Joseph Arthur is an American singer-songwriter and artist from Akron, Ohio. Combining poetic lyrics with a layered sonic palette, Arthur has built his reputation over the years through critically acclaimed releases and constant touring; his unique solo live performances incorporate the use of a number of distortion and loop pedals, and his shows are recorded live at the soundboard and made available to concertgoers immediately following the show on recordable media. Arthur was discovered by Peter Gabriel in the mid-‘90s, and signed to Gabriel’s Real World label as the first North American artist on the label’s roster. Arthur released his debut album “Big City Secrets” (1997) and follow-up “Come to Where I’m From” (2000) on Real World before signing with various independent labels between 2002 and 2006. He established his own record label, Lonely Astronaut Records, in 2006.
Arthur is also an acclaimed painter and designer. His artwork has graced the sleeves of his entire discography; the sleeve design for his 1999 extended play “Vacancy” was nominated for a Grammy Award for ’Best Recording Package."
Joseph began writing and playing music in his early teens, after inheriting an electronic keyboard from his aunt. At age 16, he played bass in a blues band called Frankie Starr and the Chill Factor, which disbanded by 1995. Joseph graduated from Firestone High School in 1990 and continued developing his music. In the early ’90s, Arthur relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, continuing to record home demos, playing local clubs and working as a guitar salesman at Clark Music Store.
In 1996, Peter Gabriel’s A&R associate Harvey Schartz presented Gabriel with a demo of Arthur’s first EP, Cut and Blind. Gabriel and Schwartz arranged a live audition at The Fez nightclub in New York City, and Arthur flew up from Atlanta. The night was a success; not only was Lou Reed a guest in the audience, but within a few months Arthur was officially signed, making him the first American recording artist signed to Gabriel’s label Arthur recorded his debut album at Gabriel’s Real World Studios in England with producer Markus Dravs (Björk, Coldplay, Arcade Fire). The debut album Big City Secrets was released worldwide in spring 1997, and Arthur joined Gabriel’s WOMAD tour in Europe Big City Secrets displayed Arthur’s often angsty and emotionally-wrought lyrics coupled with diverse instrumentation, which he himself described as “someone struggling to heal over experimental folk-rock”,8 but went virtually unnoticed by the mainstream.9 Two years later, he recorded an EP called Vacancy.
In April 2000, Arthur released his sophomore studio album Come to Where I’m From, which was co-produced with T-Bone Burnett and Tchad Blake. The album exhibited a more polished and accessible sound, and received positive accolades from Pitchfork Media and Entertainment Weekly. Arthur began playing for larger audiences, opening for Ben Harper and Gomez. During that same period, he released a promotional live album recorded at the Gypsy Tea Room bar in Dallas, Texas.
After releasing a series of four EPs called Junkyard Hearts, which were only available to purchase at his live shows, his third album, Redemption’s Son, came out in May 2002 in the UK. The American release was delayed until November 2002 since Arthur had been dropped by EMI in North America, having been picked up by Universal Music Group imprint Enjoy Records. The double album furthered the themes of emotional and spiritual dislocation found on Come to Where I’m From, and was described by Allmusic reviewer Thom Jurek as a “sleeper hit.”
While on tour, Arthur regularly released recordings of his performances soon after each show. He also recorded an album with alternative rock side project Holding the Void, featuring himself on vocals and guitar, Pat Sansone on vocals and bass, and Rene Lopez on vocals and drums. In Summer 2003, he toured with Tracy Chapman in the US.
Arthur signed a new recording contract with Vector Recordings and began recording his fourth studio album, Our Shadows Will Remain across New Orleans, New York City, London, and Prague. The album was released in September 2004, and was Arthur’s first album to feature string arrangements, provided by the City of Prague Philharmonic. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim; Allmusic’s Thom Jurek awarded the album 4.5 out of 5 stars, praising that, “Arthur is in a class of his own and Our Shadows Will Remain is a monstrous, memorable outing, his finest moment in a career that is thus far full of them.” Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A rating, hailing the album as “especially forceful and cohesive”; The Guardian hailed that Joseph “might just be a genuine mad genius”;19 Stylus Magazine gave the album an A– rating; and Chris Rubin of Rolling Stone named Our Shadows Will Remain as the number 1 album of the year 2004 in the year-end critics’ pick list.
