Born and raised in Madrid to an English/Spanish household, contemporary drummer and composer, Joe Sturges, discovered his passion for drums at a very young age and is now releasing his debut EP, Awareness, on April 2nd, 2020. Backstage Tales caught up with Joe to chat through his musical journey, creative process he went through for the new EP and his future aspirations.
How did your musical journey start?
Joe Sturges: Nothing out of this world or inspiring really. Apparently, I got given a drum kit as a Christmas present at age 4 or so. My family tells me I was so interested in it, that from playing it too much it broke in a couple of days. After that I never really gave it much thought, but always hummed or banged on the table to music whenever it was on the radio. I remember learning the chords of some of my favorite songs back then so I could guess the song before the singer came in, that’s a game I´d usually play in the supermarkets and such. It wasn’t until the age of 12 or so when after much begging I got an electronic kit, and eventually an acoustic one.
Would you say that your upbringing influenced your outlook on music?
Joe Sturges: To some degree, but not a whole lot. Getting into music was something I felt a need to do, without much influence from my family. Though something that really made a difference for me was actually a very normal thing, which was playing videogames with my uncle. I remember really noticing how good some of the soundtracks of the games were, I believe wanting to play some of those games for the music was when I first started being really interested about music.
You are about to release a debut EP Awareness. When is it coming out? What was your highlight when writing it?
Joe Sturges: It´s coming out on the 2nd of April! The whole process for me was quite inspiring. I had no idea how I was going to do the whole writing thing before beginning the composition process, I just had an urge and a necessity of some sort to start writing my music and telling my stories and not just performing, so I just started doing so. A very insightful thing for me was realizing how I needed a clear story or a clear purpose for the songs. If I didn´t know why the composition was sounding like it was when starting to approach it, it always ended up in a block. All the tracks on the EP came about in the same sort of process, which was stumbling upon a melody or chord progression I felt very attached to, and not knowing why I did. Then after writing a couple of bars, or the first part, I´d usually come to a block, in which I had to give it some time to find the meaning of the song. After I did, I´d usually write down a short paragraph or summary of what I wanted to say, in a little piece of paper, and that would tell me so much about the music. The process would be pretty smooth till I finished the track after finding the meaning. So yeah, the whole process was very interesting and inspiring for me.
Having experimented with various genres like jazz, hip hop, classical and more, is your goal to keep combining them or do you think you will ever focus on one in particular?
Joe Sturges: Awareness has turned out very jazz-oriented, with a big influence from Romantic and Impressionist composers. I feel this type of soundscapes are a part of me, but I´m also excited to explore more types of textures, different configurations of instruments and such. I´m not very concerned about really trying to mix genres or about every new project I release being able to be put in this genre or that genre, but more about always being as honest as I can with what I´m making, and seeing where that leads me to.
You studied at Berklee College of Music. Has your vision of your music changed over time, say, since your time at university?
Joe Sturges: A lot actually. It made me realize how much I undervalued all the time I´ve put into the craft on my own. I´m very grateful I went to grad school for music, but I also feel all the time I practised on my own was what really made me who I am. I feel it happens a lot with young artists of any kind, that we have this perception of being validated by going to an institution or something, while I feel the beauty of any art is showing who we are through our craft, and that is something a University is not going to give us, or at least not without putting the time on our own. I´m very grateful for my time there, the friends I’ve made and the amazing teachers I´ve come across, I´ve learned so much, but I really went out of grad school reminiscing and being thankful for all those thousands of hours spent in my basement finding who I was as a musician through trial and error.
Which other musicians inspire and influence you?
Joe Sturges: I´ve always felt very attached to Chopin and Debussy, I just think their music is timeless and they´ll be forever influential in my work. Ryuichi Sakamoto was my biggest influence when writing Awareness, I feel very connected to his approach and the music he makes. I think him and The Reign of Kindo, which have definitely shaped me as a musician, are who I listen to the most, their music always takes me somewhere else. Other artists and composers like Mac DeMarco, Koji Kondo, Howard Shore or Ambrose Akinmusire are big influences for me too.
Where do you see yourself as a musician in the next 1-2 years?
Joe Sturges: Who knows. Hopefully happy and making something I´m proud of. I think the mystery of not trying to look too far ahead is what keeps everything interesting, and a bit scary to be honest. If I´m creating I think I´ll be fine.
Images: Brotha Cj, Esther Lázaro