Joe Pisapia shares his highly anticipated second solo-album Nightvision with The East Nashvillian.
Singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia is an accomplished artist in his own right, but Nightvision reaches a place where his musical background and personal experience coexist. The former member of Guster has produced albums ranging from William Tyler to Ben Folds Five and now reaches exciting new territories with his masterpiece of a second solo-album. Nightvision drops March 19 and will be accompanied by a CD release show at The 5 Spot from 7p.m. - 11p.m.
As the album’s title suggests, Pisapia has the refined ability to hold, in the midst of complete darkness, a beaming foresight. The album takes you from haunting notes to foot-tapping ballads to some seriously sharp lyricism. “Get Back Up” suitably starts off the album with an upbeat whistling blues-anthem that gets into those dark cracks in your mind and soothes them out like a snake charmer: “It’s so hard to see you down / so reach into your memories and bring it back around / get back up again.”
From Nick Drake-esque acoustic masterpieces to catchier bluesy-alternative songs like “Burned Out,” Nightvision is an adaptation of darks and lights. “Sing It Loud” quite appropriately bookends the album and leaves us with Nightvision’s memento: “And when the days get dark with confusion / you can always give your burdens to the music.”
Nightvision truly is an experiential listening journey that will be well-recieved by both former fans and new listeners alike.
Continue below for an in-depth interview with Joe and read the inspiring story on how this album was created.
What's your favorite time/place/way to write music and lyrics? Which comes first the lyrics or music (chicken or egg)?
I almost always come up with a musical idea first. Music is naturally sort of entrancing anyway, so it takes you out of your head if you’re willing. If a musical idea is interesting enough to keep me in that state, then it has the potential to turn into something. The best songs of mine usually come together fast though, like in a sitting, but almost always music first. For me the night-time is the right time. The texts start to wane and the emails, etcetera slow down. I have to be able to work without distraction if I’m going to get anywhere good.
Have your musical projects (work with Ben Folds, Guster, etc.) influenced the way you create your own music?
Absolutely. Every time you get intimate with other artists, whether in the writing or recording process, you can’t help but learn things. Sometimes you find yourself doing something and think, “Oh yeah, I’m getting better at arranging vocal parts from hanging with Ben Folds,” or I’ll start to second guess something, and think of k.d. lang’s “in the moment” style of performance etcetera. Sometimes I’ll do an overdub and it will remind me of a Guster part.
Do you write, record, and produce all your own stuff?
Yes mostly, but on this record I worked with my good friend and co-producer, Sam Smith, who helped me distill and edit the material and keep it on track. Self-producing is really challenging, as you can get lost really easily. When I work with Joe, Marc’s Brother we ostensibly all are part of the production team. However, for this record Sam was my champion and my foil and I feel like you need both at times. Sam is also perhaps as talented visually as he is musically, as he provided the beautiful art work. As far as the technical stuff though like engineering and mixing, yes, I like to turn the knobs. All of these songs I wrote alone except one little ditty that we created in a Guster writing session that I couldn’t get out of my head. It’s a little 30-second song, kind of a palette cleanser for the record.
What advice would you give a newcomer in Nashville making music?
Be true to yourself and your ideas, and also take comfort in this amazing musical community that we have. We all need each other to thrive. I’ve been here 21 years now and I can tell you from experience, at least in the case of the crew of people that I came up with, that we all support and help each other.
What would you like new and old listeners to know about your future and upcoming musical endeavors?
I would like people to know that there will be more music coming from me. I have begun work on some new recordings that I am really excited about. Fortunately I have been really busy producing, recording, and playing on the road with other folks for the last 10 years or so, but I am now being more vigilant about carving out more time for my own music. I also really want to play live as much as I can. If people keep coming out, I’ll keep playing.
Does this album have a story or theme for you?
I have a few friends whom I’ve known for a long time who I consider to be idealists. There is nothing more inspiring, or contagious of pure joy, than to see the spark of their idealism survive, despite the myriad of challenges that they've endured. Like the tempering of steel, I’ve witnessed their goodness become more real.
A few years ago, I went to the emergency room with a painful and lingering situation that I assumed was an advanced sinus infection. Without going into all the details, upon seeing the CT scan of my noggin that evening, the ENT doctor on staff told me that my situation was dire and he “didn’t want to give me false hope." From the look of things on the image, there were broken skull bones, brain involvement and a lot of speculation and concern. This left me with ten days of heavy contemplation between receiving that news and an emergency surgery appointment. Surgery would be the only way to truly uncover the mystery, but it wouldn’t be without risks. One of the things my surgeon relayed to me in our first meeting was, “If you should go blind after surgery don’t panic, I’ll fix it.” There was a mass and there would be biopsies — all very sudden adult and mortal themes.
I immediately became aware of the grand mystery (miracle) of autonomic function, frankly even of life itself. Knowing that music, even on a basic skill level, is icing on the cake of the already amazing base level of brain function, I became unprecedentedly aware and thankful for my personal experience of life. Suddenly the pressures of trying to write songs with agenda seemed silly. I always felt it was important to be yourself, but now I felt how lucky one is to simply be able to be yourself.
I also realized the futility in being stuck in feelings of self-loathing. Feelings that had grown in relation to the current state of “selfie” narcissism, and not wanting to inject more ego into the already clogged bandwidth. I found it disillusioning that a record release announcement on social media gets equal billing with a successfully executed chicken recipe.
I was very conscious of the fact that I might very well have either limited time left, or limited function, or a combination of both realities. One message from a deeper part of myself was clear, “Leave YOUR music behind.” It also occurred to me to follow that lead if I were to be re-gifted life after what I was about to go through.
In all humility, I think that I am still digesting some of the concepts that occurred to me during that 10-day spell. At that point in time, this record had already been mixed and in the can for about a year. In truth, before all of this occurred, I hesitated putting the record out because I didn’t like that it was so dark and heavy. I had the concept and the title but I didn’t know what it meant or why. I simply didn’t want to be a “downer."
After going through the health hurdle I waited to put the record out because I didn’t feel up to it physically. It took about eight months post surgery to re-learn how to sing, which was weird in its own right. Even at its inception I toyed with calling the record “Music On Hold.” Hmmm. In retrospect I see that this record was a sort of foreshadowing for me. I was about to go through a dark and confusing time that would inevitably make the record real for me. I no longer perceive it to be a dark record.
Somehow now it feels light and uplifting to me.
This record could also not exist were it not for the same loving support from my brother Marc, James Haggerty, and my wife, Jennie.
Ben Folds Five
The Silver Seas