Singer/songwriter Joe Gustafson shares his story, his style, and the importance music has played in his life (Photo Credit: Laura Schmitt Photography/Laura Schmitt Hiller)
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Joe Gustafson does not have much time to be “joe g.” between his duties as a husband, father of three, and a full-time employee at Roehl Transport. joe g. is the stage name Gustafson employs as a singer/songwriter who is making a splash on the local music scene.
Hub City Times music columnist Doug Kroening described Gustafson’s style by saying, “He brings some fine guitar and vocal skills along with spectacular songwriting abilities.” Gustafson writes much of his own music, but he is not averse to playing covers. He ended a recent January performance at the Chestnut Avenue Center for the Arts with a rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
“I do play some covers. It depends on the venue I’m playing,” Gustafson said. “My passion lies in my original music.”
A graduate of Marshfield High School, Gustafson said that he has no master plan for where he would like to see his music career go, but he has enjoyed the chance to exercise his musical talents over the past two years.
Gustafson had not played much music in his adult years until he was invited to play a set with a fellow musician at the Blue Heron Brew Pub two years ago. Since then his zeal for the songwriting and performing process has been reborn.
“At that time I hadn’t played in a live setting and really hadn’t played my guitar much at all for probably 10 years, maybe more than that,” Gustafson said. “So we got together and played and from there played the Blue Heron a couple more times. They asked for original music versus cover music, so I thought, ‘Well, I want to keep doing this,’ so I started writing, and from there again these opportunities … came up.”
Gustafson’s opportunities have included playing for the Vox Concert Series, performing at Libby McNeill’s restaurant, and his recent appearance at the Chestnut Center. He said that music has been a part of him since before he can remember.
“I’ve got pictures, scrapbooks at home of me 6 months old or maybe a little older than that but definitely less than a year old sitting on the blanket in my parents living room with headphones on listening to music. I don’t have a memory of that, but that’s where I believe this music captured me,” he said.
As an original songwriter, Gustafson describes his genre as “mutt music.”
“It doesn’t neatly fit into folk. It doesn’t neatly fit into pop. It doesn’t neatly fit into alt-country. It’s not incredibly innovative or avant-garde either. It’s very accessible. It’s just, I don’t think it has a category that I would fit it neatly underneath,” he said.
His list of musical influences spans a wide divide from pop sensations like Taylor Swift to a group like Radiohead. He enjoys hip-hop, Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, and classic acts like the Beatles.
“There is different music for different moods, and so I’ve learned to just really appreciate a variety of different things. I don’t know that all of those influences come out neatly in what I perform, but they certainly have some level of influence in what I’m doing and performing,” Gustafson said.
Other musicians are not all that influences Gustafson’s style. Personal experience has also shaped much of his songwriting. His wife Joanna battled through non-Hodgkins lymphoma, from which she is now in remission, and one of the ways Gustafson dealt with that situation was by writing and playing music.
He said that during the time when Joanna was sick, music became a kind of catharsis for him to process the emotions he felt. One of the songs he wrote during this time was called “Scars.”
“It came out of a moment of just utter breakdown and frustration with the chemotherapy process, and I had no words to say to her at the time because, I mean, she was self-conscious because of her physical appearance and also just frustrated with her lack of energy and just everything going along with it,” he said.
He wrote, “No you can’t see my scars. I hide them from the world, but I know that these scars, they make me who I am.” Later in the song, “And this pain I feel, it tells me I’m alive. … What is joy without the pain? It’s nothing but scorched earth with no rain.”
When Gustafson composes a song, he said he does not have a specific intention for what he is going to write about. Instead, he likes to play around on his guitar, search for sounds he likes, and build from there.
“I don’t always sit down with this grand scheme that, ‘I’m going to write a song about this.’ I kind of just sit down and empty myself of whatever I might have been thinking about prior to sitting at my guitar,” he said.
Where Gustafson’s music career goes from here he is not certain of, but he may be happiest with the way things are right now.
“Honestly, I don’t know if maybe I don’t have the best of both worlds right now. I’ve got a good paying job, … good, solid, financially stable company, and I get to go out and gig a couple of times a week,” he said, adding that it is nice to “not feel like my music has to put food on the table.”
To keep updated with Joe Gustafson’s music, appearances, and for more information, visit his Facebook page by searching “joe g.” His next scheduled performance is March 11 at Libby McNeill’s Restaurant inside of Hotel Marshfield.