An Interview with Joe Percy

For most musicians, their dream is to be able to make money just by playing their music. To have millions scream their names at concert venues and have their faces plastered all over magazine covers. For others, however, just simply making music is enough. Even to have an impact on one person’s day is enough. That’s Joe Percy’s dream.

Talking to Joe is just like talking to a regular person. He’s friendly, outgoing, and has a real passion for music and what he does. He’s extremely relaxed, and lulls in the conversation never felt awkward. When I told him that I got his music from a friend who lent me his mixtape, Joe gave me an enthusiastic “awesome!” and went back to discussing his move from Rochester.

“The biggest thing for me is just playing for people who want to listen,” said Joe. “As far as recordings go I mostly just try to give (my music) away. I just want people to have my music. I’m definitely not trying to make millions off of it at this point.”

Joe grew up in a small town south of Rochester, where he was instantly surrounded by music. “My mom said I could whistle before I could talk. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds nice,” he laughed.

Having his father, uncle, and grandfather all playing guitar, it was only a matter of time before Joe learned the instrument himself. He picked it up at 12 years old, and immediately started doing Youtube covers. Only three years later, and Joe was in his first band.

“I was asked to join this pop punk band. Or I guess it was just a pop rock band or something like that in high school.” The band, Sans Ego, first asked Joe to join on as just a singer, but eventually, Joe started playing guitar for them as well. They made 2 EPs together with Red Boots Studios, the most popular of which, titled “Happy Endings over Major Chords,” was released in 2012.

Joe graduated high school in that same year, worked as a solo act, and a year after leaving Sans Ego, he formed his own trio, simply called the Joe Percy Band.

Made up of Joe, his uncle, and his uncle’s friend, the three played around the Rochester area for around 2 years. “It was just a perfect storm. I was very lucky to be able to play with those guys. Super, super talented musicians.”

The band this time was more rock-centric, drawing heavily from bands like Weezer, John Mayer, and Motion City Soundtrack. He cites Jason Mraz as probably the biggest influence on him as a musician. “Just his songwriting, the singing, he was one of my favorite artists to sing.”

“The stuff that I’ve written lately has that…not cabaret or something like that, but you know, that ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ by the Beatles, that sort of Paul McCartney sound. I’m really really into that these days.”

Last June, Joe moved from Rochester, New York, to Burlington, Vermont. “I find that I have to start saying “Rochester, New York, because there’s a Rochester in just about every state,” Joe laughed. He’s moved in with his best friend from high school, and works a serving job in Burlington. His roommate, the guy he’s working on music with now, was actually part of his old high school band, but only for a short six month period before the band broke up. “We’ve basically been buying up a bunch of microphones, cables, just a bunch of stuff to try and record our own sound, working with the program. Just to figure out how to do it ourselves.”

It’s clear that Joe loves Burlington. He visited there once before, just visiting his friend, and says that the scene around there is amazing. I make a joke about how all the hipsters are heading to Vermont, which gives Joe a little chuckle. “It’s not exactly Portland, but it’s not very far off.”

Along with the physical move, Joe’s style of music has changed a little too. “I really just found out about (The Beatles) like, four years ago or so, three years ago now, and Paul McCartney has changed the way I feel about music.”

Most modern music fans would be shocked to hear that someone in the music scene didn’t really know that much about The Beatles. As someone who grew up surrounded by them, it was hard to believe.

“I mean, sure, I heard a few songs. ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a really nostalgic song for me, but for the most part I was never interested in it.”

Joe isn’t necessarily looking to get signed either. He seems perfectly happy just working as an indie artist. “You can’t get by just crossing your fingers hoping that someone’s going to notice me and fund me and all that. I mean, that’s a good thought, but it’s not something to bank on.”

Being an independent artist, Joe can’t necessarily rely on music being his main source of income. He still lives with a roommate, and has a serving job in town. The music industry has always been relatively hard to break into, but Joe never seemed phased by that. It was never his prime motive.

“I got lucky though. So, in Burlington, they have this thing called ‘busking’ where I can just go into the street, once I get my permit, I can play on Church Street, I have, like, my guitar case out there, and people can donate or whatever, and that was pretty lucrative during the summer…But it’s definitely better to just get it (my music) in people’s heads and just familiarize them with me.”

Joe then goes on to tell me that, if I want, he’ll send me a few tracks that he’s been working on lately, an offer that I excitedly accept. I confide in him that a few friends and I constantly play one of his older songs, titled “Metal Junkie.” Once again, he becomes enthusiastic and happy, just glad to know that his music has an impact on someone as much as it has on myself and others.

I tell him that where I live isn’t too far from Burlington, and that my friends and I would be more than happy to spend some time there to see him play.

“Damn man! Yeah, hopefully we’ll be playing shows by next summer. I mean, I’d like to start playing shows in the spring but, you know, the trouble of getting a little band going over here. Need a drummer, mostly.”

As far as traveling goes, Joe seems to be set in Burlington, at least for the foreseeable future. “I just resigned my lease for a couple years, I think. But you know, we’ve also got this huge house with a giant basement for recording space and everything. Once we get going, we’ll just start pumping out music.”

I was shocked. When I think music, Burlington, Vermont isn’t exactly the first image that comes to mind. There had to be somewhere else Joe wanted to go and play. “I’ve always wanted to visit California. I’ve never been off the east coast. But, I don’t know man. I don’t know if there’s one specific spot. I mean, Madison Square Garden, of course, but that just seems so outlandish at this point.”

“I’m just looking to play for people who are interested in what I’ve got to play. That’s just the biggest thing for me. Just wanting to play for people who want to listen.”

I still didn’t understand why he would go to Burlington, out of all the places he could go. “I think the world’s just a smaller place now that everything’s online. So as long as I’m able to write, record, play, you know. That’s all that matters to me.”