Born in Bournemouth, raised in Spain, and now based in Berlin, singer-songwriter and loop pedal artist Joe Wilkinson has gotten pretty used to life on the road.
After playing over two hundred gigs in two years, he’s amassed quite the following for his inimitable guitar playing, hook-heavy melodies, and heartfelt lyrics. As he gears up for the launch of his latest single and video we chat about polite Berliners, the pitfalls of social media, and the importance of a killer music video.
How did you get started in music?
Thirteen-Fourteen I picked up a guitar, and I started writing a couple of years later. At that time, it was a private thing for me. It was a hobby, something I really enjoyed and put a lot of time into. Then gradually I started playing shows and realised that this is what I want to do with my life, not just as a passion, but as a career. That was a couple of years ago, and I’ve been hopping around between England, Spain and Germany since.
I’ve got three bases. I’ve got one here, one in Spain and one in England
Would you consider yourself a bit of a nomad?
I’m quite lucky, you can see it as a negative or a positive, but I’ve got three bases. I’ve got one here, one in Spain and one in England, so it’s quite nice really, being able to hop around. You have to be like that if you’re a musician, you have to go where it takes you.
Why the move to Berlin?
At the time it was for love. I met a girl. I was playing in a bar in Spain, on the coast. She was German, and at the time she lived in Mainz near Frankfurt. Then she moved to Berlin, so I started getting introduced to the city and met some friends. When we went our separate ways and I just loved Berlin, so I decided to stay and carry on here.
Berliners and Germans in general, I feel they go to listen to the music.
How have you found the experience of being a musician in Berlin?
Berliners really like to listen to music. I’ve played a lot of shows in England when I was starting out and it was kind of like they were there for a drink and if there was some music on in the background then it was a bonus. Berliners and Germans in general, I feel they go to listen to the music. They have a drink while they’re there, but the primary purpose is to listen, which is obviously really great for a musician.
Has being here pushed your music in any new directions?
It’s certainly helped me creatively, being around all these creative people and watching so many other performers. When I was in England I was playing paid shows every night of the weekend, so I rarely got to go out and watch other people. In Berlin, there’s always other people playing and there’s a lot of double-billed shows where you share a stage, and when you see other musicians then obviously it always sparks ideas.
I feel that you have to give more of yourself than you would have had to in the past.
You’ve got a big online following. What are the pros and cons of growing your audience this way?
The pros are obviously you can reach a huge amount of people and connect with them.
It’s not necessarily a con, it’s just a different way of how musicians are perceived these days. People want to see a bit of an insight into you as a person, rather than just listening to the track. It’s more all-encompassing. Do I like this person? Can I relate this person? To what they’re saying? Intrusive is the wrong word but I feel that you have to give more of yourself than you would have had to in the past.
So you need something visual, to capture people and to make them invest in you.
You’ve also got some great videos up. How important is that for musicians these days?
I think people’s attention spans, in terms of sitting and listening to a whole record, it happens less and less frequently now. Instagram clips and short videos as people are scrolling through their news feed, I mean I do it myself, you look at something for a couple of seconds. So you need something visual, to capture people and to make them invest in you.
The two music videos I’ve done so far were with Robert Grant as director. When I first got to Berlin we met, and we did some work together and he really helped me to reach people. Because it was something visually interesting and it was going beyond a standard video, it got me some attention. So yeah, I think it’s really important.
What kind of music did your parents play around the house?
My dad played things like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, and real classic 70’s rock. Whereas my mum was more into singer-songwriters and American bands like Counting Crows and Matchbox 20.
I can hear the influences of both of in my music. There’s some, not rocky, but kind of bluesy driven stuff from my dad’s side, and then there’s the more emotional singer-songwriter side from my mum.
It was 2 quid and it was a guy called Ed Sheerin.
What are your biggest influences?
My first year at Uni I saw a show at my student union. It was 2 quid and it was a guy called Ed Sheerin. No one knew who he was, he was kind of in a similar situation to most musicians I know, and he blew me away.
From purely a musical point of view, John Mayer, Damien Rice, Ray LaMontagne, and going back to some of the more rocky influences in my guitar playing, older stuff from the 70’s.
What inspires you when you’re writing?
I might have a specific feeling, or something might have upset me or something might have made me really happy and it drives the emotion of the song.
I don’t work in a particular process, I don’t sit down and write the guitar first and then the lyrics, it’s different every time. I might get one line and think ‘that would be good for that’, and it kind of flows, but it all stems from that feeling.
Next step is putting out a single on the 9th of December, along with a music video which will be directed by Robert Grant
What’s next for you?
Next step is putting out a single on the 9th of December, along with a music video which will be directed by Robert Grant, and probably put together with the same team. It’s going to coincide with the launch of his new production company which is called Twisted Reel, so that’s ever so exciting.