Joey Landreth Out Of His Comfort Zone
Finding your Outerknown means exploring beyond the furthest reaches to discover what ignites your fire. For Outerknown Ambassador and musician Joey Landreth, his passion lies in everything music.
Born into an instrumentally inclined family, the Canadian artist knew he was destined for a future in the industry and soon blazed his own trail, playing in countless bands, cutting records and making his way onto some of the world’s biggest stages.
I kind of jokingly say that I didn’t stand a chance, there was no way that I wasn’t going to go into music.
Traveling the globe with a guitar in hand, Joey shares his exceptional music and spellbinding performances straight from the heart. To celebrate Joey and his inspiring artistry, we created a one-of-a-kind, sustainably made collection of Blanket Shirts, Tees, Truckers and more designed in collaboration with the guitarist. We also had a chance to chat with Joey to hear more about his unique journey through the music industry including kismet collaborations with artists like the great Bonnie Raitt and much more.
Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into the music world.
I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, which is smack dab in the middle for those folks not familiar. It’s very blue collar, hard-working industry folks. There’s a lot of agriculture here, not a ton of big cities at all. Winnipeg is the biggest one and it’s just under a million people. But the land mass itself is bigger than Texas. Huge place with not a lot of draw to bring people here. As a result, it’s had to make its own music community which is the community that I grew up in. My dad was a working musician when we were growing up, which you could say was a bit of a family industry when we were younger. My brother and I grew up in a household where there was constantly music, whether it was rehearsals or just mom and dad playing records, it was a very immersive experience. I kind of jokingly say that I didn’t stand a chance, there was no way that I wasn’t going to go into music.
Who are some of your biggest music influences?
I think my first real idol was probably Beethoven, not even because I necessarily understood the music, but just because that was the first cassette I was given. My aunt gave me Beethoven Lives Upstairs and all those sounds were pretty formative. But as a guitar player, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, a lot of the usual suspects who young guitar players are really into. Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, and I really like to mention some of their heroes as well. I found the music of a guy named Joseph Spence, who was a gospel singer-guitar player from the Bahamas. When I listen to him play, I can kind of see the DNA of Ry Cooder’s playing sort of emerge. So, I really like to explore the heroes of my heroes. Those are some of the people who sort of come immediately to mind when I’m asked.
I love that, “exploring the heroes of my heroes.” The inspiration never truly ends and the roots just keep growing deeper.
I love it. I think, like a lot of artists, I suffer from a significant amount of imposter syndrome. When cool things happen, I can’t help but feel like people will find out that I’m full of shit. And born from that sort of self-deprecating kind of talk, I jokingly like to say, the Joey Landreth sound is just a bunch of bad impressions of my favorite musicians. But what I think is cool is that when you start to dig into the history of some of your heroes, then you start to hear that they’re just doing bad impressions of their heroes too. And then you can kind of see from a more objective perspective, how art becomes. It’s born in this collaborative borrowing sentiment. It always drives me nuts when you can’t find an artist talking about their heroes, because that feels like there’s an element of gratitude missing. I think there’s no such thing as original artwork. We’re always pulling from around us.
What was your first brush with creating music?
It was the family piano. My mom had an old upright piano that her grandparents saved up forever and ever and bought, I think, sometime in the mid-'60s. They spent $400 on it in 1965/1966, which was a lot of money back then. That was my first sort of love. I did wind up gravitating more toward the guitar later, but the piano was the first thing I really connected with. My dad is a singer-songwriter, but his sort of trade was he was a working bass player, and so my love for music was always from the perspective of the jobbing musician as opposed to the artist. And becoming a songwriter and an artist myself didn't happen until my mid-twenties. But I made my whole career from the time I was 15 until 25 working for other people, playing in other bands, and playing on records. There's a big industry for that in Winnipeg. It's not the kind of place that bands come through on tour unless they're playing the big hockey rink in town. Unless you're like Green Day, bands don't just wander through Winnipeg. They're going to cut down into the States and Toronto and maybe Minneapolis. As a result of that, there's always been this self-made music community here. There was a really thriving music industry for people who just wanted to play and wanted to make music. I had so many opportunities to play with songwriters and in blues bands and even sat in and played African-Cuban-Latin music–it's not like I was good at it, but there were opportunities to do all these different things. It was a really vibrant place for a young musician to come up, which is a big part of who I am. Even as an artist, I still think of myself as a jobbing musician first, and I always feel very uncomfortable when people try to treat me like I'm fancy. I'm like, "No, just give me a bottle of water and a half-dry towel, and I'll be all right." I think that comes from being a jobbing musician instead of an artist first.
