Susan Yee

Joseph In The Well

His voice is a smooth tenor, matching seamlessly the bright shimmering string tones of his violin. His music includes samplings of horns, birds, atmospheric beats and even brief rap interludes, at once melancholy and upbeat. One of Sacramento’s rising new artists Joe Kye, creator of music project Joseph In The Well, has fashioned a sonic brew that is unique and beautiful. Joseph In The Well employs loops, sound samplings, and an adept mastery of the violin to create enormous soundscapes that are at once soothing and engaging. This music tells a story.img_0007I met up with Joe at Old Soul on Broadway to find out his story. We discussed the challenges of being an immigrant, his influences, and Joseph In The Well’s upcoming EP being released at a live show Saturday, May 9 at Harlow’s Nightclub.

Born in Seoul, Korea Joe emigrated to Boston at the age of six with his family. From Boston they went to San Francisco, finally settling in Seattle, the city in which he grew up. Joe taught high-school English for a number of years before moving to Sacramento to pursue music professionally about two years ago. Joe speaks of the challenges of being an immigrant and trying to find a place for himself and his identity while being between worlds.img_0015 img_0022The name Joseph In The Well reflects these challenges and the sense of being suspended in a place between places. As he tells it, “In the Biblical and Koranic story, Joseph is born in Canaan. (His) brothers are really jealous of him because their father favors Joseph, gives him a nice coat of rainbow colors etc. He one day is sent off to go meet his brothers, (who) attack him. He’s then thrown into a dried up well, while they think about what to do with this guy.They consider killing him, but end up selling him into slavery to Egypt. So there’s this moment in time where he’s not in Canaan, he’s not in Egypt, and he’s just at the bottom of this well. I can only imagine, if you’re a kid and you’ve just been betrayed by your brothers, the different thoughts and worries (going through your head). He’s also in there for a few days, so how do you spend them? I know I would just be humming and singing and making music.”

And make music he does. Joseph In The Well draws from many influences which show through on this EP. Andrew Bird and Ella Fitzgerald are major influences on Joe, especially in the realms of scat-improvisation and loop arrangement. There’s a jazzy, free form element to be found on this EP, but all smartly contained in a very carefully crafted structural arrangement.

Joe tells me Joseph In The Well’s name and music captures the “questions about identity, and my own questions regarding being an immigrant, neither being here nor there.” This feeling of looking for a sense of identity is something a lot of us can find relation to, whether immigrants or simply being part of a younger generation trying to forge a sense of self.

There are plenty of times when I’m walking and around and I feel Un-American, whatever the hell that means. But then of course if I went to Korea they’d be like ‘who are you? Why are you so foreign?’ So that’s kind of where the name comes from. A lot of those songs focus on those themes.”

Sacramento’s diverse music scene is what drew Joe to take his music career here.img_0013
It has some challenges, coming from a larger city. But at the same time, I would not have moved to any other place. There’s a really amazing and grassroots music movement that’s happening in Sacramento, and I”m lucky to be a part of it. There are a lot of genre’s being played in this city, and they’re all kind of interacting with each other on an even plane.”

In some larger cities, Joe says, the influence of the music industry causes people to be boxed into a specific scene. In a city like L.A. or even San Francisco, certain artists may never get to play with bigger names. But, in Sacramento “you see people who are just starting to write and play music for the first time in their life alongside professional musicians.”

Joe elaborates, “James Cavern hosts an open mic and plays at open mics. I go out and play open mics. I just saw Jason Angove of Humble Wolf playing at the Goldfield open mic. Because it’s a smaller market I think there’s a greater sense of community and it forces bands and musicians at all stages of their career, to be with each other, to commune with each other, and also to learn from each other.”img_0027
Regarding the specific genre that Joseph In The Well fits into, Joe says he has some reservations about labels, but smiles and says the label his father in law puts on him is “indie-string pop,” but Joseph In The Well is a creative project drawing from many sources and influences. Joe tells me, “Your life is a creation. I think when you create you reflect back in that creation all the different conversations, experiences and cultures that you’ve been surrounded by. I went to like seven different elementary schools, kindergarten in Korea, three different schools in the Boston area, and then three different elementary schools in Seattle while we were moving around. So I grew up with mournful pentatonic ballads, Korean folk melodies and rhythms, and then classical music. The first CD I purchased with my own money was the Titanic soundtrack, followed very swiftly by Britney Spears ‘Baby One More Time.’ We’ve all been there,” he laughs.

I really fell in love with underground hip-hop in high-school. Right now I’m listening to Astor Piazzolla, who is a Argentinian composer.”

img_0019Joseph In The Well draws from music diverse as the human experience. Classical, jazz, tango, indie-rock, soul, and hip-hop all make their expressions known on this EP. Be sure to check out the music samples available on Joseph In The Well’s website and experience it for yourself, and don’t miss the EP release show at Harlow’s!

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Photos | Susan Yee