“I’ve got to show what happens when you combine talent with drive and a mindset that wants to go the distance”
Joe Appleford has just released his debut solo album ‘Dystopian Dreams Utopian Nightmares’.
A dense, driving, devastating collection of British rock epics, it is the first of many big statements set to come from Joe over the next few years. Since the split of his band Bad Sign back in 2018, he has been building up to this moment, and now he is ready to take on anybody who stands in his way.
We sat down with the man himself to discuss how we have reached this point and what it means to be able to put his drive and determination into something that perfectly defines him…
How does it feel to have the first part of this solo journey out?
“It’s all a bit mad, really. I’ve come from a place where I wasn’t going to make music at all anymore. I was just knocking it on the head. Then I got the itch, and at the same time, I also knocked booze on the head. Since then, it has been all about focusing. If I want to do this, I have to do it properly. Also, it was about thinking about how I wanted to do it as well. For now, the independent route makes sense for that, and that may be longer than other options that I had, but it’s about still being here and still doing this in 15/20 years. I don’t want us to be three years down the line and asking, ‘Where has this band gone?'”
Off the back of how you finished up with Bad Sign, which is something you didn’t really want to do but had to respect the people who did, it must have been hard to feel like the thing you loved so much wasn’t going to be there anymore. And even harder to hold off on sharing too much too soon when that thing came back again…
“I’m a purpose-driven person and coming off the back of Bad Sign, I felt like I didn’t have that purpose. I lost it all. And within my drinking and other habits, those things used to be fun, and it was becoming less fun. It was just pure escapism. But it was that realisation that knuckling down would be the only way to be able to get anything done. And there were moments when I thought about sharing what I had been working on in the middle of the pandemic, just because I thought I was ready to step out in that way again. And plenty of bands used that situation to their advantage, but I don’t know. My inner voice just told me to wait, and I’m glad I did. This year might have been less active on the live front, but the shows we have played have been so special. People have said it has felt like we as a band have been playing for years, which comes from our hunger.”
Using patience to your advantage and then showing people that you weren’t bluffing along the way, that you knew what you were doing all along, is such a rare and powerful thing…
“I believe that cream always rises to the top, and I do consider myself in that category. But the hard thing is watching everybody else around you kicking on and feel like you were able to be there as well. But I have got to grips with turning that off, especially this year. I am in my own lane, and I don’t feel like there is anyone else doing what I am doing right now. That’s in terms of a male solo artist making the sounds that I am making. And I feel like this first album is me trying to figure out exactly what all of that means, and only now am I starting to really flex upon it.”
You’re also in a position where you’re able to write songs about things that matter to you, but at your own pace and through your own experiences, rather than it feeling forced or rushed…
“I think that the biggest thing was sitting down and figuring out what I wanted all of this to be. I love concept records, so having everything laid out for my own project, in the same way, was really helpful. And the other thing is that it is a clear change from what I have done in the past. Bad Sign, and all the lyrics that came out it, was very personal. I wanted this project to be more observational and the songs more character-based, with me taking on those characters. That was really enjoyable in terms of a process, as it was a lot like acting. We are talking about serious subject matter, but you can take the songs and use them for your own purposes. That’s something that all of my favourite artists do. Lyrics that you can connect to through your own life experience. It doesn’t always have to be hard, fast, and personal with the artist. Because the concept of this record is so defined in being about the state of the world through these many characters, that’s why I had to take the form that it has. Having this grand plan and grand ambition helps that as well.”
There were a lot of other things changing in your life around you building this world, mainly becoming a father. What sort of effect did that have on the art that you subsequently made, and the mindset you had whilst in the middle of making it?
“I feel like, in the past, music was just for the boys and me. I’ve always had that drive, and much of it was underutilised as a kid. Only when I found music did I have a place to put it. I’ve got a purpose. Without that purpose, I don’t see the point in continuing with something. So when it came to starting this project, I said that it couldn’t be a band and that I could hide behind a name or an alias or anything. I had to be confident about myself as an artist because if I wasn’t, then who would be? And since becoming a father, sometimes that makes people think they have to slow down or detract. It’s made me go the complete opposite. It’s made me go, ‘You have to succeed, because you have to set an example for your daughter.’ I’ve got to show what happens when you combine talent with drive and a mindset that wants to go the distance. I simply have to. And the best way to do that is to rely upon myself, and what I know I’m capable of.”
It’s being in a position where you aren’t scared to admit that there is more to learn and grow with. That’s something that so many forget during their journeys, but it is so vital to reach the next level…
“For me, it’s surrounding yourself with the right people. It’s about trusting them as well. In this case Neil Kennedy as my producer. I remember sending him the demos for this record, terrible little GarageBand jobs, asking if they had legs. I knew he would be honest, and when he said that there was something in it that was when I knew it would be worth it. So from there, building up that circle of other people who are on the same page and get it. People who are as hungry as I am can match what I am doing. And also, no one will keep saying, ‘Yes’. You must retain that humility to listen to those people, and I always will.”
What would you say is something you have already learned, even at this point of the process?
“Even though I have been pretty patient, I have learned to be even more patient around how quickly things will happen. I’m human, and despite everything I have said, I am still prone to feelings of doubt. But I think that being able to step back and see the reaction I’m getting now, and the way things are building now comes from maintaining the self-belief. If nobody else is going to believe in it, you have to be the one who does. But as long as you have that hunger and that drive, then nobody can stop you. It produces results.”