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Mark Joseph- A tour with The Big Wu and Down Lo

By Henry Robinson

I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the big names in Midwest Music, Mark Joseph for a chat before he took the stage with band Down Lo at the UWSP Encore. Based in the Twin Cities, you can see Mark Joseph on stages across the country playing with the renowned band The Big Wu as well as with his Mark Joseph Project and band Down Lo. Coming off of a three year hiatus, Down Lo, joined by new drummer Frank Deringer of Appleton’s Ifdakar, set out on a short “mini tour” across Minnesota and Wisconsin to bring their intense brand of Funk-Rock to fans old and new.

What do you feel is the difference between playing with Down Lo and Playing with The Big Wu?

“Its extremely different! We call it the Down Lo work out, its fast and furious, gnarly and raw, Fusion and Jam rock to the wall. Big Wu is a lot of atmosphere, its vocally driven, with big harmonies and escapading jams that go way low in the valley and way up the mountain. Down Lo is exhausting, when you get done with a Down Lo show you feel like you just got whooped. Just playing the Down Lo music again is really nostalgic… its a pleasure. We’ll see if maybe we write some new songs or put a little record out.”

Coming off a summer with The Big Wu that took him all the way to Alaska and a winter tour including a 3 night stand in Denver, Co., Mark has no reservations about a full schedule, mentioning a return to Wisconsin for a show at Madison’s High Noon Saloon on January 24th followed by a Big Wu tribute to Johnny Cash at a benefit for local youth sports in Chicago. When asked about the next big event though, all focus is on The Big Wu Family Reunion. Now in its 14th year, the Family Reunion is a 3 day festival in Morristown, Mn organized by The Big Wu that, last year, included the likes of Leftover Salmon and Washington D.C.’s Almighty Senators. This year it will be held August 7th, 8th, and 9th with artists soon to be announced.

Lets talk about songwriting, what is your approach to writing a new song?

“It’s like chasing inspiration, it comes and goes. You learn a cover song or hear a band that inspires you, the next thing you know your playing something you really like, something fresh. I think the trick is, a great tip that all writers can benefit from is knowing when to push record on your little tape recorder or whatever to get your idea down. If you don’t have a way of referencing it, then usually you’ll forget it. It all grows from there, once you get your root idea it all grows from there.

“I feel like good ideas come by not trying to force it, not trying to seek it out. Its inside of us, your inspiration is part of who you are; Its just about letting it happen. You have the power to do anything you want as long as you believe enough in yourself to do it.”

The Big Wu’s style is described as Midwest Roots music with a range that includes Rock, Blues, Country, Bluegrass, and Funk. Down Lo, still including Mark’s signature soulful funk, reaches more into Rock, Reggae, and Jazz. Both bands include an emphasis on improvisation. In 2007 Down Lo released an album in collaboration with Los Angeles rapper Deploi and saw an influx of hip hop influence that included Mark improvising on more than guitar with lyrical freestyle during the shows.

What have you been listening to latley?

“I’ve been listening to Prince’s new single, Breakfast Can Wait, its very good. Har Mar Superstar ‘cuz he’s soulful and funky. Old school R&B and Reggae. I love Gospel Music, I listen to Sam Cook all the time. I grew up listening to country music…I’ll be listening to country and bluegrass at any moment.”

What about Hip-Hop influences?

Late 80’s and 90’s stuff: A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang Clan, Guru’s Jazzmatazz. Guru was one of the first MC’s who realized the potential that hip-hop is music and doesn’t need to be a sample. Guru brought in all these great Jazz Cats and produced tracks that were totally original… That was a huge influence for sure ‘cuz it opened the door for me, it spoke to me saying, ‘you can do hip-hop live. It’s live music.’

On Deploi and their song feature on Mark Joseph album “American Soul”:

“I got love for it all. Deploi is my man, he comes out a couple times a year and we tour when I go out and do my “Mark Joseph and the American Soul”. He’ll be on one of the new tracks on my American Soul album. (American Soul) will be out in the next 6 months, before summer, shooting for April.”
Last words?

“Mark Joseph sayin’ what up to The Scene and to Wisconsin. We got love for ya’ll and appreciate it…. lets keep makin the local scene strong and doing our thing!”

You can see Mark Joseph playing with The Big Wu at The High Noon Saloon in Madison on January 24th or perhaps join the family at The Big Wu Family Reunion in August. The festival camp ground comes equip with 29 hole disc golf course and late night Bluegrass stages to make all us Central Wisconsinites feel right at home.

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