Q&A and Bonus MP3: Joe Purdy Knows When and When Not To Allow His Songs to Be Used

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For about 10 years now, Arkansas native Joe Purdy has steadily released album after album of solid -- and at times, spectacular -- folk music.

Most recently, though, with his two 2010 releases, 4th of July and This American, Purdy has adopted inventive ways to get his music heard.

Case in point: This American. The sprawling album that channels the modern spirit of Woody Guthrie was made available as a free album download for the entire month of December last year. The ploy worked. Once word spread via the trusty blogosphere, it was hard to pull up a country folk or Americana site without reading of not only what Purdy was offering, but of how great a release the album was. A couple of clicks later, and it was easy to see that This American was indeed worth the price, and then some.

But digital giveaways aren't the only high-profile method that Purdy has employed in order to build his career and create awareness of his sound. Many highly-rated television shows, including House, have featured especially emotive cuts from Purdy's catalog.

WIth Purdy will be bringing his acoustic guitar and harmonica to the Loft in Dallas on Saturday night, we caught up with the singer-songwriter to see what he thinks of folk as a current and relative art-form, and if a younger version of himself would be mad that his music is often featured on commercials.

Read our Q&A with Purdy after the jump. There, you'll also find a free download of our favotie track off of This American, "Highways," courtesy of Mr. Purdy, himself.

Bonus MP3:

Joe Purdy -- "Highways"

You've had songs pop up in television shows, movies and commercials. Other than the immediate monetary benefits, have you seen any other positive results that you can attribute directly to such positioning?
Film and television is more exposure in one sitting than I could ever hope for otherwise. Other benefits include getting a call from my mother every single time they air.

It seems that having tunes in shows and commercials has become more "socially acceptable" in music circles in recent years than it used to be. Many feel that it's one of a dwindling list of ways an artist can make a living through his art. Would you have felt differently in your younger days as an artist about having your songs used to sell commercial products?
Why would I? I feel no differently than I did when I was "young." I still choose where my songs do and don't end up. I had a car commercial make a funny ad out of my otherwise very sad song, and that gave me an opportunity not to take myself too seriously, and that felt good. Another company used another song of mine in a promotion to give money from their proceeds to help clean up animals for the oil spill. In yet another case, I wrote a song for a public service announcement for drinking responsibly, and it turned out that they wanted to use it for selling a certain Canadian whiskey, so I backed out even though they offered me a lot of money not to. You have to draw the line somewhere. I drink Kentucky bourbon.  

You've released more than an album per year since 2001. That's definitely opposed to the usual "album cycles" that many artists and labels seem to cling to. Why does this type of release frequency work well for you?
If I have something to say, I'm not going make an appointment to say it. So if I have songs to sing, I'm gonna sing them, record them, and put them out into the world. That's about all the thinking I put into it. I don't see the point in ever restricting yourself from making more art. The more music you make, the more chances for people to find you.

You released two great albums in 2010. The second one, released as the year was ending, This American, is an acoustic folk album. Is there a greater pressure on you as a songwriter when the lyrics have a more prominent stage, thanks to the stripped down sonic of the songs?
Thanks for saying that. There's never really any pressure when writing songs -- that's why I do it. My songs almost always start stripped down -- that's how they're written -- so the content always matters. I don't try to cover up bad lyrics or lesser lyrics with music. If I think the lyrics are weak, I don't use 'em. I don't believe in filler. My mama raised me better than that.

Now that you've been at this for a decade, how do you continue to take the sounds of acoustic folk music into new directions?
Not sure that I'd say I take music in "new directions" at all. In point of fact, I spend most of my time trying to remind people of the old ones. Life is where the inspiration comes from. Music is just the old friend that helps you explain it to yourself the next morning.

Joe Purdy performs Saturday, April 23, at The Loft.

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