Interview with Joey Nebulous
I met Joseph at school when Joey Nebulous was coming together and he always so perfectly captured the feelings that go along with being in school and building an identity for yourself. This beautiful queer bard laying bare and tranquil the chaotic ever revolving door between self confidence and self doubt, extreme love and extreme heart break. The music has grown as he has grown. It could be called bedroom pop, but it is distinctly his bedroom that this pop is coming from.
So I happen to know your name is Joseph Farago. So who is Joey Nebulous? Is this an alter ego of sorts?
Joey Nebulous: Kind of? I never imagined it would be. When I came up with the name a few years back, I just was throwing together words that sounded good with Joey. But now everybody calls me Joey for better or for worse, so I guess Joey Nebulous can be both a man AND a band!
Joey Nebulous started when you were going to school at Oberlin College in Ohio. Why did you originally start the project and how has it changed over the years, and how did it change in Chicago?
Playing in my own band had been my dream since I was 14, so it was only a matter of time. I think as a queer person, or any person that’s underrepresented in a specific scene, it took a lot of time eliminating mental restraints and building reassurance to finally create the project I wanted to. The project changed a lot when I moved back home (to Chicago) after graduation, slowly immersing myself in the music scene which led me to meet Nick Levine of Jodi. They started playing drums and bass for me and gave me endless support through my strenuous transition into post-grad life and I honestly couldn’t have done it without them! The one thing that hasn’t changed for Joey is that I’ve always prioritized playing this music with my closest friends.
Your voice is this amazingly unique sort of silky falsetto. How did you develop this voice over the years? Any particular influence on the tone?
I’ve always looked up to pop singers with powerful and distinctive vocals, like Kate Bush and Fiona Apple. But it wasn’t until college that I started experimenting with my falsetto. R&B vocalists like D’Angelo, Maxwell, and Musiq Soulchild definitely inspired me to push my singing boundaries, but it wasn’t until Jai Paul’s album leaked in 2013 that I started utilizing the falsetto in my own songwriting. His album made me want to write like him, a basic pop album with idiosyncrasies in his vocal delivery and writing technique that finally invigorated me enough to try it out in my own writing. The easy answer though is I’ve always loved singers who can hit the highest of high notes, I’m full of Mariah Carey envy!
At show your messaging is very queer-centric, normalizing gayness, often by calling out the strangeness of heteronormative behavior and messaging. However your lyrical content is often not expressly stressing queerness, but more discursively telling personal stories about yourself navigating love and pop culture. How has playing music changed your conception of your sexual and gender identity and vice versa, how has your sexual/gender identity changed your conceptions of the music you make?
I don’t really think playing my music has changed anything about myself, but it has been a way of explaining who I am to large groups of people very quickly. Over the years, I tried to keep the queer subtexts out of my music entirely, but as I started coming out it became a bigger part of my music. I used to hold the belief that music should be universally gratifying and relatable, keeping the lyrical content vague. But now I see it as a platform where I am able to talk about my random proclivities, like eating prunes, and try to make the listener feel connected whether they can relate to the topic or not.
Any differences you notice between queer community and music scene for Chicago versus Oberlin?
To be honest, I’m proud of our music community at Oberlin which was extremely focused on having bills that were more intentional about including musicians with marginalized identities. I think Chicago still has a long way to go in terms of creating a music scene that isn’t centered around straight white guy garage rock, and I’ve had some troubling conversations with people who still don’t see that as a problem. Its frustrating at times to be the only queer person on a bill and I feel like that was a cognizance I took for granted while at Oberlin. I do think the wonderful part of Chicago’s vastness is that there are plenty of queer musicians around in all different scenes, and seeing how talented and unique they all are has definitely provided me with infinite inspiration.
One thing that really stands out in the latest iteration of the band are the vocal harmonies. How do you all approach writing the melody parts together?
I’m a sucker for harmonies! I want them everywhere and at all times but this is the first lineup of people who can sing the parts I’m dreaming up which is super exciting. I mostly write them but my bassist Wilson & keyboardist Margaret both chime in during practice to edit or change the melodies. Definitely collaborative!
Last record came out in 2017. Is there plans for a new album?
Yes! There’s a new album coming out at the end of august titled Give Yourself A Kiss For Me. Be on the lookout it’s extremely heterosexual this time.
You proclaim unapologetically at shows that you are just talking about your crushes in your music and kind of give the audience the feeling we are all just goofily and voyeuristically just too interested in it. So just like you can have a crush on someone so intensely, and then later, when the context of that time is gone, you are flabbergasted why you liked that person so much and are all too happy to leave that feeling behind, do you ever have Joey Nebulous songs you similarly want to leave behind because they are located too much in a time in your past or a crush that has been, well, uncrushed? Is hard to keep playing songs that are so personal but located farther in your past?
I mostly want to leave songs in the past because I think they just suck now lol. But I always talk about my music as a teenage diary entry because so often queer people are stripped of their adolescence and have to keep their teenage, flirtatious feelings secretive. These songs about random, usually insignificant crushes are imperative to my artistry because it allows me a voice to finally express my romantic thoughts openly and honestly, no matter how silly. I write songs admiring everyone from weathermen to DILFs on the sidewalk, so I feel like it’s less important to me if my crush has dissipated years later but more that I have allowed myself space to be vulnerable about these amorous, fleeting feelings.