If I were to interview Joe Russell Brown, I wouldn’t have it any other way than this: tucked away in the far corner of Café Indiependent, in second-hand armchairs after a game of Trivial Pursuit. This quiet, peaceful setting was altogether unremarkable, which looking back, was incongruous to a remarkable musician. But there is humbleness about Joe, a certain obliviousness to the extent of the sheer talent he possesses that everyone else is aware of. So it would only be right that there would be no airs and graces about our conversation about his latest EP release, Post-Youth Depression.
It has been a year since his first release, Lemonade. Those three pastel-shaded, cinematic tracks he released, with their gentle instrumentals carried along by his characteristically hushed voice, were the only ones the 19-year-old dream-pop artist had ever released to the public. It was a flavour of what was to come, but was met by a sudden hiatus of uncertainty. It has been a long time coming.
“Post-Youth Depression is different to what I’ve done before. Lemonade was more about myself and being young, whereas this EP is the inverse of that. The idea of “post-youth depression” was one that was particularly poignant for me. I dropped out of school and started bricklaying, and eventually there came a point when I realised I couldn’t do this for the next twenty years of my life. I suppose it’s retrospective of those days of being young, and the euphoria that comes with that, when you feel like it’s passed you by.”
There was a pressing question I was intent on asking Joe, and it pertained to something that has always intrigued me about every artist from every echelon of music: who is on the EP artwork, and why? “That’s my mum.” Joe told me. “I was looking through old photographs, and I found this one of her when she was about my age now. I thought it fitted quite well, this idea youth, of what it is to be young, and life beyond that.”
After having listened to Post-Youth Depression, and coming to understand why he chose an old picture of his mother when she was only 19, it adds a dimension of depth and emotion to his music that was unexpected; the intimate, personal look in her eyes is something quite beautiful – in this sense, it reflects Joe’s music perfectly.
Each track on Post-Youth Depression feels like a tiny fragment of Joe’s life, something confessional and candid as if we were reading an entry in his diary. One thing that was indicative of that was the tracks ‘Happy Birthday Emily’ and ‘Daniel’s Book’. This intimate, yet ambiguous use of names so often throughout was something I had to ask Joe about. Who are these people, and what significance do they hold? “Emily was a girl I used to know, but Emily has now come to represent an idea as opposed to a particular person. Emily is the girl you grew up with, the girl you saw change, the girl who hit adolescence like a brick wall.” This delicate, weightless song is anchored with the solid pulse of drum beats that makes it an arresting listen, and the lyrics channel this wistful sense of watching someone who’s out of reach.
“Daniel represents the opposite to me. He’s someone who had a complete different upbringing – the kind of guy who’d ask you to write a song about him.” This, in my view, is perhaps the most touching song on Post-Youth Depression. It encompasses a spectrum of sounds, and has such versatility that it breaches the boundary of a song and seems to enter into the realms of a cinematic score; the way it can summon so many emotions, with something as simple as the particular way his voice sounds, or that beautiful sound the slide guitar makes halfway through the song, makes it something just a little more than just a song.
I asked Joe about the cinematic nature of his songs, and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of films he could envision his songs being set to. “I could probably see it being set to Trainspotting, or a coming-of-age film like Submarine. I admire Alex Turner’s album for it.” Of course, I wasn’t satisfied with that alone – my interest in his influences was piqued. “My influences specific to this EP were The Velvet Underground – like when the drums speed up in their song Heroine. I also think Bill Ryder Jones and bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain played a part in how this EP turned out.” Though music influences are all well and good, I wanted to know a little more about his personal influences in his life, particularly who Mrs Letherland is, to whom Post-Youth Depression is dedicated. “Mrs Letherland was my music teacher. I never really fit into the typecasts at school – my friends and I had a different sort of culture and it was hard to know what to identify with. She got us into music, and that’s how I began learning the drums. So I suppose none of this would have happened if she hadn’t encouraged us.”
There was one final thing I needed to understand, and that was just how far Warren Records had helped Joe secure this massive audience of thousands of listeners all around the world, and how he came to be involved with the Hull-based record label. “Last September I got involved with them through Facebook. They certainly helped me to get my music out there to so many listeners, and the experience and support they offer isn’t something you come by often.”
After all was said and done, and as I write this listening to it, Post-Youth Depression carries an importance to me that other music seems to lack. I don’t know if it’s from learning about the sheer dedication and thought that went into each track, the artwork and the title itself, that has given it a dimension that I have a newfound appreciation for – or the fact that Joe Russell Brown is the Scunthorpe music scene’s friend and one of the most valued members. It doesn’t only evoke admiration, but far more than that: pride. Perfection may be an unattainable ideal, but things can be quite beautiful. Post-Youth Depression is just one of those things.