SLT APR Joesef c Nathan Dunphy copy

Joesef: 'My shite love life has always been my biggest inspiration'

Tom Peeters

With his debut, Scottish singer Joesef introduced himself as the new throne pretender of sad boy soul.

Scottish singer Joesef was discovered by his best friend during a drunken night out. After downing a number of pints, his comrade enticed him to sing a song at an open mic. He was blown away and immediately offered to become his manager. Together, they launched their first single with “Limbo”. The rest is history.

Growing up in a working-class environment in a Glasgow suburb, a career as a singer-songwriter was the last thing on his mind. His frank lyrics, sometimes bathed in scorched melancholy, his delicate androgynous voice, his soulful, vulnerable delivery... Not really a sound a male environment will appreciate. But his contemporary R&B songs – once referred to as “sad disco tunes” – slowly started to get some traction. A week before the lockdown, he played at the Botanique.

At BBC Radio 1, they had him on their Best of 2020 list based on the single “Play Me Something Nice”. A second single, “Does It Make You Feel Good?”, followed that same year, as did performances at major UK festivals. Since the beginning of this year, Joesef’s debut album has also been in shops.

Everything you hear on my debut has happened to me


Joesef took the title Permanent Damage from a packet of cigarettes. He has since moved from East Glasgow to East London. Not so much with the prospect of more career opportunities, but as a way of using a change of scenery to deal with a love break-up.

“My shite love life has always been my biggest inspiration,” he told Unclear Magazine. “Everything you hear on my debut actually has happened to me. I have always used my music to express parts of myself that I could not express in any other way.”

When the British edition of rock magazine Rolling Stone recently brought him together with author Douglas Stuart, he met not only a fellow Glaswegian, but also a personal hero and inspiration. Booker Prize-winning Shuggie Bain described the coming-of-age of an adolescent struggling with his burgeoning sexuality in shabby 1980s Glasgow. Joesef read it while working on Permanent Damage in the studio.

He also devoured Stuart’s Young Mungo: “In it, someone asked: ‘You can meet people in the [housing] scheme that are gay?’ It was as if he was talking straight to me. His books are also written in a simple language and inspire me to get even more to the point myself so that more people understand me.”

Praise goes both ways. Stuart: “When I listened to Joesef’s music, I heard a voice with self-confidence, not someone who constantly apologised for who he was, but someone who sang sincerely about love, longing and failing relationships. When I heard ‘East End Coast’, I thought to myself: ‘God, that could have been the theme song of Young Mungo.’”

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