Investigating Us – An Interview with Musician Joel Ansett
Written by Jason Farley on May 7, 2018
Joel, thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk, hosted by CrossPolitic.
Great question. Goodness what have I learned. As a musician, I’ve
learned I pretty much have two modes: groovy and ballad-y. Playing these songs over and over I’ve started to see more of my musical tendencies and that overall I’m fairly predictable, haha. I guess I’ve learned how little I know musically and that there’s obviously a whole lot of growing to do. I want to be more comfortable with creative risk on this next record as well.
What has been surprising about people’s response to ”The Nature of Us”?
The most surprising thing has been to watch how the more specific and narrowly focused songs are the ones that speak to the most people. It’s easy for me to get stuck trying to say broad, universal things in hopes of it applying to everyone. The reality I discovered was that the more specific I was with certain songs, the more people resonated with it.
What has been the furthest from home that your music made it? And how did you hear about it?
There is a dance studio in Singapore that has choreographed performances to my song “Turn to Gold.” I found the performances on Instagram and have since been in touch with a few of the dancers. I believe they found the music on SoundCloud at some point. It’s definitely one of my favorite things that has happened with the songs. I have prayed that the songs would be generative for other artists and it’s a humbling and exciting to see that happen.
When you are playing for a group of strangers, what do you hope they walk away with?
Clarity and wonder. Clarity about their own story, their own joys and hurts. Clarity to even think about our lives as a story with different chapters that are all jam-packed with meaning and purpose. And then a sense of wonder that we even get to exist in the story. A sense of wonder and excitement to look for truth; not just to find answers, but to find answers that lead to even more wonder. Love this question.
Is your next album mostly composed, or are you in the writing process still?
Almost all of the music is composed, at least the chord progressions and melodies. The lyrics still need a lot of work at the moment. Got a few too many mumble tracks going right now, and a few songs that kind of wrote themselves but I don’t actually know what they’re about yet, haha. Lyrics will be a major focus for the next month.
Is there a fully formed theme that you are working in, or do you find the theme while recording?
It’s a dream of mine to have a fully formed concept in mind and then proceed to write a whole album based on that theme. Not quite there yet though. With this album I’ve just been trying to write as many good songs as I can, and then stepping back to see if there’s any discernible themes. The one front-runner theme for the next album is the word “Intimacy.” How precious it is. How many false versions of it there are. How deeply I crave it. But also how deeply I fear it, even sabotage it, in my relationship with God and with friends.
What have you discovered about the nature of us, through making and singing “The Nature of Us”? Any insights into being human?
Whoa. So many thoughts. Through making it I discovered that any act of creativity is a semi-heroic task. It is not easy to make things. It’s a hard swim upstream. Through singing it, I’ve learned that it is very human to be drawn toward beauty. Anything good, true, or beautiful is like a compass leading us home, the world’s just got too many lesser magnets throwing us off the trail.
What does your creative process look like? Are you systematic? Do you take a shotgun approach?
Hmm, somewhere in the middle. I’m almost always collecting ideas in two broad categories: musical ideas and lyrical ideas. That process is pretty scattered and the hardest part is just being faithful to document and organize the ideas as they come. Then when I actually sit down to write, it gets very systematic. I try and pair different musical ideas with lyrical ideas one at a time until I find a good match. I pick a song title, a song plot, and then get to work finishing the song.
What doors have you seen opened by your music that you didn’t expect?
I can almost say every door that has opened has been unexpected. The story of my music career has not been the one about a brave creative chasing their dream at all costs. My story has been much more about just taking the next step. They are usually fear-filled steps, but there’s been just enough faith for me to take the step anyway. And thus far, with each step, another door has continued to show itself. The beauty of it is that it’s never exactly the door I thought it would be, but some type of door always shows up and keeps the story going.
What’s your current Kickstarter campaign?
The current kickstarter has launched with hopes of funding my second full-length album. My wife and I recently went through a season of doubt about continuing to pursue songwriting as a vocation; but instead of getting stuck there, working through the doubt actually gave us renewed focus to keep this thing going. A major turning point was just sitting down and looking through old fanmail about how the songs have spoken to people over the years. Those past stories shook me out of some hyper-practical thinking. They freed us up to look at the big picture and re-commit to art for this next season.
As an independent artist, my fans are essentially my record label, and the music doesn’t happen unless there’s a big enough community wanting it to happen, so we’re putting it out there for the fans and we’ll follow their lead. The goal is to raise $30,000 and if we do that, album number two will happen. We’ve got just a few weeks left in the campaign and a long way to go; but I think we can do it and I’m trusting the right doors to open up regardless.