Decoding Joema

The musical chameleon, from Slash to puppet shows.

January 1, 2008

JOEMCA IS a musical Rubix cube. Flip him one way, and he's a groupie-inducing rock star with a brooding onstage persona and a resoundingly deep voice set to catchy electronic beats. Flip him another, and he's a pensive, classically-trained violinist and pianist. Flip him yet again, and you'll find a composer of Chinese opera music who scored his own quirky music for puppet shows. No easy puzzle to solve, Joemca is a hybrid of his diverse artistic and personal influences, from Slash to Dylan Thomas, Jeff Buckley to Sam Cooke.

A classical violinist and pianist from childhood, Joemca was enraptured with Mozart from a young age. But in high school, he explains, "I literally learned from Slash, bought the sheet music of Guns N' Roses. I really loved playing Slash's guitar line in 'Estranged.'" Joemca also began listening to the Smashing Pumpkins and solo folk-rock troubadours such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Hank Williams and Van Morrison. Being a musical dodecahedron, Joemca wanted to expose himself to as many genres of music as possible, even if he wasn't actually planning on rapping, jazz singing or playing the Cuban bata drum.

It wasn't until college that all the loose ends of his various musical interests started to come together. Joemca took an electronic music course at Vassar College, toiling with a few other dedicated musicians in a dark, gothic classroom, learning to make his own beats and experimenting with DIY recording. Molding together a host of friends playing classical stringed instruments with his own laptop beats, electric guitar and poetic, emotional lyrics, Joemca created a style that would later distinguish him in the big sea of New York City folk and punk musicians and draw comparisons to Radiohead's Thorn Yorke. His music attracted electronic, folk, indie rock, punk and classical fans, but it didn't fit neatly into any of those genres.

Although few people outside of New York City know Joemca's live music as he has yet to embark on a tour with his new four-piece band, his 2007 eponymous EP, produced by legendary John Lennon and Yoko Ono producer Rob Stevens, earned him acclaims such as SPIN Artist of the Day and URB Featured Artist. And Ono herself showed up at one of his shows at New York's Mercury Lounge.

Despite performing with his band and recording for twelve hours a day in his home studio, Joemca has found time for various side projects, including composing music for the FringeNYC Festival's presentation of a Chinese opera, The Disembodied Soul, starring Joemca keyboardist and vocalist Jess Luck and taking its story from a 14th-century Yuan dynasty musical drama. As if composing for an ancient opera wasn't unusual enough, Joemca also scored music for St. Ann's Warehouse's Puppet Lab. "I made all the sounds and voices," he explains. "It's sort of in between sound design and scoring, and definitely more on the experimental end."

Joemca's brooding lyrics evoke a sense of loneliness, yet he is able to connect strongly with his listeners. He has a folk background, yet his current music has a prevalence of electronic influences. These conundrums express the chaos of the modern music business, which inflicts studio solitude on musicians.

Laptop rocking like Joemca does started out as a way for the musician to become a one-man band, creating many sounds and instruments at once. But with a voice as powerful and versatile as Antony of Antony and the Johnsons and lyrics and instrumentation as intelligent and melancholy as Andrew Bird, Joemca seems destined to connect with large audiences and poised for indie stardom.

"Playing for large crowds seems like fun, and I imagine the pressure might be a good thing for the creative process, but this world is unpredictable. I'll be making music forever and that's what really matters," he says. "The best thing would be that I could keep doing it the way I do while paying rent, and eating, and taking care of the boring practical stuff."

Writer Dakota Kim

Dakota Kim is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Block Magazine, The Queens Chronicle and McSweeneys.

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