If there’s such a thing as the opposite of writer’s block, Joseph Arthur has it. Indeed, the Akron, Ohio-bred/Brooklyn, N.Y.-residing singer/songwriter, who once released four EPs in the span of as many months. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in Akron, Arthur’s musical life started off like many others, with mandatory piano lessons. But once he realized he could use the piano to conjure up his own musical worlds, he took to the instrument and began writing songs, eventually playing in bands while in high school. Days after graduation, he moved to Atlanta with a band, playing bass and supporting himself with day jobs at a music store and tattoo shop.
At the time, Arthur aspired to be a world-class jazz or fusion bass player in the vein of the late Jaco Pastorius. But when a demo tape of Arthur’s songs somehow made its way to Peter Gabriel and his Real World Records label, “I came to find out that Peter thought the bass playing was weak on my stuff, but what he liked was the lyrics.”
Next thing Arthur knew, he was playing at Gabriel’s WOMAD festival (despite having played solo acoustic “maybe one time before”), jamming with Gabriel and Joe Strummer in Real World studios in Bath, England, and was subsequently signed to Real World Records. “It was crazy,” Arthur says. “I think I like repeating the story more the older I get.”
And while Arthur’s 1997 debut, Big City Secrets, attracted a substantial following abroad, the artist didn’t connect with Stateside listeners until Come To Where I’m From, which features his signature song, In the Sun. That track was covered by R.E.M.’s Stipe and Coldplay’s Chris Martin in 2006 on a charity single to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, having previously been recorded a decade earlier by Gabriel for a Princess Diana tribute album.
Previously nominated for a best recording package Grammy for his 1999 EP Vacancy, Arthur is an accomplished painter, having displayed his works in galleries around the world. His online-only “Museum of Modern Arthur” serves as a repository for his creations.