Ex-frontman of The Enid Joe Payne launches his solo career on March 2nd with a single and accompanying launch gig at Northampton’s Picturedrome.
Now going under the That Joe Payne moniker, ‘I Need A Change’ is the first shot across the bow in a new phase of the singer-songwriters’ life. New Boots sat down and got the skinny on how he got here.
First things first: what’s your musical background – did your love come from family, school lessons, friends…?
I grew up in the small town of Tring, Hertfordshire where they had a community theatre. I spent all my spare time there, rehearsing and performing, and it got me totally addicted to being on stage. Apart from some classical training in singing and piano, I guess I inherited some of my musicality from my dad who would like to play his guitar privately. If anything, I wonder if he followed my example in the end, as he’s now the one spending all his time at the theatre playing for the show bands!
How did you end up in The Enid?
When I was about 19 I decided to book a recording studio for the first time, sick of always recording naff demos in peoples garages. The Lodge Recording Studio was my choice, and just so happened to be home of The Enid. They invited my band to see them at a gig in Chesham, near my home. I absolutely loved it! It must’ve been the first time I’d heard any music that appealed to my taste for classical, theatre, rock and pop, all at the same time.
The band invited me to sing backing vocals for them. About a year later, both recently turned single, Max and I fell in love and started spending all our time together. I was just graduating with a degree in Business Management, so it made sense for me to start running The Enid’s independent record label. Then, having become part of the family so to speak, I was invited to sing lead.
How was your experience of being a part of their journey?
In all honesty, the whole road from joining to leaving was a frustrating one. I was forever under pressure to prove myself in some way. It’s not easy trying to re-brand something that already has so much history.
I was only 22 when I joined, and it felt like no one would take me seriously. To a lot of The Enid’s fans I threatened their idea of what the band was all about. To others I was just a singer, and despite writing a lot of the new music, no one ever gave me credit for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I proved a lot in the end. By the time I left I had made a name for myself, and raised the bar dramatically for the band’s shows. But it was tough to do, and not everyone was willing to move together on everything. Over time I started to feel less and less part of the band and more of a separate entity.
How was the support of the wider prog fraternity?
The prog community and I remain very close. Not only did I front The Enid, but I was also running the record label, booking the shows, arranging PR, etc. So by default I would always be the one to correspond with people. Fortunately for me I made a lot of friends that way.
The wider fan base definitely had my back, and it feels like they still do. Winning ‘Best Male Vocalist’ in the Prog Magazine Readers’ Poll two years running was totally unexpected. Considering who I’m up against, there are much bigger artist than me that have topped these polls. I’m lucky to have so much support. It wouldn’t be easy for me to start again without all these people behind me.
Why did you decide to go your separate ways?
I had a breakdown. Every band has internal politics, but this was a whole new level for me. As far as anyone knows publicly, I left so I could begin recovering my mental health. The point is, for me anyway, continuing working or living with The Enid wasn’t an option. If I’d stayed I’d probably be dead by now.
How was the decision to go solo?
Having a solo project was always something I’d wanted to do, but I wasn’t really allowed to do it. Anything outside the band was considered to be a wasteful use of time which could be spent on the band instead. So that was quite limiting. Once I left the band I knew I’d rather go solo than start a new one. It was my first and only chance to express myself exactly the way I wanted.
But daunting? Hell yeah! I spent the first 6 months of my illness doing nothing, literally incapable of working. The next six months I used to re-educate myself, reading all the music theory books I could and playing the piano every day. I had barely touched one in about 10 years. I only really began writing music again mid-2017. It took me so long to get started, not because I didn’t have the ideas, but because I was still fighting off all those old voices in my head that told me I needed to prove something.
Now that I’ve done it, worked out my writing process, had feedback from the press, those voices have finally been silenced. I’ve learned that those doubts had no place being there in the first place, and I’ve always had it in me to do it on my own.
Is ‘Moonlit Love’ – a widescreen choral ballad – a good signifier of what to expect in the future?
I guess you could say it is, yeah. My writing style is very classically influenced, and I grew up playing a lot of Beethoven and Mozart. It’s that kind of emotive harmony, melodic ideas and modulation that I get a kick out of. It does mean everything is a pain in the arse to play though! Haha
What’s the debut single ‘I Need A Change’ about?
‘I Need a Change’ is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s about suicide, guilt, loneliness… At the time when I first started writing it I had nothing left to live for. I was about to lose my businesses, my home, my dog, my relationship. Everything was being taken away from me. So the song is very much about ending one life to start a new one, or dying to be reborn. I had to leave everything behind and start again with nothing.
What can we expect at the Picturedrome show? It’s all local musicians that are playing with you…
The set list is kind of like a greatest hits. I’ll be performing some of the songs I’m best known for doing with The Enid. I made a point of only choosing the ones I was a writer on, and those just so happened to be the most popular tracks at the time. I’ll also be airing some other collaborative work for the first time, plus new material.
I have a great band playing with me. Local boys Dan Battison (Ginger Snaps) is on bass, and Josh Judd (Burrowing Bees) is on drums. I also have Moray Macdonald on keys and Oliver Day on guitar. Both of these guys are renowned throughout the prog scene for their work with other bands such as Crimson Sky and Yes tribute, Fragile.
When can we expect an album?
This year I’m planning to drip out singles. I don’t want to rush the album, but I already know what songs are going on it. In fact I have a three album plan, and this is just the first. Once I feel that I’ve raised my profile enough as a solo artist, I’ll be ready to launch the album. I’m thinking early 2019 would be a good time.
What’s on your stereo this week?
I’ve been getting really excited about Brighton Pride this year, and as Britney Spears is performing I have been solidly listening to her entire back catalogue in consecutive order. I may be a prog artist, but there’s a pop princess in me somewhere!
Who is your favourite local artist?
Definitely Burrowing Bees! Why do you think I invited them to support me on the 2nd of March? I can’t get enough of them.
Tell us something about you the public don’t know.
When I was a kid I auditioned for S Club Juniors, and Nicki Chapman told me I had a “nice smile”. I didn’t get the job…