‘The Long Way Home’ with Joe Boston
For most people, tapping into the deep waters of inner emotion comes with an overwhelming wave of sentiment. For artists like Joe Boston, known by his stage name Shallou, wading in these waters is nothing new. Merging the mundane with the transcendent, ‘The Long Way Home’ calls us together with an aspirational outlook towards a brighter future.
After a mentally reflective quarantine, Boston left his label and ventured on an independent path. Releasing this weekend, ‘The Long Way Home’ navigates a full circle moment in Boston's career—his most personal project to date takes us on a soundscape of introspection. Along that journey and in his commitment to self actualize, we are all brought a little bit closer to ourselves.
Fresh off his U.S. tour we discuss the excitement of traveling the country, working with the right people, and remaining unwaveringly authentic in one’s creative expression.
JB: Camera on. Camera engaged.
MW: Face to face! How are you doing? Are you resting after the tour?
JB: I had a week off just doing absolutely nothing, which is so needed because the last two weeks of the tour were back to back. In the last week, we drove around 2000 miles total.
MW: People underestimate the exhaustion that comes with just being on your way somewhere—being in the car or driving. It's mentally tiring.
JB: You're like sitting the whole time. But then all you want to do after is lay down. So you go from upward position to backward position and like a whole day is just two positions. It's kind of like quarantine.
MW: But even harder because your bubble is smaller.
JB: Even after I got vaccinated, I wasn't doing much because there wasn't really that much to do. I had to get ready for the tour and rehearse. Tour was the last thing I really needed to do to feel like my old self again—go out there, play, perform, and see everybody—I hadn’t seen my fans in almost three years.
MW: To see them in that environment while being on the brink of releasing this album, which from what we've talked about, is your most personal... That must have been so rewarding.
JB: Yeah, it was cool because a lot of it was stuff I never played before. The last album came out in March of 2020, exactly in sync with when the pandemic started. So I was playing a lot of that stuff which I had never played before as well as the new EP. It was more of an intimate soul-sharing experience in that here's all the nostalgic old stuff and here's me trying out this new stuff with you that's about a hard time in my life. With that level of intimacy, you want to get into it more with the audience and tell them what you went through that led to each song.
MW: You're channeling that emotion when you're playing the set and you're feeling yourself go through a trajectory of who you've been over the last few years, it would only make sense you would want that validation of, “Are you all really hearing me? You're seeing this for what it is?" It’s almost implicit when you have an audience listening to you. You don't have to literally explain your story and characters for people to feel those things with you, which is really cool.
JB: That's the cool thing. When you release the album on Spotify it goes into the void and aside from the numbers, you don’t really know what songs people are engaging with. Then you do a show and suddenly a song that maybe didn’t have the most streams raises its hand super hard. There's no other way of knowing that than being present with people. That's why, for me, it's so important to tour because you only get one aspect from releasing music and just chilling on your couch. When you go out there you see people having a human connection with the music, and that's what really matters to me.
MW: I’m so glad you were able to get out there. Sounds like things went really well.
JB: Yeah, for sure. Overall, the tour was a huge success, I needed it so bad—didn't even realize how badly. I always thought of myself as more of an introverted person, but I realized how much I truly missed the social connection of that environment, to the point where I felt a physical weight come off of me.
MW: I can imagine by going to such emotional depths and injecting that energy into what you’re making, there's a release that comes when you finally share it out in the open. Definitely a full-circle moment. Walk us through how you transmuted those feelings of isolation into music that people can enjoy together.
JB: Totally. In the past, I would get off stage and get super in my head about the shows going perfectly, I would get so in my head it took me out of the experience. On these shows, and in making this album, I told myself “I'm just going to enjoy this experience, and if something goes wrong, whatever”. Weirdly enough, as soon as I let go of perfection, nothing went wrong and when I get off stage it's truly a feeling of fulfillment like I could die happy in that moment. That's the feeling that I was trying to cultivate all along—feeling true to my purpose. Now, I can't wait to do it again.
MW: To me, it sounds like a major shift in perspective?
JB: Oh, yeah. I've played hundreds of shows, and for most of them, I would look towards the exit sign at the back of the auditorium to manage my stage fright. This tour was the first time I looked up, made eye contact with people, saw how the crowd was reacting to the music and came down to sing along with everyone. I loved it so much. It's almost like a spiritual experience when you're doing it that way.
MW: It's so interesting to me that even after you've played huge festivals like Coachella or Outside Lands, you would still experience stage fright. But a shift in perspective doesn’t always come with the scale or numbers you've done before. It takes time and when it finally clicks you’re able to enjoy your life in a much more honest and total way.
JB: Time is a big factor. Most importantly, the longer I do this, the more closely I get in touch with how to express myself as an artist. When I first started out, I was precious about perfection. Now I look at my career as a piece of art in and of itself. That makes life so much more forgiving and experience that much more rewarding. I've done all this music, I've released all these songs. I've tried. Maybe I've failed, maybe I've succeeded, but it's more important to keep adding to the fabric of this story. That's what I value most.
MW: That sounds liberating.
JB: That's what playing the shows gives me, freedom. You see people who are there enjoying what you do and I realize I should only be thinking about making my best work and doing what I love, and they're kind of along for the ride. I used to be so much more worried about what the industry thought of me and if I was in the Zeitgeist. While that stuff is dope, trying to be that is a guaranteed way to psych yourself out.
MW: It's resistance to the thing. Trying to be cool makes you uncool—always.
JB: Exactly. I've just learned to let go of a lot of negative input from my own brain.
MW: I love to hear that. Honestly, the tour looked like a blast. I had major FOMO. And the last show was in New York, right? Wish I could have been there.
