Joe Pug on the Dangers of Expectation

Unlike many acoustic-guitar-playing solo acts today, Joe Pug was not previously part of an established band; in fact, he’s never played in a band, period. So when his debut EP, 2009’s Nation of Heat, sold 20,000 copies, it was not because of an already established fan base, but because of the strength of Pug’s writing and performance. His meteoric rise and heavy touring schedule quickly burned him out, however, and in 2013, he walked off stage after a show and told his manager he was quitting.

With the help of music and some serious lifestyle changes, Pug wrote his way out of his dark funk, emerging with Windfall, a sincere and honest account of his trials and tribulations. We caught up with the Maryland native ahead of his April 3 show at the Bluebird Theater and asked about his new record and what it means to him.

Andy Thomas: Tell me about your new record. What do you like about it?

Joe Pug: I feel like I really connected with the guys who are in my band and who I’m really close with. We got to have the experience of being in the studio for a month, living and playing there. I’m so glad that that joy and intimacy came across on the album.

Talk about the title, Windfall, and what it means to you. Is it a theory that you should accept things as they come your way, and realizing it’s all experiences you have to take as they come?

Yeah, that’s exactly it to me. People are always looking at life as the next big financial thing or the next accolade. For me, life is what I always have right in front of me.

Can that be looked at from the perspective of a musician, as well? Does it relate to musicians who only tour when it “makes sense?”

Yeah, that’s tough. Going out and touring is a whole different thing. I think people should play as much as they can if this is what they want to do, but hitting the road can make you go broke really quick.

The tone of Windfall is very positive and has an uplifting outlook, but it’s been said that before you recorded it, you were in a dark place. Can you talk about that?

I was just in a place where I had expectations that were all out of whack — there was some sense of entitlement there. I think, generally, you can go to some pretty dark places in your life if you’re just expecting a bunch of things to fall into your lap.

How did that change for you?

I think the writing helped me get to this point. I think that’s how a lot of writers explore what’s going on with them. I think you have to explore the darkness sometimes — otherwise you’ll just end up with a very two-dimensional piece of work. But you can’t go down into the darkness and stay there.

After all this self-discovery and these changes, where would you like to be in your career over the next couple of years?

I just want to be in a place where I’m making a living and the people playing with me [are] as well, and are enjoying themselves. I don’t have a job to go back to, and I’m really lucky to not have to go back down that lost road. As long I don’t have to work for someone else, I feel like I’m winning the game.

Joe Pug, with Field Report, 8 p.m. Friday, April 3, Bluebird Theater, $15-$18, 303-377-1666.
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Andy Thomas is a music journalist who hopes other music journalists write nice things about the music he performs. He lives in Denver with his wife, their two cats and a massive pile of unfinished projects.
Contact: Andy Thomas