Joe Pug and Anais Mitchell
For the moment, Joe Pug has it figured out, career if not life: Just write the songs that have to be written, play them for anybody who will listen, tour as if you had no home. Oh, and give your music away. Which isn’t to say he won’t be selling his debut full-length offering, Messenger ( Released 2/16/2010 on Lightning Rod). But free is how he came to make it, more or less.
It worked like this, for Joe Pug anyhow: The day before his senior year as a playwright student at the University of North Carolina, he sat down for a cup of coffee and had the clearest thought of his life: I am profoundly unhappy here. Then came the second clearest.
Pug packed up his belongings and pointed his car towards Chicago. Working as a carpenter by day, the 23 year-old Pug spent nights playing the guitar he hadn’t picked up since his teenage years. Using ideas originally slated for a play he was writing called “Austin Fish,” Pug began creating the sublime lyrical arrangements that would become the Nation of Heat EP.
The songs were recorded fast and fervently at a Chicago studio where a friend snuck him in to late night slots other musicians had canceled. He was short on money, but his bare-boned sincerity didn’t require much more than a microphone and it dripped off of each note he sang.
The early rumblings of critical praise for the EP were confirmed when his first headlining gig sold out Chicago’s storied Schubas Tavern in 2008. As word spread, Pug struck upon an idea that would later prove to be one of the most significant in his young career. He offered his existing fans unlimited copies of a free 2-song sampler CD to pass along to their friends. He sent the CDs out at his own expense, even covering the postage. Inside each package was a personal note thanking the fan for helping to spread the word. The response was overwhelming, and to date he has sent out over 15,000 CDs to 50 states and 14 different countries. Without access to radio, Pug managed to turn his fans into his very own broadcast system. The offer still stands, and to this day it’s featured prominently on www.joepugmusic.com.
Anaïs Mitchell is first and foremost a storyteller. As a Vermont- and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, Mitchell recorded for Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records for several years before starting her own Wilderland label in 2012. Among her recorded work are five full-length albums, including 2010's sensationally-reviewed Hadestown-- a folk opera based on the Orpheus myth-- and 2012's Young Man in America, which was described by the UK's Independent as 'an epic tale of American becoming'. Mitchell has headlined solo and band performances worldwide as well as supporting tours for artists like Bon Iver, Ani Difranco, and the Low Anthem (all of whom appear as guest singers on Hadestown). If there's a common thread in Mitchell's work-- from her earliest acoustic records, to the opera, to this new chapter-- it's that she's as interested in the world around her as the one inside her. She has a way of tackling big themes with the same emotional intimacy most artists use to describe their inner lives. "That's why," as one journalist put it, "there's a sexual ambiguity about her work and why, even in her most intimate moments, she never sounds like a confessional songwriter."