The Covid Chronicles… Joe Nolan
After a break from the biz, the rootsy Edmonton troubadour has returned to the fray with two recent and much-praised albums. Here he reflects upon the latest, Drifters, as well as self-isolation, the absence of concerts, and how a future music industry may look.
By Jason Schneider
With self-isolation due to covid-19 prompting many artists to polish up their solo acoustic performing skills, Joe Nolan was in many ways well prepared for this moment when he made his latest album Drifters last year.
The 10-track tour de force from the Edmonton artist is not only a showcase for his introspective songwriting, but his acoustic guitar playing as well, recalling the sound of early Bruce Cockburn records, and even (dare it be said), the work of Nick Drake.
Drifters continues a strong creative resurgence for Nolan that began with his 2018 album Cry Baby, an independent release that marked his return from an extended self-imposed break from the music business. Since then, he’s toured widely in North America and Europe, earned a nomination as Roots Solo Artist of the Year at Breakout West 2019, and signed with Edmonton-based Fallen Tree Records.
Drifters encapsulates much of that time with much of it written on the road, although some songs were drawn from material Nolan wrote in his late teens. The album’s straightforward approach extended to the recording process as well, as Nolan and engineer Scott Franchuk relied mostly on Nolan’s old 2-track reel-to-reel to capture the performances, with a few parts added on later by guitarist Kevin Breit.
It adds up to an album ideally suited to our current situation in which we’ve all had to get used to a new level of intimacy. Drifters is available via fallentreerecords.com.
How are you coping with self-isolation personally?
There are good days, and not so good days. For the most part I’m staying healthy and inspired and taking things one day at a time. Basically, I’m just trying to come up with new creative ways to stay afloat and keep the music alive through these changing times.
Your new album Drifters really displays your talents in the most intimate way. Are there any aspects of the record that you feel are appropriate to these times we're currently living in?
Music will always be relevant, no matter what happens. I’m just lucky enough to be able to have something to play when everything else goes down. Perhaps the mood of the album is suitable for what we are all experiencing. It’s become a time to slow down, take a deep breath, and try to make each day golden.
What sorts of things are you doing to engage with your audience at the moment?
I’ve started a Patreon page [patreon.com/joenolan], as a place where people can stay connected and get exclusive access to live-streams, unreleased videos and songs, and much more. My hope is to keep building on that.
How has the inability to play live affected you overall?
It’s been very strange. Personally, it’s what I crave and live off of. It’s what fills my spirit and keeps me on track. Everything is changing, and it’s not going to be the same. That’s a scary thought, but I have faith that the artists will find new ways to keep doing what they’ve always done. Making art and sharing it with the world is something we all need.
What do you believe the longterm effects of the pandemic will be on the music industry?
I imagine many venues and labels might fall through the cracks and take to big of a hit to rebuild. We’re going to need to start over in some ways and remember why we started doing this in the first place. It was never for fame, money or status. It was because we loved the music so much. Festivals may also never be the same. It’s a new world, and the DIY musicians are going to be the ones to lead the way in the industry.