Joseph McClellan is a busy man. On a gloomy day in Nashville, he is rehearsing for an upcoming performance at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where he’ll help open the festivities backing Miranda Lambert and Elle King as they perform their duet “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).”
McClellan’s also recording his first-ever album of solo music under the name Joseph M while remaining a member of two other bands: BNQT (pronounced “banquet”) and, of course, North Texas’ very own Midlake.
The pandemic year was surprisingly good to McClellan. With all of his projects on hold, he began seriously contemplating releasing solo music for the first time in his career.
“It’s been an interesting window of opportunity since all of my other projects were put on hold because of the pandemic,” McClellan says via FaceTime from Nashville. “I spent a lot of time at home, wrote a lot of music and wanted to record it."
Most of it "was demoed at home," McClellan says, or recorded in Denton's Redwood Studios and at The Echo Lab with producer Matt Pence. Two more songs were produced by Jason Abraham Roberts, who's worked with Hymns and Norah Jones.
So far, Joseph M has dropped two singles: the hooky indie whisp “Haunt” and the churning angst-ridden “Who Do You Serve?” Both songs don’t stray too far from Midlake’s signature folksy psychedelia but are undoubtedly a product of McClellan’s own vision. His brother Aaron McClellan plays bass on the two tracks, while Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith adds his own percussive flavor.
"The moment I played music with Joey for the first time, 12 years ago, I knew I was in the room with a one of a kind musician," says Smith, a Grammy Award winner and co-owner of Redwood Studios. "I quickly learned he was also a one-of-a-kind person. He is a force on his guitar and just a naturally gifted musician who always adds an amazing touch to any project he’s involved with. His resume speaks for itself and the fact that he is as humble and as kind as he is is a gift to the music world."
The rootsiness of McClellan’s music comes as no surprise, given he was brought up on a steady diet of, in his words, “the classics.” OK Computer, Dark Side of the Moon, Abbey Road, Exile on Main St. and All Things Must Pass are some of the albums McClellan would take with him “if stranded on a desert island.”
When we ask whether his own record will be a triple-LP opus like the latter — George Harrison’s magnificent first solo album outside of The Beatles — McClellan lets out a laugh.
“No! I think triple albums are dead," he says. "The only reason George Harrison was able to get away with releasing a triple was because he knew what he had was brilliant. I don’t think I’m quite at that stage yet.”
Despite McClellan’s love and familiarity with the classics, he has certainly had his brush with the eccentric side of rock n’ roll. In 2009, as a member of the band Hymns, McClellan held the honor of being a part of outsider music icon Daniel Johnston’s backing band.
“That was certainly an experience,” McClellan says with a laugh. “He would read the lyrics off of a notebook, so sometimes he would just keep reading past where he was supposed to stop. Sometimes he would go as far as to turn the page and start singing a whole new song, so we had to think on our feet and start playing that song instead.”
As for Joseph M, the rest of the songs are a work in progress. He hopes to release one song per month for the foreseeable future and is still deciding whether to release an EP or wait for a full album’s worth of material to come to him.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Midlake is on the cusp of releasing their first album since 2013’s Antiphon.
“We recorded the album during quarantine with [Swans and St. Vincent producer] John Congleton producing, and it came together super quickly," McClellan says. "Normally Midlake records take three, three-and-a-half-years to get made, but this one came together in less than two years.
"Partially because of the quarantine, partially because John’s such a great producer. As of right now, the record is done, so we’re just waiting for when the time is right to release it.”
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