‘Songs for Dreamers.’ It’s not only the name of Joel Baker’s latest project, but it feels like a good summary of Joel’s outlook on life.
I’ve followed Joel’s journey for quite some time. He has a fascinating story. Raised in Notts, became a Labour Party speech writer, gave it all up to pursue music, and now – in 2018, it finally feels like it’s all coming together.
As we sit in a converted Victorian music hall, turned pub, and ex-employer of Joel’s – the Malt Cross, we chat about where this music thing all started for him.
“The biggest point in my life that shifted it towards music was when my dad gave me ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd. I remember having it on my walkman. At the time I was listening to like Blue and stuff like that, aged 10 / 11. I’d never heard anything like that before, it was a big big moment for me. The first time seeing Jimi Hendrix playing guitar made me want to play guitar for the rest of my life, and still does now. When I was 16 / 17 / 18 working here (Malt Cross), I used to take the £50 they’d give me and always spend £10 on a CD. I just couldn’t wait to get out my shift to go to HMV.”
“The first CD I bought with my own money was a Sum 41 on. In Too Deep the single, me and my brother used to buy them all the time. And then there was a big moment when I discovered Jeff Buckley too. And that was by accident. Rummaging through a second hand CD shop, next to where Fopp used to be. I saw this JB CD, and I’d heard ‘Hallelujah’ through The O.C tv show. So I bought it and there’s one song on the album that is still one of my favourite songs ever – ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over’. The bridge on that song had sentiments like ‘all of my kingdom for a kiss upon your shoulder’ and stuff like that, and it blew my mind.”
But it was actually hip-hop and rap that really got Joel into storytelling. He’s always been very vocal about his love for Kanye, citing ‘Graduation’ as one of the most important albums ever to him. But Kanye wasn’t the start…
“A niche Nas rap song called ‘Undying Love’ was actually the first rap song I listened to that got me into the genre. It’s a story song. I remember where I was – in my bed with my mini mp3 player, I used to fall asleep to music every night. My friend used to go to the library and rip all the songs and then make copies at school, so he got the Nas album, and that song really stuck out.”
“I missed Kanye’s first two albums. I picked up ‘Graduation’ and blew my mind. It was the first time in my whole life that I’d been excited about an artist that was out right now. I remember before college, going HMV and buying Graduation on the day it came out. Like 10am. To cast my vote in the Kanye vs 50 Cent war. Hung the poster on my wall. Listened to the album hundreds of times. I could relate to it. Not having loads of bitches or anything like that. But the insecurity. And ‘everything I’m not, made me everything I am’ is one of the most genius rap lines ever.”
In the same way that musicians have helped Joel, his music has done the same for others…
“I get a lot of messages from random people. Varying in emotional degree. I got one from an old bloke the other day like ‘thank you so much for You’re Not Alone, it’s been helping me so much’. The ones that mean the most to me are when they say ‘I was feeling sad or depressed and your music helped me out of thay’. Cos sad music is relief isn’t it? When people take the time to write you a message, it’s what it’s all for really. But I still find it so weird when people ask me to play weddings.”
There’s a lot of collaboration on this new project. One J is particularly excited about being singer-songwriter Mahalia.
“She’s one of my favourite artists full stop. A lovely person too. She came to one of my first ever gigs after hearing ‘Further Than Feelings’ on the radio, and she came with her mum and dad. She’s just turned out to be the sweetest, most humble, energetic, colourful person ever. And her parents are sick too. I’m really excited about that song.
And then all the production – it’s pretty much all done by Maths Times Joy. Plus there’s a track on there produced by Jordan Riley who has produced a lot of Dan Caplen stuff.”
The EP is special. It’s a collection, of honest, engaging, and sometimes raw songs. Which, all puns aside – should connect with the dreamers of this world.
And if it does, hopefully it won’t be long before JB joins Yeezy up on that headline stage.
The ‘Dreamers’ EP is out now.
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Words by George Griffiths