Talking to Nobody. A Conversation with Joel Cage
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
[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
[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
[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
[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.