From 1997 to 2006, singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur released five albums on a like number of sizable labels, ranging from Virgin to Mega Force. But he decided to put out his latest disc, the enjoyably shaggy Let's Just Be, on his own imprint, Lonely Astronaut Records -- a moniker that references his new band, the Lonely Astronauts, and the disc's centerpiece song, also called "Lonely Astronaut," which would fill an entire side of an old-fashioned long-player.
Why go it alone? "I've been writing and recording way more records than they'd ever let me put out," Arthur says. "And you deal with opinions and people wanting to remix things. A song like 'Lonely Astronaut' being, like, twenty minutes -- you can imagine the naysaying that would go on in a big corporate environment. Something like that would never see the light of day."
Those who wish it hadn't are likely to brand Arthur as self-indulgent. Such criticism won't silence him, though. "I think there's kind of a line where maybe you overwhelm people, and...I don't want to cross that line. But at the same time, I think putting out two records every year, year and a half, isn't really too much," he argues. "Look at the Beatles -- they did their whole book in five years. You can look at creativity as a well, with limitations, or you can look at it as some kind of psychic muscle, where the more you work it out, the stronger you get."
Arthur's offerings, which range from soul-baring confessionals to crazed glam freakouts, are beloved by a cult whose members include numerous notables. His debut platter, Big City Streets, reached the public thanks to Peter Gabriel, who signed him to Real World Records, and earlier this month, he had the honor of playing "Born in the U.S.A." at a Carnegie Hall tribute to another of his boosters, Bruce Springsteen. Does Arthur think the Boss would have developed into an icon had his poor-selling first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, been released in the miserly music industry of today? "That's a good question," he allows. "But I'm a big fan of telling people that if I was around in the '70s, I'd be a multi-billionaire." After a laugh, he adds, "Whether it's true or not, I don't know, but I like telling people that."
Meanwhile, Arthur is happy to trade the access to a global audience that a major can offer for creative freedom. "First and foremost, my commitment is to my artistic side," he maintains -- and he's been giving it plenty of exercise. Despite putting out two recordings in quick succession, he says, "I have a whole lot of music I'm holding back."
The more the merrier.
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