JB: Julia and I spent two or three days in New York after the show. Just relaxing and enjoying the city. Makes you want to split time between the two cities. I just love just sitting in the park and people-watching. Everyone's wearing crazy outfits and looks a little wacky.
MW: So now the tour is done and you've got your EP 'The Long Way Home' coming out. Run through a little bit about its conception and the themes that you're going through in this upcoming work.
JB: I guess I could go through track by track. ‘Corners of My Mind’ is about those intrusive thoughts in the back of your mind. During quarantine, I had a lot of those thoughts running through my mind. What's going to happen to your career? Are the people you love gonna be okay? And at the same time, I started developing OCD tendencies. At the beginning of quarantine, I was holding it all together pretty well, but when I thought of not playing a show for the foreseeable future, heaviness started to set in along with physical symptoms of anxiety, which I've never had before. Those thoughts took over and I would constantly be in this battle of, do I have COVID, or am I not able to breathe because I'm anxious all the time? After a while of thinking that way, I didn't feel safe anymore and I was pretty unstable. It became hard for me to create music and express myself. These struggles, both physical and mental, made it hard for me to sing and I was stuck in that spiral for a while. Eventually, when things settled and I got vaccinated, I felt better. But I tried to synthesize what I'd been through into song, and that's how 'Corners' first came to be.
MW: Wow. And that's the first track on the album?
JB: Yeah, that was the first one. I was just trying to explain how much I was living in my head. It was affecting my relationship as well. Julia just wanted me to be better and I couldn't get there—the lyrics are about us struggling together with it. Most of my songs are ethereal and not about personal experience. For this one, I was sitting down at the piano, writing, and producing it. I've made songs before, but this is the first time where I figured out how to make a song about one of the hardest things I've ever been through. Making that song ended up being a huge catharsis for me. When I got on stage and performed with the whole audience, it was so moving. There are notes in it that are belty and hard to hit—they require the energy to trust in myself in front of all these people. Hitting that note when I thought, at some points, I wouldn't be able to sing anymore, a wave of emotion would come over me because I felt such a release. Actually, that song ended up being one of my favorites to play. It set the tone for the EP. Once I got resistance out of the way, I was able to be a little bit more upbeat and dancey with songs like ‘Heartaches,’ ‘Here,’ and ‘High Tide.’
MW: I'll always remember the first time I heard the EP. I felt totally transported—like I was in an audience at a concert and there were streamers and lights everywhere.
JB: ‘Corners’ was my, "Oh shit, I'm back baby let's go." And then ‘Heartaches’ I wanted to go to some of my dancier stuff from 2018, like 'You and Me' in terms of production. Lyrically, I was talking about those hard times in a relationship when one person is going through something and the other person is trying to help them but really it's an internal battle. Less of heartbreak but more of a weight that comes where you're hurting but you love each other and there's nothing you can do.
MW: What's your songwriting process like for something that personal?
JB: I'll work with the melody, themes, and lyrics to collage something together. Usually, though, I'll start with the production and mumble words over, just to get the melody. After I'll go back and kind of write to those vowel sounds. Sometimes it works super well, sometimes it doesn't. I love collaborating with talented writers and reaching out to my friends in the industry that I think can help me tell my story. It's funny because I'll reach out like, “Hey, I know it's mumbling like ‘bubba potato da dum da’ but...can we make this work?"
MW: Sounds like you're scatting actually.
JB: For sure. I used that technique for a lot of this album. On songs like ‘High Tide,’ I wanted to channel the energetic and overwhelming feeling of the ocean. Most of the themes in the songs are informed by a specific place that means a lot to me, Pacifica, CA.
MW: Tell me about Pacifica.
JB: Pacifica is a coastal city near San Francisco. I became obsessed with it because it was so similar to where I grew up in Maine as a kid, where I had my most fun, free, youthful moments on the beach with my cousins swimming, lost in the ocean, going way too far out. It's this sleepy beach town where everyone's chilling out, a fisherman's vibe. When I went to Pacifica, all these memories flooded in and I built this fantasy of moving there to build a studio and become a little fisherman hermit guy. There's this romantic idea of living by the water and just being like a beach bum. I wanted to write about the concept of having a sense of place, like in ‘High Tide’ there's a lyric, "Steers me back to a place called home." I don't know if I ever will end up moving there, it's more of a romanticized idea, but it felt great to be reminded of that side of myself. ‘High Tide’ is about getting pulled through the currents, pushed underwater, but still trying to get home.
MW: So true. Do you have any advice on how to stay true to yourself, in any industry, or even in one's personal life?
JB: If we are going to live in this hyper-demanding world, as artists, we have to figure out a way to be excited about what's next rather than afraid. A lot of artists are like "How should I do something to keep people's attention?" Which is stress. I think there's a way to twist this into, "What do I want now?" Maybe I could do something a little different, a little weird, and not always follow exactly what the industry's model is. The only thing that gets in the way of making that move productivity-wise, is our own judgments or fear of judgment. If you separate it out and tell yourself, I'm gonna do what I think is cool. And maybe it'll fail, maybe it'll succeed, but if I'm genuine, people will feel that, and that's enough.
MW: It's removing the external validation. Those opinions are good and fine, but I know if I feed too much energy into them, their voices are overpowering and I can barely hear my own.
JB: Yeah, totally. It's a weird environment. Like how much do you celebrate or enjoy your success when it's so quickly on to the next? I'm still trying to figure out how to do that. When I have something good happen, I party for a night and then just move on. But the bad stuff you hold on to forever. I wish I could figure out a way to hold on to good moments longer. At its best, I think that's what music does.