There's a big, fat, steaming pile of accomplishments Joseph Arthur should be proud of. There are the five successful albums. There's the velvety falsetto that lured Peter Gabriel to sign Arthur in the mid-'90s. There's the Grammy nomination, the impressive art career, his new label-all that.
But what is Arthur most proud of? In the eighth grade he was named class clown, most mischievous and biggest flirt all in the same year.
"I'm proud of it to this day; I still brag about it," Arthur says, laughing over the phone from his Brooklyn apartment. "I'm gonna put it on my tombstone. Screw all the other shit."
Through his druggy, yawning drawl, Arthur delivers a good line. You wouldn't guess it from the melancholic wooziness of his music or his introspective lyrics and visual art, but the guy is a jester, not outwardly affected by much.
Take, for instance, the book of original art he released earlier this year with an accompanying album of mostly instrumental music. He has 4,000 copies of the tome, We Almost Made It, lying around his living room. No matter, he says.
"To do anything interesting you pretty much have to throw practicality out the window," Arthur says. "I think that's a good lesson for life in general. I think human nature is to think about being practical and that just doesn't produce anything."
Having a garage sale might be kind of fun, anyway, he proposes.
Arthur's never been the conventional type, which is probably why few people in the mainstream have ever picked up on him, even after a couple of his tracks made it onto The O.C.
Arthur was originally a bass player who made "loud, angry rock" when he moved to Atlanta in his early 20s. But an acoustic guitar goaded him to try new things. He started to record some demos of his swirling compositions and the tapes eventually made it into Peter Gabriel's hands. Arthur's subsequent deal with Gabriel's Real World label and touring stints with Ben Harper, Gomez and R.E.M. put him on an accelerated path.
"I'm always recording and I always have a ton of songs," he says. "There isn't a normal start and stop process to my music. So the idea of putting together lots of records was never daunting for me."
But five albums and five different record labels later, Arthur says he was ready to make music for himself. His progeny, a label called Lonely Astronaut, was born. His latest record, Nuclear Daydream, is the label's flagship release.
"I've been thinking about doing [the label] for a long time. So far, it seems like we've got things going alright. When you've been making records and been in the business, you get how it's done. It's a good time to be doing things yourself."
As prolific as Arthur is, he is just as well-respected. Michael Stipe and Chris Martin are among his fans. Critics have been overwhelmingly fond of just about everything he's recorded. But Arthur says he stumbled upon the warm vulnerability of Nuclear Daydream just as he happened upon all his music: by experimentation and chance.
"I think in music it's better to have an aloof attitude about it, not over-think things and be liberal about what you put out," he says. "Music, like personality, is not something that stays the same forever. It changes, it's transient, and that's what makes it so interesting."
To hear the new record, visit www.josepharthur.com.