The Sea Beneath Your Eyes: Clash Meets Joesef

Glasgow's sad-pop troubadour opens up...

Joesef kind of appeared from nowhere. His voice announced itself at a Glasgow open mic night, and the pal who became his manager told him he was going to be a pop star. And now, it looks like he is.

Touring Europe, doing Radio One sessions and getting his name immortalised on the steps of King Tuts – a venue he’d sold out before he’d even released a single song.

He doesn’t sound like anyone else either. In Glasgow, at least. He isn’t of the scene, and doesn’t bear any of its traditional hallmarks.

His songs, so far, have concerned themselves with heartbreak. An affair gone awry (with the first boy he’d ever loved) was the spark for his EP 'Play Me Something Nice'. He channeled this energy into secretive bedroom songwriting, teaching himself how to produce and make something from madness. It’s the sound of ache, a body drinking and dancing and moving through parties even though its most fundamental bit is broken. A self-proclaimed ‘sad boy’ setting down his guard.

And the boy himself? He’s a wonder. Grew up in Glasgow’s Garthamlock schemes (beside Easterhouse), and is effortless, funny and utterly incredulous at his well-deserved success. Fluent in the world of afters and gaffs. He sells pink balaclavas “for the young team”, drinks from his pint of Staropraven and grins big at the world.

And why not? You need grit to make a pearl. 

We cower in a pub while storms rage outside, and talk about love, music and the colour pink.

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What are you working on at the minute? And are you recording it at home?

I’ve been trying to get this mad tune finished so that I can get away, on tour. My manager’s pure up ma arse going you need to finish it, you need to finish it. Apart from drums and that, aye. It’s all oot my gaff.

And you self-produce, as well?

I have since the start. ‘Cause I had to really. I didn’t have any money or that, didn’t really know what I was doing. But I think it’s worked in my favour a wee bit. When you’ve not really got a lot of resources, you need to be a wee bit more creative. If I had all the gadgets in the world, I’d probably not have a clue what to do.

Paralysed by the choice?

Aye, that’s definitely a thing. I’ve been offered the choice to go and write with people…and obviously I will in the future, but at this point, I’d rather do it all myself.

Is it about having a certain amount of control?

It is. I’m a pure control freak. A lot of people try and put their fingers in it a wee bit the bigger you get, but I enjoy the fact that it’s my own shit and I can just put it out. If it goes wrong, then it’s my fault. And if it doesn’t then…that’s why I found it so weird with 'Limbo' going pure big. Because I made it in my room.

For bedroom pop music, it’s very slick. Getting played on Radio One with a track you made in your room, that’s…

It’s pure fucked, aye. I was oot the weekend it came oot, pure fucked, and then Annie Mac played it on the Sunday. I was like, What the fuck is happening, man? But it’s been funny, man.

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I saw your name’s been put on the steps at King Tuts. You’ve sold it out two times?


But the first time you sold it out, you hadn’t actually released any music yet, had you?

Nah, I hadn’t put any music out. How does it feel? It’s only been a year, and my name’s on the stairs. It was very strange. I remember going up the stairs in King Tuts, because I had never been there before I played a gig in it. And I seen all these names on the stairs and I thought, it’d be cool to get my name on that.

Do you feel like you own it now?

Aye. It’s a bit of mine now! It’s cool, because you’re kinda immortalised on the stairs. And there’s so many big heavy names there, like pure iconic. Fontaines DC and that. It’s very surreal, it’s cool.

You kind of came out of nowhere. But how long have you been writing songs for? When did you realise that songwriting was an outlet for you?

It was a recent development, man. I didn’t really grow up wanting to be a singer. I always kind of sang in the house a wee bit, and my mum was always playing music.

When I went to college, I did sound engineering, but never really wrote any tunes or sang. It was never really in my nature to perform, or be the main guy.

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I ended up singing at an open mic night my manager was at. I was pure wrecked. It was my mate’s night in St Luke’s, and he was like, Oof! You can kind of sing. I was pure wrecked, but. He came back to me a year later, saying I want to start a management company. And I want you, if you want to write some tunes and that. I had written one song about being mad wae it in a taxi home, and he based his whole idea around that. That he could manage me, and I could be a singer. Mental.

He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Obviously, you can hear your own voice. But I just didn’t think that I was special, but he thought we can deffo dae this. Let’s give this a bash. And this, now, is two years later. I had to work on myself a wee bit. I had to write tunes, and make sure that the music was amazing before I did any gigs or that.

Are you quite perfectionistic as well?

I’m quite a perfectionist, and I’m very critical of my own shit. I need to be excited about something to put it out, but it needs to feel right. I’ve written some shit tunes in my time.

Are you quite strict with yourself when you write?

I think you need to be. At the same time, you can be too strict. You need to let yourself. Writing tunes is like when you run a dirty tap, waiting to get clear water. You need to go through loads of shite before you work out what you like and what your style is.

I’m a big fan of spontaneity. If something feels good at the time and you can write it fast, it’s usually always a good song. But if you need to force it, it’ll be shite. Most of the tunes I’ve made have been done in about an hour, just rattling it through. The ones you pure work on are just a bit more tedious.

Last single was 'Think That I Don’t Need Your Love'. Is that a continuation of the story of the EP?

Aye, kind of. It’s kind of looking back after the dust has settled and going – I’m alright, I’m not on my knees anymore. Yaas, the sky is blue again, you can hear the birds! I spent so long fucking feeling like shite, a lot of the time.

Heartbreak is a pure physical ailment, you feel so heavy. But I woke up one day and thought, I’m fine. I’m awright. And then I wrote that tune, as a wee sort of ‘you’re alright, get over it’. It was like putting a punchline on the whole situation. Because I feel that I was so cut up about it. But now I just think, it could be worse. Worse things could happen.

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Going back to the EP, and the themes of the heartbreak, lyrically, it’s so honest. Did you feel you needed to write that out of you?

I genuinely didn’t know that I had it in me to be honest like that. I’m not really articulate with my feelings with my pals, but when you’re writing…you wouldn’t even say some of this stuff in an empty room to yourself. Do you know what I mean? When you’re writing, it just feels normal. But it’s good to have an outlet, because I don’t know what I'd be doing if I didn’t…

What were you doing before music?

I was a bartender. Worked in the Solid Rock cafe in Glasgow, that mad hard-rock heavy-metal place. It was good. I was very different from everybody that worked there.. .you learn a lot about people, I think. People tell you absolutely everything. It’s like being a barber or a hairdresser.

Or a priest?

Aye. They’ll come in and tell you, my wife’s just left me, I’ve lost my hoose. And I’m like, I don’t know you mate, what am I supposed to say? It’s like studying the human condition.

I think I’ve always had one of those faces, but. People just gravitate towards me and tell me their deepest, darkest secrets. At parties and that, I always get the mad steamin bird that’s pure greetin’ about her boyfriend and I’m like holding her hair back whilst she’s being sick.

But it’s all good stories, right?

Aye, it’s good album fodder. Good tune material.

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Words: Marianne Gallagher // @SoLongMarianne

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