I first met Joe Firstman in the spring of 2004. He had a CD out on Atlantic Records called The War of Women and he was opening arenas in front of Gavin DeGraw and Michelle Branch on The Virgin College MegaTour.
I interviewed him at the time, but barely remember it. What I remember instead is the blistering set he delivered that night to a room full of people who had no idea who he was. By the end of thirty minutes on stage, Firstman was barefoot and stomping on top of a grand piano while flinging his acoustic guitar around. The audience was a bit taken aback.
It wasn’t until after the show that I was informed that Joe was sick – really sick. It made me wonder what this guy was capable of when he was feeling good…
“It is a little more calmed down now,” Firstman laughs when I relate this story to him. “But honestly, I’ve been on the road by myself for awhile and now I am back touring with a band and I am trying to find some of that same energy again.”
Firstman brings that band and quest to Jeffersonville’s Perkfection (359 Spring St) Tuesday night for a show he promises will include, “New music and old music. Same old dude. Crazy show.“
“I have a new record coming out in February and I have this opportunity to take a band out on the road, find the subtleties and nuances and perfect it,” Firstman explains. “I wrote this new record and it is a band record. So I had to hire a band… There are still [slower, solo] songs, but the process was so much like my first record. I wrote a song and then went – ‘Oh, here is how the drum part goes.’”
In the years after that first record (The War of Women) and Firstman’s time piano-hopping on the MegaTour, the LA-based musician was dropped from the Atlantic Records roster.
“I saw the change [that has been happening in the record industry] right before my eyes,” Firstman sighs. “I was one of the last folks they spent a lot of money on – and that record - it didn’t sell sh*t. They tried as hard as they could. It was a business partnership… They tried. I tried my brains out. In my mind, it is cool… I just want to play… I don’t give a damn how my records come out. I’m just making them. “
After Atlantic, Firstman’s reputation as a performer in LA led to a unique opportunity to become the house bandleader for Last Call with Carson Daly when the show was relocated to the West Coast in 2005. [Firstman continued on the show until 2009 when the network reformatted the program.] Firstman says that this experience taught him “everything” about being a musician.
“ That is where it changed…. [Until then] I just had my songs and played them my way. [With Daly] I started having the ability to hire the best guys in town… I was the worst guy in the room every single day at rehearsal. It was a beautiful time. The songs stopped a bit but my learning how to play finally started happening.”
So now, after a string of stripped-down self-released records - the last of which (Live at The Treehouse) he says was recorded to “sound like I was sitting right next to you on the couch” – Firstman hopes to merge what he has learned over the past decade with the energy and fervor of his earlier days.
“I thought that being on TV would have been a major spike in my audience, but no one cared about that. It’s been all The War of Women,“ Firstman reflects.
“I rarely listen to [The War of Women] and I was kind of afraid of it for a few years. If you listen to the record after that one, you can tell I was really trying to distance myself. But now, being ten years older than the dude that wrote that record, I really admire him. I don’t even know that guy anymore, but I want to find a little bit of him again. “
Photo courtesy of Skye Media
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