What about singing and songwriting?
Being a singer-songwriter was something that sort of happened by accident. My brother and I started a band together called, The Brothers Landreth, not a very creative band name of course. We started the band as an excuse to spend more time with each other because both he and I were touring with other people, and we didn't play any of the same music, so we never wound up at any of the same festivals, we didn't wind up crossing paths often and we'd been really close. We'd tossed around the idea of writing some songs. There are lots of tiny music festivals all around the province. So, we're like, let's put something together, we'll go up as a duo and play some tunes and it'll just be an excuse to have a weekend together, go camping, you know. And it wound up being our main focus, and both of us quit our respective day job gigs and put all of our eggs in that basket pretty quickly. It was something we never felt entitled to just because we didn't really mean to do it in the first place. So, it's always felt like a great privilege for us to do. That's important for me to know my place in this creative world. It wasn't something that I ever dreamed of doing. I like to say I never dreamed of myself in the middle of the stage, I liked seeing myself on the left or right, but it's great to be your own boss. So, that's what kind of kept us doing it and, of course, spending time together.
How do you feel you differ from Joey Lendreth the solo artist compared to Joey of the Brothers Landreth duo?
My solo career started as a means to an end. My brother was going through some tough stuff and needed to get off the road and put some work into his private life, so we decided it would be best to take a hiatus from the band. Being the obsessive person that I am, I’ve worked my whole life on one very specific set of skills that are not necessarily transferable to other fields. So, I was like, “what am I going to do for work?” Well, I don’t know how to do anything else, I only know how to play music and the idea of going and working for other people was unappealing so, that’s where the solo career came in. I’m just going to keep making music. I’ll do it under my own name and hopefully that will keep whatever momentum that we had as the Brothers will keep going. What I found in my solo career was this intense desire to explore. I came up playing a lot of traditional music–traditional roots music where the instrumentation is really organic. So, when I really started to explore into the solo terrain, it felt like I had a little bit more room to try different things. I never strayed super far, it’s not like I went out to make a Mongolian throat singing record, it all still lives within one vein, but I started to get a little more adventurous. What’s been happening most recently is my brother and I have been trying hard to marry some of the things off on my own and bring them in to the group and sort of make music with that in mind. Bring that sense of exploration and that sort of lone wolf thing into the group and see how it works in that collaborative setting. What we’ve found is that we’re really happy with it, we think it’s really cool. Our new record that’s coming out showcases that.
Do you prefer songwriting and creating behind-the-scenes more or do you really enjoy being on stage?
I love playing and I love performing, but I’m what I would describe as a raging introvert so being on stage is not my most natural place, but I am comfortable there. I think what drives me out of any potential discomfort from being an introvert standing in front of a whole bunch of people is just that I love to sing and play guitar and tell stories. So, there’s kind of a remedy for that. Even though I am an introvert, I love connecting and being on stage allows me to do that in a very unique way that doesn’t exist in any other way. It’s tough because there’s parts of it that I struggle with. If left to my own devices, and if making a living wasn’t a thing, I might hermit myself away a little bit, which I don’t necessarily think is a good thing, it just is what it is. I do love to perform, and I do love to be in the creative space. The trick for me is to always keep one eye on balance. So, if there’s too much time on one thing or the other, things can get a little lopsided.
