Despite the fact he's been gigging around Lansing and Mt. Pleasant, and already has an established nice guy reputation among his musical peers, DRB was sadly oblivious to Central Michigan University's Joe Hertler. That is, until a random Detroit search on bandcamp.com turned up Hertler's magnificent SLEEPING GIANT ep.
Among the four acoustic, chillout tracks on GIANT is a cover of 'My Own Home' from Disney's The Jungle Book. This is going to sound utterly preposterous, but Mr. Hertler has managed to take a throwaway Disney tune, that even Rudyard Kipling would find chafing and transform it into a tantalizing piece of gourmet ear candy.
Aside from the EP, in October of 2009, Joe released 'The Hard Times' LP, also via bandcamp, and went the extra mile to personalize each copy of the album with a hand drawn CD, and five photo prints. But more importantly, 'The Hard Times' includes the depressive brilliance of 'Dancing With A Ghost' which will have you sprawled on your green couch contemplating your great lost love and just what the hell went wrong. The other standout track is 'Pontiac', which will have you genuinely, stupefyingly, wondering how this 21 year old can so effortlessly capture an evening at the Crofoot (or Industry for those of you as old as I am!) gone totally and completely wrong. Who among us hasn't found themselves sitting out on the streets of downtown Pontiac sad and drunk on evaporated love, as the police handcuff us ?
Yes, to be fair, some of this is sad bastard music, but Hertler's artistry shines through on every song and he even manages to take some of the 'woe is me lyrics' to a heavier, more reflective place. The Hard Times LP is an excellent break up record, in the same vein as Beck's landmark 'Sea Change' album. It stays with you days after you listen to it, like a cold you can't seem to shake.
Joe Hertler has a undeniable gift, not just for singing, but for also for songwriting and production. We at the DRB strongly recommend you give his music a listen. You won't be disappointed.
Let's start off with everything that we should immediately know about you?
I'm 21 years old. I like computers, fly-fishing, Magic the Gathering, microphones, DJing, dancing, audio production, snowboarding, and writing. I drink Rolling Rock when I have money and Red Dog when I'm broke. Other than that, I'm in the school of Elementary Education at CMU. I've always wanted to be a teacher, but with music going as well as it has lately, I'd much rather be singing songs for people!
What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
I'd say it's soul music with folk influences.
Cursive, David Bazan, Sufjan Stevens, and St. Vincent to name a few, but listening to other local musicians/friends (Jeff Pianki, Frontier Ruckus, Chris Bathgate, The Silent Years, Prussia, Loune, Daniel Zott) always gets my creative juices flowin!
What was the inspiration behind recording 'My Own Home' from The Jungle Book film ?
My friend Caleb (Happiest Lion) approached me with the intentions of doing an all Disney compilation album from various artists around the country, including JT Royster, Jeff Pianki, and Kiersten Holine. I really didn't want to do it at first simply due to time, but once I stopped procrastinating and finally hit the studio, the end result was something I was quite happy with. I wanted to make the original song sound thick and dirty with harmonies all over the place. I think there's like 14 guitar tracks alone in that song with 7 vocal tracks.
Who writes your songs and what are the main themes ? Do you believe these topics will change over time?
I write all of my songs. A stupid break up went into a lot of the first album, but my new stuff has found a heavy focus on human nature and my own battles with religion and faith; substance dualism vs materialism for the philosophy people out there... Anyways, I think it's the most honest stuff I've written in a long time. I'm saving most of those songs for my next full length. I'm just playing them live now. The themes will always change. You grow and learn with every song.
Are you affiliated with any record labels?
I'm currently recording a few songs with CMU-based label Moore Media Records. I'm planning on doing a release through Lansing's Lower Peninsula records in the future. I also proudly belong to an artist collective, called Bigger Brush Media. Other than that, I'm a free musician in search for the right label.
What can you tell me about the instruments you prefer?
On stage, I bring a reed accordian, my Taylor 314ce, a banjo, and a shitload of harmonicas. Other than that, I play bass, cello, and piano decently well. I wanted to be a stand up bass performance major, but I wasn't good enough to get into the school of music at CMU. That's why I went the education route.
Where have you performed? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I've performed all over Michigan at some of my favorite venues. Personally, I love the Pike Room in Pontiac and Mac's Bar in Lansing. Still, my favorite shows are the unplugged house shows, where you're right in front of the crowd. It's intimate and I can really dive down into myself while playing, you know, totally lose it.
Where have you performed most frequently?
Mount Pleasant and Lansing have become my musical homes lately, especially Mac's bar. I'd love to start playing more in K-zoo and Detroit.
What's your experience with bandcamp.com been like ?
It's been great! I started my account while it was in Beta and it's been cool shooting emails back and forth with the developers. They're all really cool guys and they've built an incredible platform for music distribution. It's allowed my music to easily be downloaded to thousands and thousands of people's computers. I'd recommend it to anyone!
What do Detroit, Michigan, and Mt.Pleasant mean to you as a musician?
I lived in the Orion/Pontiac area my entire life until enrolling at CMU. My parents both peaced out to other states when I left, so Mount "Pleezy" is my permanent home. However D-metro holds a soft spot in my heart. It's my home and always will be. I look forward to every event I get to play in the area. A few weeks ago I played a concert in benefit of Belle Isle... it's just great going back to the city. I love the geography of Detroit; there's just so much beauty to be seen there. I want Michigan artists to be proud of where they're from. There are a lot of young, creative people moving to Detroit; they're proud of their city and want to see it bloom. So much amazing art and culture has arisen in the area and I just really hope people keep pushing to see Detroit grow. And that goes for the rest of Michigan, too. I love this place... you gotta rep your hood, ya know?
Where will you be with your career in five years ?
I try not to look too far into the future. One show at a time. I try to focus my energy on writing songs that mean something to me and playing them as fucking hard as I can. Also, I'm always looking for ways to improve my live set, for the sake of entertainment. Regardless, I'm having an absolute blast playing music right now. It's an awesome adventure that's just now starting and I couldn't be any more thankful. As long as I'm having fun and being honest with myself as an artist, then I can care less what happens.
Joe Hertler Upcoming Performances:
Oct 13th at Mac's Bar – Lansing, MI /w Chris Bathgate, Jeff Pianki, and Carter Moulton
September 13th at Rubble's Bar - Mount Pleasant, MI w Matt Jones and Tim Monger
He post all of his shows on Facebook. Check it out at: