique angle; (most often from the underdog’s point of view) our culture tends to see everything in black and white.... Good vs. Bad.   Paul’s writing highlights that there is good and bad in everyone....  We’re all human.
Andrea: Can you tell me about the song “Whiskey, the Tree and Me"?
J.J.: That one is a very personal tune in regards to my family. Around ’95 (I believe it was) my cousin, Nathan, was playing broomball during a phys Ed Class at school. He lost his feet from under him, hit his head on the ice and was knocked out briefly. They got him up, he walked it off and he seemed okay. He went back to school with a headache, A little while later he passed out in class. They rushed him to the hospital, but he had an aneurism and within 24 hours they had told the family that he was brain dead.  The family made the tough choice to take him off of life support a few days later, the accident happened on December the 18th, and we buried him on December the 23rd.  The twist to this already tragic story, is that he was born Christmas Day, and yet we had to bury him so close to his birthday, it really hit me on the way home. He was my first cousin. I mean, we weren't close like brothers or something, but it really left an impression on me. I thought, “Man, what is it going to be like every year, come Christmas time,” (and really, for the whole month of December) to think of him, with every Christmas cheer. It has to be hard to be his parents, and re-live that over and over, every year. I came up with that song title that day. It was about four years ago, on Christmas Eve, that I finished the song.
Andrea: Did it take you that long to find the right words?
J.J.: No, I guess maybe I am just a terrible procrastinator, and I just said I have to finish this already and I finally finished the thought.
Andrea: I know you are passionate about it, because I could tell when you performed it. I knew by the way you sang it that it was a personal song. That is why I had to ask you about it. I am glad that you are deep enough that you can write about stuff that is personal to you.
J.J.: Well that goes back to my heroes, the people who I look up to as song writers. They are not afraid to write about  Tough, personal topics, I think it helps with healing.
Andrea: Now, another song I really like is "Joanie The Jehovah's Witness Stripper". Can you elaborate on how you ended up with this song?  *Laughing

J.J.:  Well I can't take credit for that song!  That’s a Paul Thorn Song, who I mentioned earlier. He wrote that one, I heard Chris Cummings play the song during one of his shows at the club that I was working at.  I FELL in love with the song, and just had to record it.   What makes it authentic for me, I suppose is, that on my dad's side of the family, there were 9 kids and there was a split in the family back in the 70s. The family was Catholic. My grandma and my three aunts became Jehovah's. I was born in ’75 and had never met them until I was in my teens, and when I did, they were handing out pamphlets! The whole religious thing was a sensitive subject to my family. It was a real issue growing up. I didn't know half of my family, and my uncle didn't even go to his own mother's funeral because of this, the song isn't taking a poke just at Jehovah Witness', I have a hard time with organized religions in general, Now don’t get me wrong, I respect everyone’s personal belief systems... and spirituality and I, myself, have my own beliefs, and I consider myself spiritual too. I just have a hard time with the “business” of religion.   To wrap this up in a nutshell, when I heard "Joanie The Jehovah's Witness Stripper", I knew it was so me, I had to put it on the album.
Andrea: Well, I absolutely love the song and I think it’s priceless. I go on to your websites and Reverb Nation and listen to it again. I had to ask about the song because I often hear people say "WHAT?" when I talk about the song. I am sure you get a lot of that!
J.J.:  Well in fairness to the JW’s, in the song "Holy Man" I’m pretty critical of main stream Christianity as well.   Some might think it is an anti-war song, and to some degree I am anti-war I suppose, but the song more about using people’s faith systems to manipulate them into War.   I believe if a country is going to go to war, there had better be damn good, unavoidable reasons to do so.   With our leaders painting Muslim’s as terrorists  and Christians as the good guys this does nothing but perpetuate hate..... When the whole concept of Religion and “God” is supposed to be about Love.     If Nations were to send 30-50 year old people to fight wars,   I don’t believe they’d happen very often. Instead we send 18 or 25 year old kids, who are hell bent to be somebody..... Easy to point and shoot.

Andrea: Now, if you were interviewing yourself, what kind of question would you ask yourself, and how would you answer it? What would you like to get OUT THERE?
J.J.:  Ha ha- that is a tough one, because I talk a lot! It usually a matter of getting me to shut up and put things concisely, so that is a real tough one to answer! I suppose I should have to ask myself what do I hope to accomplish or what are my goals?  Or why I am a solo artist or why am I as passionate about song writing as I am. I think it is because of the artists that I look up to. Artists like Johnny Cash changed the world and spoke to people and dealt with very touchy subjects. I think Steve Earle followed in his footsteps. Those two were the most prevalent in my world.
Andrea: If you had to pick an artist and ask him questions, who would it be?
J.J.:  Oh, it would have to be Paul Thorn. I met him briefly in October, and I had a couple of good conversations with him, but he is such a complex guy and his past is very interesting. His father was a Pentecostal Minister. Paul touches on spirituality throughout his work, and he takes pokes at hypocrisy surrounding organized churches. Still, he has very strong beliefs.  I would like to ask him if he recommends that I stay clear of the church that he came from! He is so clever in the way that he crafts his songs, you don't really know for sure, but he gets you thinking! Paul is dealing with topics that are pertinent to me right now.
Andrea: Can you tell me about your time in Nashville?
J.J.:  Nashville is a wonderful place and very beneficial in helping me develop my song writing skills and get further ahead. It's an inspiring town, and every time I have gone, I come back with a really good song. I will sit at home and come up with nothing, but there’s something in the air that is just inspiring in Nashville.   I have had the privilege of writing with some very good writers. I am learning a lot about getting started, and finishing. One great analogy I had heard, is “get the frame work done” we are not putting in carpet or hanging curtains, we are just framing the house. It's a matter of getting the blue print of the song, getting the arrangement worked out, and tweaking it afterwards and finishing it.
Andrea: Was it a good experience for you being in Nashville then?
J.J.:  Yes, the town is very welcoming, and the people there want to help you, they make you feel so welcome because they want you coming back.  A songwriter will wake up in the morning make his coffee and his jobs is to and write a new song. You can run out of  ideas just like I have at home, but when you have somebody coming in from elsewhere bringing new and fresh ideas, it’s  what helps keep that town moving. Everyone wants to see you get further, because it is a networking town. You know someone who knows someone and everybody winds up climbing higher on the ladder.
Andrea: Did you get to meet anyone famous while you were there?
J.J.:  Oh, yes, lots of people, like Jacob Dillon from the Wallflowers, Robert Plant, Rodney Crowell,  Raul Malo, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Paul Thorn, Steve Earle
Andrea: Wow- you met Steve Earle, that's like a dream come true!
J.J.:  Oh I have got to meet him a few times now. This time was a different setting. He was at a night club (and he hates night clubs), he did not want to be there! I felt a little sheepish about approaching him “like a Fan” but I just had to. I stopped him and bugged him for a picture. You could tell he wanted to get the heck out of there, but he took a picture with me and away he went.
Andrea: Do you have anything you want to add or perhaps give yourself a promotional plug here?
J.J.:  Sure, look me up on line, I am pretty involved in the social media world, I am on Facebook www.facebook.com/jjvoss  and Twitter.www.twitter.com@jjvoss   Go to my website www.jjvoss.com  and check out my music  if you like what I Do then you can check it out on iTunes or order it off my website, and I will send you an autographed copy! Thanks for the interview- it's been great!

J.J. Voss