I think what drives me out of any potential discomfort from being an introvert standing in front of a whole bunch of people is just that I love to sing and play guitar and tell stories… being on stage allows me to do that in a very unique way that doesn’t exist in any other way.
Speaking of collaborating creatively, who have been some of your favorite musical collaborations so far?
Well, my brother is number one. At this point we’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t really feel like a collaboration so much as a two-headed monster, but I would be remiss if I didn’t put my brother at the very top of that list. Another collaboration that I’m so excited about and incredibly inspired by is I’ve been working on a record with Leith Ross who’s originally from the Ottawa area. I met Leith when I was living in Toronto and after a long chain of events, my brother and I and my manager put together a little record label called, Birthday Cake Media and Leith was of the first artists–outside of ourselves– who we signed to our label. I had called Leith one night, I was on tour in the UK, and I said, “Hey we’re starting this label and I can’t stop thinking about you and just wondered if you had any songs and if you want any help putting them out.” Leith said, “Sure, I’d love that,” so we put out their record. When it came time to start working on a second one, Leith asked me if I’d start working with them on it and it’s been one of the most gratifying and completely different than anything I’ve ever done musically. It’s such a fun space because I’m so far out of my comfort zone and there’s no real potential for failure. I also feel like, if I’m able to make anything that works for this environment then it’s a great success.
A buddy of ours named Mariel Buckley, who we’ve done a little bit of songwriting with. Who’s another Canadian artist, she lives in Alberta. And Mariel is a bit of a throwback to the original country singer. I really see Mariel as a bit of an outlaw, and she’s such a badass it’s crazy. A guy named Jonathan Singleton, a songwriter from Nashville who co-wrote the song that Bonnie [Raitt] cut of ours. So that kind of comes full circle there.
Yes! You had the incredible Bonnie Raitt cover one of your Brothers Landreth songs! What was that experience like?
It's a great story. It happened to me, and I still feel like it's a great story. We don't do a lot of co-writing outside of our own project, and even within our project, we don't do a lot of co-writing, so it's not like we ever aspired to be songwriters-for-hire. We've had people cover our tunes on Instagram, which is always such an honor to hear somebody put their stamp on your music, but it was never really our goal to be writers outside of our own stuff. The way the Bonnie connection happened was that we were playing the Winnipeg Folk Festival–which is the only other reason big artists come to Winnipeg is for a folk festival. Bonnie was headlining, and we were the first band up. Historically the Winnipeg Folk Fest only books local bands for one spot on the main stage. There's rarely more than one local band on the main stage the whole weekend, so it's a coveted spot and a bit of a lottery. Everybody submits hoping they get it and in 2014, we got it. So, we played the first set on the main stage on that Thursday night, and Bonnie was the headliner. We had a mutual friend, Sean McCarthy, who works Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan's brother. Sean was as a tour manager, and about six months before the festival, he was moonlighting with Dwight Yoakam, who was playing our big theater in town, and we were the openers. Sean said, "I love what you guys do, give me a stack of CDs, and I'll just throw them at any famous person I bump into. I know you guys are opening the Winnipeg Folk Festival that Bonnie is headlining, I'm going to see her at Austin City Limits with Jimmie. I'll tell her to go see you." And she did! After our set, Bonnie invited us all back to her dressing area and we yacked for like an hour. It was surreal. Friends of ours were like taking pictures like, "Dude, what's going on!" And I'm like, "I don't know, but I'm talking to fuckin' Bonnie Raitt!" She went on to play and came off stage, and we visited for a little bit longer. She gave me her email address and said, "I like your guys' songs, and if you ever have any to spare, let me know." I emailed her a couple weeks later and said, "Here's a copy of my record, it has 11 songs because I've written exactly 11 songs in my whole life, so these are all the songs that I have. I don't have any to spare, but if you like any, you can have them." Actually, one of those songs our dad wrote, so it was really only 10 of those songs. I would stay in touch with Bonnie a little over the years…it was always super friendly, but I wasn't trying to overstay my welcome or anything. And then, in September of last year, a friend of mine called who builds guitar pedals and said that there's a guitar player who's on Bonnie Raitt's sessions and they're recording a Brothers Landreth song. And we didn't know what song, we didn't know if they were working on a record or just chucking tunes around, we had no idea. And then in December, we got the confirmation from Bonnie's manager, who reached out, and not only did it make the record, but it's the first single. This was 10 years in the making and quite the roller coaster ride. Very surreal and something I'm still getting used to.