Arthur toured the US alone and with Joan Wasser to promote the album, and a new EP called And the Thieves Are Gone, which collected unreleased tracks from the Shadows recording sessions, came out in December. Shortly afterward, Arthur went on a brief tour of Europe with R.E.M. Our Shadows Will Remain was picked up by 14th Floor Records for distribution in the United Kingdom in 2005, which yielded the release of four singles: “Can’t Exist” in July, “Even Tho” in September, “Devil’s Broom” in February 2006 to coincide with his first headlining appearance at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, and a reissue of “Can’t Exist” in May 2006, although none of the singles charted on the UK Singles Chart.
In August 2006, Joseph was invited to help launch the project A River Blue, where a group of young people in northern Uganda were brought together to participate in a music, drama, and art festival. Joseph also recorded the song “A River Blue” for the foundation.
Joseph Arthur performing live at Avalanche Records, Glasgow, in February 2006.
Also in 2006, Arthur started the record label Lonely Astronaut Records with longtime professional partner Lauren Pattenaude. He released a book entitled We Almost Made It, a visual collection of his artworks, along with an accompanying instrumental CD titled The Invisible Parade in May 2006. In September 2006, Arthur released his fifth studio album, Nuclear Daydream, which was recorded in Berlin and Los Angeles. The album would be the first release on his new label. Joseph then embarked on a worldwide tour with his new backing band, The Lonely Astronauts.
His song “In the Sun” was covered by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Chris Martin of Coldplay in 2006 for a Hurricane Katrina relief EP. The EP includes six versions of the song, one featuring Arthur himself singing with Stipe and another remixed by Justin Timberlake, and is available only on iTunes. On March 26, 2007, Joseph’s then-UK label 14th Floor Records released a re-recorded version of his 2002 song “Honey and the Moon” as a special single in the UK only. In April, he released his sixth studio album, Let’s Just Be, and embarked on an extensive US tour. This was Joseph’s first album with The Lonely Astronauts; the band recorded as many as 80 songs in late 2006, with only sixteen appearing on the album. The album was released to lukewarm critical reception, with Pitchfork Media calling the album “unfocused” and “sloppy,” summarizing that the album “sounds like it came together on the fly, in jam sessions that didn’t stem from any kind of solid idea.”
In 2008, Arthur released four EPs in a four-month span: Could We Survive on March 18, Crazy Rain on April 15, Vagabond Skies on June 10, and Foreign Girls on July 8. Regarding these releases, Arthur noted, “I have so much music piled up, like strange animals in a cosmic cage begging for release. The jails were overcrowded. I had to let some of them go.” He played seven solo shows during the SXSW 2008 Festival, six in Austin and one in Dallas. Live dates in Europe and an extensive US solo tour coincided with the new releases. Temporary People, his seventh full-length studio album and second with The Lonely Astronauts, was released on September 30, 2008. The album was received warmly by critics, with The Times Online stating that it “evokes the loose, rocking swagger and country melancholy of early-1970s Stones”, and Crawdaddy! noting that Arthur “treats his audience to a brawny and brooding rock album, notching his most fully realized LP to date in the process.” The album came out in Europe in late October, and afterward Arthur embarked on a solo tour and opened for Tracy Chapman on her six-week “Our Bright Future” European tour, followed by tour dates in Canada.
Arthur recorded a cover of The Afghan Whigs’s “Step Into the Light” from their 1996 album Black Love for the tribute album, Summer’s Kiss: A Tribute to The Afghan Whigs. Following UK tour dates with The Lonely Astronauts in July, Arthur embarked on a solo tour of France in October 2009. A reissue of his 2006 album Nuclear Daydream with six previously unreleased bonus tracks was released during this tour.
Arthur, Ben Harper, and Dhani Harrison formed the supergroup trio Fistful of Mercy in 2010, and their debut album As I Call You Down was released on October 5, 2010. Arthur’s first solo studio album since Nuclear Daydream, titled The Graduation Ceremony,was released on May 23, 2011.