Blending the literate and expressive lyrical style of a classic singer/songwriter with music rooted in indie rock, Joseph Arthur is a well-respected songwriter and performer whose work has impressed critics as well as artists such as Peter Gabriel and Michael Stipe.
Arthur's original goal was to become a hotshot bass player, but exposure to Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain prompted him to take up songwriting, and in 1996, he self-released an EP that made its way to Peter Gabriel, who signed Arthur to his Real World label. 1997's challenging Big City Secrets and 2000's rootsy Come to Where I'm From impressed critics and discriminating listeners, and 2004's Our Shadows Will Remain found him digging even deeper into his confessional tales. With 2007's Let's Just Be, Arthur launched his own record label, Lonely Astronaut, giving him greater control over his music as he recorded idiosyncratic projects such as 2013's The Ballad of Boogie Christ and 2014's Lou (the latter a collection of Lou Reed covers).
Joseph Arthur was born in Akron, Ohio on September 28, 1971. He began playing music in his early teens, teaching himself to play an electronic keyboard, and by the time he was 16, he was playing bass in a local blues band. Arthur was in his twenties when he began exploring the possibilities of songwriting after immersing himself first in the music of Nirvana and later Bob Dylan. After completing high school, Arthur relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began playing out and cutting demos of his songs. In 1966, he released a four-song EP, Cut & Blind, in which he played all the instruments. An A&R executive for Peter Gabriel's Real World Records label heard the EP and passed a copy on to Gabriel, who soon signed Arthur to the label, making him their first American act.
Arthur's debut, Big City Secrets, was released in 1997 and went largely unnoticed in the marketplace, despite an eclectic, brooding sound influenced by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joe Henry, and the late Jeff Buckley. Gabriel booked Arthur into his annual WOMAD shows, and Virgin Records, Real World's distributor, helped him land opening dates with several of their acts, including Ben Harper and Gomez. Arthur steadily earned an audience of his own, attracting some attention for his work as a visual artist as well (he creates the cover art for many of his releases). In 1999, Arthur released the seven-song EP Vacancy and received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package, thanks to the hand-folded design by art director Zachary Larner. Arthur's second full-length album, Come to Where I'm From, appeared one year later, featuring production from alt-country icon T-Bone Burnett. The album showed Arthur's musical fondness for rootsy country-rock and Americana, and he spent the rest of 2000 headlining club shows across North America and serving as an opening act for The The. Two years later, Arthur issued the four-EP series Junkyard Hearts, a precursor to his third LP, Redemption's Son. North American dates with Tracy Chapman followed in summer 2003, then one year later, the critically acclaimed Our Shadows Will Remain appeared. In 2004, Arthur was invited to tour as an opening act for R.E.M.; the group's vocalist, Michael Stipe, would cut a version of Arthur's "In the Sun" for a 2006 benefit EP.
After starting his own label, Lonely Astronaut, Arthur published a collection of his artwork in the spring of 2006 entitled We Almost Made It, which came with The Invisible Parade, a CD of primarily instrumental music Arthur wrote to accompany the pieces. A few months later, fans were greeted with his fifth record, Nuclear Daydream, as well as a tour that featured Arthur with a full live band, something he had never done before. Arthur also provided vocals for "Sublime," a track from the Twilight Singers' five-song EP A Stitch in Time. In April 2007, he partnered with his band once again to record Let's Just Be, the second album released on his own label. The following year brought even more material, with Arthur releasing no less than four EPs during the first seven months of the year (Could We Survive, Crazy Rain, Vagabond Skies, and Foreign Girls) and a full album, Temporary People, in September. In February 2010, Arthur teamed up with Dhani Harrison and Ben Harper to form Fistful of Mercy, a folk-rock trio whose debut album, As I Call You Down, was released later that year. The band toured off and on during 2010 and continued playing sporadic shows in 2011, but that didn't stop Arthur from furthering his solo career with The Graduation Ceremony, which appeared in May 2011.
Early in 2012, Arthur self-released his next solo work, the double album Redemption City, as a digital download; the LP edition followed later that year. That same year, Arthur took part in a collaborative project with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam; the ad hoc band, named RNDM, issued the album Acts in October 2012. As ambitious as he is prolific, Arthur next focused on completing a confessional concept record he had envisioned over a decade earlier; some of its songs had been in his live show that long. Without a label, he reached out to fans on the Pledge Music crowd-funding site and realized 170-percent of his financial goal. The end result was his "psychedelic soul" record, The Ballad of Boogie Christ, which was released in June of 2013. The following year, Arthur released an all-acoustic tribute album of Lou Reed songs titled Lou.
Having established a reputation for the unconventional, Arthur followed it up with the almost completely self-recorded Days of Surrender in 2015. He pressed exactly one compact disc, which would be presented to the person who purchased his van. He also sold the album on USB drives with a cassette, while it was later released as a digital download through his website and on a made-to-order physical disc. Before he released The Ballad of Boogie Christ, Arthur bought a 1912 Steinway Grand piano. He began writing songs on it, all of which revolved the dynamics of "the family" and how it shapes us and makes us who we are. He eventually self-recorded the material, handling vocals, drums, programming, pianos, guitars, and synths. The album, titled The Family, was released in June of 2016. A sojourn in Mexico with Arthur's friend Peter Buck, guitarist with R.E.M., led to them writing and recording a batch of songs together. Calling the duo Arthur Buck, they released their self-titled debut in June 2018. ~ MacKenzie Wilson & Mark Deming, Rovi