Songwriting like a sieve

Stockholm Syndrome is a recurring condition

Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly


Stockholm Syndrome’s new album Apollo lurches into life as Jerry Joseph wails about walking the streets at 3 a.m. in a “blood-red cowboy shirt … dodging a couple of ghosts.”


The song, also the title track, is a little off-putting, even as it relaxes from its chunky and rusty-fender guitar chord opening into an uneasily medicated, pedal steel-tinged chorus. At more than seven minutes, it’s the CD’s opener, its title tune and its longest track — but not by a long stretch its most inviting.

It may be one of the new album’s best, and in no small part due to Joseph’s in-the-moment, first-person lyrics, vivid and palpable and pure Joseph in their fragmentary, dysfunctional genius.

We got to talking about songwriting, a craft that Joseph has a nearly maniacal love-hate relationship with, and one that a lot of people think pretty much no one in America does better.

“I don’t know how it works for me, but I tend to write very quickly,” he told us during a phone interview last week, sheltered under an awning from a torrential La Jolla, Calif., downpour. “Sometimes too quickly. I was never a big ‘rewrite’ kind of guy. I have a friend … the greatest band in America for me is Richmond Fontaine [an alt-country four-piece from Portland, Ore.], and the singer is a guy named Willie Vlautin. …We’d be talking about some song and I’d go ‘Man, that’s the greatest line,’ and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, it took me five years to come up with that line.’ “And I’d be like, ‘What? Five f-ing years?’ … Something like ‘Apollo’ probably took me 10 minutes to write. It’s 3 in the morning and I’m sitting in my living room. My wife is gone and I’m not sober yet, and I had just walked by the Apollo Theater, and boom.”

Not everyone can produce songs with the kind of splintered authenticity that Joseph can, and it’s probably that kind of fleeting vignette realism that gives Stockholm Syndrome — which also includes Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, drummer Wally Ingram (Sheryl Crow, Jackson Browne) and Danny Louis (Gov’t Mule, Cheap Trick) — its buttered side-down scratch. And its channeled-from-somewhere-else surprises, like the yearning “Wisconsin Death Trip,” exuding elegant desperation like a Coen brothers film (“thankin’ the Lord and squeezing out sparks”), and the loping acoustic sermon “That Which is Coming.” We scribbled “gospelgrass?” in the margins on the latter.

“Why they didn’t put this in the press, I have no idea,” he says. “But that is directly from the Koran. They don’t call ’em psalms … they’re … they’re … can’t think of the word for it [verses]. But it’s verbatim from the Koran. I took it word for word.”

OK, maybe not gospelgrass. Korangrass. “That’s it! You just invented a whole new genre,” he says.

Technically, Jerry Joseph did, but whatever. The song is buried in the middle of the new Stockholm Syndrome CD, the second studio recording for the band, following up their debut from 2004. Yes, almost seven years ago. There’s a bit of recording time in there as well, which seems to be subject to some management hush-hush and which we didn’t really pin Joseph down on (he didn’t want to talk about it), but even as a milestone for the successful side-project band, it’s hardly a recent thing for a guy who is always — always — working. The guy made a valiant attempt at being in the Stockholm Syndrome-kind of press space to talk about the record, but the fact is, it’s pretty old news for him.

“We moved pretty quickly,” he says. “We wrote the songs in August, we were in the studio in February and it was mixed by May, so it’s been out of my hands for a while.

“I’ve made … three or four records since we recorded this,” he continues. “I actually had to go back and listen to it. Music’s a pretty instantaneous process. You write the songs, you learn them and then you play them, so when there’s a two-year window like this … I don’t know if I’ve ever been in that position.”

But Joseph’s position is basically frontman for a band of stars working their side project, a tellingly ironic gig for a guy who was an early and strident fan of Widespread Panic, but whose own history includes fronting Boulder’s proto-jam-band heroes Little Women and a very lengthy tenure fronting the Jackmormons. It’s a gig he enjoys as an extension of his long friendship with Dave Schools, but for him it also illustrates the fickleness of his chosen industry.

“I got this joke. We pull up in the Stockholm van at a festival, and all of a sudden I have all these friends in the music business. When it’s the Jackmormons van, I can’t find any of ’em.”

On the Bill

Stockholm Syndrome plays
the Fox Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 26. Must be 21 to enter. Truth &
Salvage Co. and Super 400 open. Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 day of
show. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.