I don’t know if I believe in fate or karma, I just think it’s a very cool thing, and I’m very grateful for it.
Wow, what a journey.
Yeah, it was definitely a slow burn. I mean it’s very fitting. If there was one phrase to describe what it is we do, it’s a slow burn. But it does feel like an incredible amount of validation because there were times in my career where I thought, should we just write some kind of hit song that maybe we don’t love but would help pave the way. Or are we even on the right path? To have something like that with Bonnie happen it really does feel like an incredible moment of validation. I don’t know if I believe in fate or karma, I just think it’s a very cool thing, and I’m very grateful for it. And she kicks the snot out of that tune. She plays it better than we do.
And that’s what Outerknown is all about––finding what lights your fire and what keeps you going. It’s not necessarily about inventing the next viral thing, it’s about substance, depth and creating something you are proud of. It only makes sense that this collaboration between you and Outerknown happened the way it did. How did you first get connected with the brand?
I got connected with Mark Walker (Outerknown CEO) and the team and it just feels like it’s such a good fit. Integrity really matters, and not in the altruistic way, it just really matters that at the end of the day, I like the people I’m doing business with, and I am proud to be doing business with the people I’m doing business with. And any other time in the past where it hasn’t felt like that, it’s not a relationship that ever lives long. This collaboration, every phone call with the team, it just always felt like integrity was in mind. When I talked to Walker and he said, “This is kind of what we want from you,” it just felt so organic. This is the sort of stuff I like doing on social media in certain terms of marketing. I like doing things that feel organic. I don’t want to be doing talking heads, “Hi, I’m Joey Landreth, blah, blah, blah.” I would rather just love the things I’m representing and have it come out that way. And Walker’s like, “That’s exactly what we’re after. If you like these clothes, you’re going to wear them, then let’s do it. If you don’t, let’s not do it, no love lost.” And that was easy for me because again, I love the people, I love the product and I love the vision.
By investing in this partnership, I’m participating in the act of leaving the world in a better place than I found it, which feels really good.
Are there any sustainability practices that you are particularly passionate about?
We’re trying to figure out how to work it [sustainability] in with what we do. We’ve done some carbon offsetting just because we travel so much, so that’s something that I do every so often is just go and put a little money in the pockets of people who are trying to fix some of the things we’re doing wrong. It’s something I’m interested in learning more about and participating more in. Outerknown was really the catalyst to start trying to think about this a little more.
What do you hope people take away from this collaboration, aside from one-of-a-kind sustainable clothing?
I hope people enjoy a super comfy time in some very comfy clothes.
With collaborations, there's always so much more depth to the pieces. There's a reason why you wanted to collaborate with Outerknown and vice versa. Offering an elevated message not just about sustainability but also authenticity and it sounds like everything you create is felt and you put just as much into your music as you did for this collection. People are going to have these clothes forever and a collaboration with an artist like you makes these pieces truly timeless.
I absolutely agree. If I can be a little superficial, I do hope it pushes people toward my music, but I also hope it pushes people toward Canadian music. In 20 years of traveling the world, there is a bit of a misunderstanding that Canada is a bit of an underdog in terms of arts and it's just not. It's an incredibly vibrant place. There's so much good music coming out of here right now, not just in Winnipeg but the whole country. So I do hope that it does push people to get curious.
Check out the limited-edition Joey Landreth x Outerknown collection HERE!