Permanent Damage

Joesef

Permanent Damage

On his first two EPs—2019’s Play Me Something Nice and Does It Make You Feel Good? (2020)—Glasgow songwriter Joesef cooked up an intoxicating blend of DIY pop, heart-bruised soul, and twinkling electronica. When it came time to record his debut album with co-producer Barney Lister, however, Joesef felt he needed to create something with a richer palette, a record that would pack even more of an emotional punch than the ones he’d landed on those deeply confessional EPs. “I definitely wanted it to feel darker,” he tells Apple Music. “I wanted it to feel like it was at night, at three in the morning.” As the sampled voice that opens the liquid, Tame Impala-like groove of “It’s Been a Little Heavy Lately” attests, Permanent Damage came from a very real place of darkness and turmoil, with Joesef wrenching himself away from an intense but toxic relationship. “Before I got into the album, it felt like I was at the bottom of a really big hole,” he says. “But it gave me a positive outlet to channel my feelings. I used to think it was a bit wanky when people said making music was cathartic, but it really does give you clarity over the situations you’re discussing.” Moving from the stark, rain-soaked snapshots of “East End Coast” to the strings-and-’70s-soul defiance of “Last Orders” and “All Good,” these songs are candid postcards from harder times. Ultimately, though, as the tracks work through myriad sounds and styles, Permanent Damage is a story about pulling yourself through the pain and sadness to emerge stronger and wiser. “When I listen to it, it sounds like a different person to me now,” he says. “I don’t feel like that boy anymore. I’ve come out the other side of it.” Let Joesef take you through that journey, track by track. “Permanent Damage” “This is the overture for the album. I wanted it to feel like the album was picking you up and holding you close then putting you back down at the end. This sets the scene. The strings are minor and dissonant and it’s open-ended. Before the strings went on this, it had a totally different vibe; the strings just brought it to life in a way that I never thought possible.” “It’s Been a Little Heavy Lately” “It’s quite conversational but this whole record is quite conversational. There’s the sample at the start which says, ‘I guess you could say I’m totally fucked up.’ It’s from a [US director] Gregg Araki film called Totally F***ed Up that really influenced the aesthetics of the album. Basically, I’m telling everybody: ‘Sit down, you’re in for a wild ride.’ This track was the first breakthrough for me. I love the texture of it. It’s got a Tame Impala kind of feel.” “East End Coast” “I’d moved to London and felt so isolated without my family and friends. I’d met this person and I was trying to capture the idea of this tempestuous relationship that was so up in the air and unpredictable, but at least we had each other. It felt like the world was ending around us, and I felt so disconnected from my hometown. The song is a homage to that relationship and this emotional, invisible tether that I have with my hometown. That’s my mum’s voice at the end of the recording, she sent me a voicemail after I’d called her up crying and she just said, ‘Remember that I love you and you can always come home.’” “Just Come Home with Me Tonight” “This was the first song that I wrote for the album, before I even knew I was going to make an album. It’s about meeting my ex at a party after a couple of months of not seeing them. I feel like when you meet your ex there’s always a bit of an unspoken connection. I always felt that between me and him—and then when I met him, it just felt like that wasn’t there anymore and he just didn’t care. I found that so devastating. But I wanted us to have one last night together. I’m on my hands and knees on that song.” “Borderline” “‘Borderline’ was the last song that I wrote for the album. The situation in that song is that I met somebody new and they were so unconditionally loving, like I’d never experienced before, and I just didn’t know how to take it. I realized I’d been indefinitely affected by this relationship that had come before, this idea of permanent damage and being changed forever. It was like a lightbulb moment of thinking, ‘Fucking hell, I’ve been so fucked up by this person that I cannot even handle anything that’s good for me.’” “Didn’t Know How (to Love You)” “I’d done something bad—I can’t say what—and I felt so guilty for such a long time. This song is me saying, ‘There’s only so long you can feel guilty for something.’ Most of the album, I feel like I’m on my hands and knees trying to make sense of things. But this song is when I stand up and I’m like, ‘Hmm, I don’t think this is working for me anymore.’ There’s definitely an element of defiance. I don’t want to slag anybody off or cause any drama but this song is just basically like, T-shirts off, me and you outside now!” “Apt 22” “‘Apt 22’ is like a song I’ve always wanted to make—I grew up listening to The Mamas & The Papas and stuff like that. Guy Garvey of Elbow is singing on this. He does his radio show in the same studio we were in. We became like a big family. We’d drink wine and have a curry while he’d tell us so many stories. One day, we finished that song and Barney went, ‘Go on, ask him.’ He just goes up to the mic, clears his throat and then this angelic voice comes out of this big man. That was an amazing experience.” “Shower” “There’s a lot of mad production in this song. The bass is a Moog and the guitars are detuned so it has this kind of spacey, ethereal vibe. At the end, the ‘choir’ on it is just me and Barney trying to make ourselves sound like as many people as possible. We burst out laughing because of how ridiculous we sounded. Lyrically, the song is about the mundane reminders of the fact that someone isn’t there. Me and my ex-partner used to have sex in the shower and I’d be getting in the shower realizing I couldn’t even have a shower without noticing they weren’t there.” “Joe” “A lot of the album is about someone else, but this song is about me. I’ve struggled mentally since I was younger and this song is basically me calling out that voice, that voice that tells you that you aren’t good or you could have done better. Barney said, ‘Let’s put these big Fleetwood Mac drums behind it…’ and we weren’t shying away from the fact that the harmonies were very major. I was saying, ‘This sounds like the fucking Eagles, I can’t put this on the album!’ But it just made it better.” “Blue Car” “This is definitely the bleakest moment on the album. It had dawned on me how much of my relationship revolved around partying and alcohol. There was this kind of toxic co-dependency between each other. I love how the production sounds like a bad trip until you get to the end and there’s this big release. I wanted the production to swirl and dissipate in and out around the chorus. When I say, ‘Pick up the speed and cut the brakes,’ you hear a car moving behind your head. The way it’s all panned, it feels like you have a Range Rover reversing over your head.” “Moment” “This is about how me and my ex went back to try to make it work. It just felt like everything had changed. The way we were speaking to each other felt so hollow; everything was different, even the way he smelled. So much time had passed that I had romanticized this person to the point that they didn’t exist anymore. I think that’s the danger of nostalgia. It’s like a terminal illness. It’s going to kill you in the end. Sometimes it’s not worth going back to because it doesn’t exist anymore. Or maybe it never existed.” “Last Orders” “This song is me emotionally checking out of that relationship in the context of leaving them at the bar when I said that I would meet them. Just walking away. The sky is falling over you and I’m walking away. It’s the point in the album where I’m out the door. It was one of the last songs that we made, and I started to think, ‘Oh God, it seems like there’s a story here.’ I had a lot of fun making that tune. It’s a song I’ve always wanted to make.” “All Good” “It’s like the end credits are rolling. This song feels like it would keep going by itself. It’s got a Northern soul vibe to it—I can imagine people in Fred Perry tops and big flares dancing to it. The verses talk about how difficult life can be but it doesn’t matter because nothing’s ever easy, but I promise you it’ll be all good. I feel like I needed to end the album in that way—for myself, first and foremost—because I’d been through this very traumatic, devastating experience. I’d been with this person to the point that I didn’t recognize myself. In the end, change doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. It always makes you a better person, regardless of whether you feel that at the time. Time passes and you eventually find yourself feeling better. It’s always worth making it through the other side.”

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