What is country music these days anyways? While the genre has in a way become genre-less, it has always meant one thing to Joe Berk — the story of your roots and what you grew up on. Drawing inspiration from R&B, Motown, Rock, and Hip-Hop, the Denver, Colorado, resident has fused those elements with traditional country songwriting to develop a unique sound with witty lyrics and catchy modern hooks.
Country artists also from Colorado include Ingrid Andress, John Denver, and Clare Dunn. Can you share some local artists to watch in 2021?
It’s funny that you mention Clare Dunn…I am actually a big fan of her music. As far as other Denver artists go, Spencer Crandall is another good one — and I also have to give a shoutout to Kayla Ruby as well, who I recently had the pleasure of opening for in Sutherland, Nebraska.
At the beginning of the quarantine, you shared how you had all the time in the world but found being stuck in the house had drained the majority of your creative energy. As time has passed, how have you been able to refocus and re-energize?
Yea wow, I was really in a funk there for a bit haha. I think there’s a couple things that have really helped me — I started getting outside a lot more, going hiking like every other day and that played a huge part in helping me re-energize. I think the exercise itself played a part, but even other aspects of it, like a nice long drive through the mountains on the way to the trailhead gave me inspiration and time to brainstorm new ideas.
Of the original songs you’ve written this year (including “Breakup in My Head”, “Tourists in Our Town”, “Wall Between Us”), which is your favorite and why?
That’s such a tough question. I think I’d have to go with one I wrote a couple weeks ago though called “Where The Green Grass Grows”. If that title sounds familiar, it should, because one of my all time favorite artists Tim McGraw also has a song with that title. While his is a happy love song, I wanted to make mine a breakup song, paying tribute with the lyrics “I bet Tim McGraw is wishing we were still living out his love song we both know, but the way it’s going there is something different ‘bout where the green grass grows”. The hook references a dead patch of grass where a girl used to park her car in the front yard, and I’d have to say it’s probably my favorite hook I’ve written this year.
Doing song covers like The Goo Goo Dolls “Slide” and Keith Urban’s “You’ll Think of Me.” How do you personalize each cover?
I think that the wide variety of music that I listen to plays a huge influence in my songwriting and developing a unique sound, which I think also shows through in my covers as well. I don’t necessarily try and do something super different, but oftentimes it just happens. I released an acoustic cover of “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers (I’m a huge sucker for acoustic covers, so I thought I needed my own!), and it has a way different feel than the original record, much more slowed down and mellow, which I think stems from my country roots.
“I wake up every morning in disbelief that I get to call this place home.” For fans with future travel plans, where are some of the best off-beat local spots to visit?
Wow don’t even get me started about Colorado…I would say something like how great of a state it is and how much I love it here, but I want to try and keep it a secret (it sucks don’t come!!! haha just kidding). Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places, with awesome scenery like Emerald Lake.
Your take on Morgan Wallen’s “7 Summers”. “Miss the Boat”, your own best love story in song, was also seven summers ago. Country music fans are most connected when they relate with song lyrics. Which recent song releases most closely share your own take on 2020?
So I haven’t actually released it (yet?), but if we’re talking about my take on 2020 in particular, I’d have to go with one I wrote called “Mask On”. It’s basically a happy sad song — kinda about finding the best in a bad situation, and how at least if I’m having a bad day these days, I can just toss my mask on, pop some headphones in, take a walk down the street, and nobody will know anything is wrong since I don’t have to fake a smile.
Releasing new music as an independent artist. How do pre-saves help an artist get added to a big release day playlist?
So none of this is confirmed, but basically the more saves that you get on a particular release in the first 24 hours, the better chances of flagging something in the algorithm to get placed on people’s Discover Weekly and possibly editorial playlists. Pre-saving helps because it automatically saves the song for you on day 1, so there’s a lower chance of forgetting or missing the release date.
What inspired the writing session for “A Guy’s Girl”?
While the song has a love theme, the original inspiration was actually completely platonic. I had a friend at the time who had a harder time than others getting along with other girls — she’d much rather hang out with the boys and referred to herself as “a guy’s girl”. When I heard that phrase, I knew it had potential for a great song. That was the original inspiration behind the hook and the rest took shape from other life experiences.
Developing the concept storyboard for your new song’s video with social distancing in mind. Any pandemic-related, unique challenges in filming?
Yea a bit…we obviously would’ve liked to have gotten more shots with other people in public with the blow up doll for extra laughs, but we did the best with what we had. I think between the ATV, the fishing, and the ability to still film in some of my favorite bars (without the usual crowds), we still were able to deliver some great content for making people laugh.
How did it feel playing a live show at the Longhorn Bar in Sutherland, Nebraska, during the quarantine?
It was so exciting to play a live show again after almost 7 months of not playing in public. I can’t even describe the feeling that I get when I’m up there…there’s nothing like it. Obviously we still have to be careful and aren’t quite over the hill yet, but finding places like the Longhorn Bar that have a semi-enclosed open air stage with plenty of room for distancing have me excited for the future!
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the venues you hope to play soon. Thinking back, what was it like being on stage at your first ever show?
I actually watched a video of my first ever song at my first ever show yesterday. It was in 8th grade when I was the singer of a cover band Stealing Free Samples. We were playing “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet and our guitarist forgot to come in at the right time, which is a pretty signature riff. Obviously my heart skipped a beat for a second, but we jumped right back into the intro for a couple more bars, crushed the rest of the song, and played another great hour of material after that. When I stepped up on stage for that first time, it felt so natural and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let it go.
“Judy said, “let me drive!” — I didn’t think it was a good idea, but yea…those were her last words.” Best fan response to the video?
I’ve got a ton of messages and funny comments, but I think the coolest thing has been people showing me videos of them showing their friends the video on a big screen TV. That and the few TikTok’s people have made using my song following the video release.
Keeping in the theme of firsts after your first music video, you did your first Instagram livestream. If you were to make a bucket list of firsts you hope to accomplish in 2021, what would be the top five on it?
That initially seemed like a tough question, but I guess I have my goals pretty laid out. The top five things to check off my bucket list of firsts in 20201 would have to be releasing my first EP / Album, signing a record deal, playing my first show with a band behind me as Joe Berk, opening up for a national act, and getting my first cut as a songwriter. Wow if I could accomplish all of that, that’d be an unreal year!
Random Word Generator Songwriting Challenge. What’s the best song you’ve written that started from random words?
I think my favorite is probably “Spotlights in the Neon Light”. This one just had some really unique words to try and fit in a song with ‘elapse,’ ‘policy,’ and ‘sight’. But, I had a ton of fun piecing it together and was pretty happy with how the words fit in there.
Can you write a song with these random words … star, soothe, seat, abrupt, & lean?
Keep an eye on my Instagram @joeberkmusic I’m sure I’ll come up with something ;-)