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Talking to Nobody. A Conversation with Joel Cage
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
2001-08-26
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Joel Cage is the consummate musician and the consummate performer. Hitting over 200 gigs a year, Joel is always working on his craft, but always has time to share a laugh with a fan and a friend (often the same person). A veteran of such bands as Big Sixteen, Gramolini and The Subterraneans, Joel ahs played with the likes of Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Money and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, with whom he toured for over three years.

In recent years, Joel's proverbial mantle has become overloaded with awards and accolades. Having won the USA Songwriting Contest for three years in a row(!), Joel is also the winner of the 1998 John Lennon Songwriting Contest winner. Despite these many honors, however, Joel keeps on working, now harder than ever. With four CDs in the works and a rigorous tour schedule, Joel shows no signs of slowing, and his fans wouldn't have it any other way. I recently had a moment to talk to Joel about what's been up and what's coming up.

[Matthew Robinson] Hi Joel, How you been?

Joel Cage All is fine and well - thanks for asking!

[Matthew Robinson] Word has it you have up to four new albums in the works. Is that true?

Joel Cage Yes indeed, I am currently prepared to produce four new CDs in the coming year. I have a "LIVE CD" that's reached the duplication stage of production and should be "streetworthy" by the end of February. My plans for the coming months are to record & release three more CDs - one of cover tunes that have become favorites amongst my constituents, and two new all-original cds. The material is all set to go, but you never know what may come down the pike in the interim, as I tend to write more when I am recording, so by the midpoint of the project there's bound to be a whole new body of material in the works as well .. I intend to maintain as much "fluidity" as possible allowing for "flights of fancy and moments of inspiration" to steer the project in any possible direction, making the whole thing seem like one big endeavor.

[Matthew Robinson] Your first two solo albums have quandried many critics and fans in terms of how to describe them (vis a vis "acoustic," "folk," "rock," etc.). How would you describe your new material?

Joel Cage I am probably the least qualified person to answer this question in that my response would be so subjective - and we all know the pitfalls of subjectivity. My favorite "coined by another" description, and perhaps the most succinct is "FOLK WITH BALLS" although my gal prefers that I refrain from using it in certain public forums. I like to enter the term ALT into the phrase as it tends to get people's ears perked up for the "less-than-usual". The moniker of "folk-rock" and "rockin-folk" both seem a bit benign, though no less apt, I suppose...

[Matthew Robinson] You have been performing primarily as a solo artist for over five years now. Do you miss the band format?

Joel Cage In my current status as a touring/performing musician, I find that I don't miss the "band-thing" at all - rather I revel in the autonomy, albeit a bit lonely at times. I do, however, moonlight as a guitarist for my good friend Al Halliday in his band "The Griffins" from time to time. That, and living vicariously through my many friends who perform in bands seems to both satisfy and quell any urge that may simmer below the surface to re-experience the "band-thing".

[Matthew Robinson] What are your fondest memories of people you have worked with?

Joel Cage Too many to enumerate, I'm afraid, although there are many times I have dreamt, of re-experienced some of the "good-old-days" with the Jukes .. the long travels, big stages and loud noise can be infectious, and is something you never stop missing, I suppose.

[Matthew Robinson] Did you get to check in with Bruce Springsteen when he was in town last year? Do you keep in touch with your old band-mates?

Joel Cage No, I did not partake of Bruce's recent visit - too much for my blood nowadays. I do, once every two or three years or so, make contact with (Southside) Johnny - it's always a fresh experience, especially now that we are "both adults..." something that's been a long time coming. There's always the possibility of the chance meeting on the road with an ex-Juke as they are all still out there working, but it's nothing I would refer to as regular.

[Matthew Robinson] Do you consider yourself a strong melody writer or a stronger lyricist? Which comes first in your process?

Joel Cage I don't discern between whatever "strengths" I may perceive to be present in my craft. I tend to write songs as a whole on a conceptual basis, and then go back and try to sort out the details of my thoughts. But there's always a "seed" that starts the process off, whether it be lyrical or melodic in nature varies from song to song.

[Matthew Robinson] One of the four rumored albums will be a collection of your favorite covers. Any clues as to who might be on there?

Joel Cage I prefer not to say, but I am a lover of great songs, and enjoy immensely the opportunity to take a song that has moved me at one time or another, and deliver it up in a show as if it were my own. I choose tunes that have had an impact on me one way or another, or that say something that I myself might have said or felt at some point in my life. This makes it a much more personal endeavor, and thus facilitates an honest expression of the tune's sentiment. This being said, attending any live show would no doubt be an indication of what may end up on this project.

[Matthew Robinson] What makes a song great for you?

Joel Cage I've always felt that a great song is a great song, whether I like it or not. My main barometer for this is usually whether or not the song can stand up to being stripped of all it's production and still be engaging. This, in fact, is one of the reasons I chose to eschew the band arena - to perform in an environment where the song and it's presentation must stand strong without any distractions to offer up the safety of disguise. This may seem a bit enigmatic in rhetoric, but to me, it's the simplicity of truth. It matters not whether a song tell a story or express a sentiment, whether it be complex or basic in it's harmonic structure, or whether or not it contains virtuosity in it's performance. If, when presented in it's simplest and most naked format, it holds it's own, then to me it' a great song.

[Matthew Robinson] Lately, it seems that you are suffering from the "another year, another award" syndrome. How was it winning first place in the USA Songwriting Competition? What do you hope will come of this latest accolade?

Joel Cage There's absolutely no suffering involve in the experience of winning contests and awards - it's an extreme honor to be chosen as one out of many in any field or forum. Winning 1st Prize in this year's USA SW Competition was as much a thrill and honor the third time as it was the first. I have no expectations regarding any "outcome" from this, however - as I never do, thus anything that happens is a pleasant surprise - music is a business where you can't afford expectations, unless you're a masochist, which I am not. Contrary to all this, I am happy to say that this year's USA win has enabled me the opportunity to perform at the South by Southwest Music Conference - an opportunity that I otherwise would not have - and who knows - as I said, no expectations...

[Matthew Robinson] Are there any awards you still yearn for?

Joel Cage Yearning for awards is fruitless - yearning is fruitless in general for my money, but I will never stop entering contests, and every element of recognition is another bit of inspiration that compels me to continue and endure. I love my profession and the life that has allowed me to continually pursue a "dream", all the while performing a task which I simply love to do, and make a living doing it. Contests and awards are a part of the whole picture, and win or lose, I deeply respect the opportunities they represent.

[Matthew Robinson] What else do you hope the 2K fairy brings you?

Joel Cage Enough money on which to survive, the strength of spirit required to achieve the goals I have set myself, and the inspiration to go on creating. The rest can follow, come what may.


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