As 2018 draws to a close, singer Jerry Joseph and his long-time rock band The Jackmormons are hitting the homestretch with dates across Montana in December. It’s been a hectic 12 months for the Portland-based musician with touring, his charity work and releasing a new effort entitled Full Metal Burqa on Cavity Search Records.
“A bulk of that material had been written in Afghanistan and near war zones,” Joseph says of the new album. A previous album, By The Time Your Rocket Gets To Mars also featured songs inspired by Joseph’s experience in Afghanistan in 2014 volunteering as a teacher at an underground co-ed rock school.
“For By The Time Your Rocket Gets To Mars we tried to keep the songs about magic and god. We sort of left the ones off that were a little bit more political about Afghanistan,” he admits. “That said, I don’t think Full Metal Burqa is a political record. Full Metal Burqa is kind of an outtakes album. But then again so was [1981 Rolling Stones album] Tattoo You.”
Joseph says the time he spent teaching Afghan children and teens music while supplying them instruments gave him a greater appreciation for his craft.
“One thing it gave me is it gave me a faith in the power of music that I didn’t think I really had,” he says. “I’ve always debated whether I thought music was that powerful or that important. At the end of the day, it’s primarily pop music. I think it’s awesome for getting laid and for being a teenager or for sad days when it’s raining and you’re looking out your window with a cup of coffee and a joint. But I never really understood the impact until I saw some 18-year-old kid in Afghanistan learning Megadeth riffs and I realized how powerful it can be in your life.”
Growing up as a teenager in the LA Jolla, California area, Joseph says the music scene there at the time was less than ideal. The grandson of Lebanese, Syrian and Irish Catholic immigrants, he spent his youth in California surfing the beaches, playing in rock and reggae bands and splitting his time between California and Wellington, New Zealand before launching as a traveling performer.
Joseph has a long history with Montana, from recording albums in the state to finding the inspiration for his band The Jackmormans in Bozeman.
“We’ve been playing Montana since 1982,” he says. “We’ve had a great relationship with the people there and with the state. I guess we’re kind of on fire. We’re on the last run so we picked ending there on purpose.”
“I met the bass player we have now [in Montana] in 1984. I also lived there for a little while,” Joseph says. “The Jackmormons actually got started there. I was living in Bozeman and I was not going to play music. Somebody convinced me to play this party and the people I played with ended up being The Jackmormons.”
He has recorded two live albums in Montana: Badlandia at Banditos in Virginia City in 2009 and Mouthful of Copper, recorded at the Irish Times in Butte and released in 2003.
After spending years touring in far-flung locales like Lebanon, Iceland, Cambodia and Israel, he has called Portland, Oregon home for roughly the last two decades. Although Joseph is well-known in the Portland music scene and was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2015, he says the welcoming musical community is not the only draw to Portland.
“Portland has a pretty vibrant music scene,” Joseph says. “For a small city there’s a lot of pretty big bands and then there’s a million young bands all competing for the same dollar. But I don’t live there because of music, I live there because it’s a good place to raise my kids.”
Over his prolific career Joseph has produced roughly 30 releases and over 250 original songs. According to Joseph, songwriting and playing music is a natural process. After decades of writing and performing, he says he now feels a deeper sense of gravitas each time he puts pen to paper.
“I think the stakes are higher,” says the 57 year-old singer. “As you get older I think you realize you only have a limited time to say something of value. You kind of wish you could go back 30 years and rewrite some of the stuff to make it a little more poignant or a little more honest. When I was young, I read an interview with Neil Young and he said, ‘You know I write it, I don’t touch it, I never go back to it.’ I very much held onto that. And frankly I think it was a huge mistake.
“My friend Willy Vlautin has a band called Richmond Fontaine. He’s a pretty renowned writer. One of his books, ‘Lean On Pete,’ was just made into a movie. He talks about sometimes taking five years to get a line in a song. I used to think that was ridiculous. But now as I’m older I think that was the right move.”
Joseph admits he is finding a deeper connection with his own music, noting, “I don’t think I ever considered what I do to be art until pretty recently.”
Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons spent this fall touring the States and hitting the East Coast before trekking westward towards Colorado, Iowa and Utah. After the Montana leg of the tour, the band wraps up 2018 with three nights at Mississippi Studios in Portland, including a New Year’s Eve gig. In January 2019 he is slated to play the 30A Songwriters festival in South Walton, Florida and headline a three-night run of concerts in Tulum, Mexico in late April.
Joseph plans to spend the rest of 2019 recording a solo album and working with his non-profit organization to give children in war-torn regions access to a musical education. Joseph documents the work of his yet-unnamed non-profit on his blog at at www.jerryjoseph.com. The non-profit is working to bring musical instruments into war zone areas and refugee camps in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I want the non-profit to bring instruments into combat zones, and we’re going to Iraq again this year,” Joseph says. He adds that he will be taking a slight step back from working with The Jackmormons.
“Nobody’s sick, we’re not breaking up,” he emphasizes. “I think just for the band we wanted to recharge. I’m taking a year and kind of putting the band on ice. I want to do something with the band where we’re playing or we’re doing something that’s outside of the box.”
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons will tour across the state in December.
The band will play The Great Northern in Whitefish on December 12, the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula on December 13, the Rialto in Bozeman on December 14, and The Covellite Theater in Butte on December 15. For more information on Joseph or the upcoming tour, visit www.jerryjoseph.com.