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The ballad of Joe Pug 

click to enlarge Pug: 'I've cut back to a much more manageable pace.'
  • Pug: 'I've cut back to a much more manageable pace.'

Joe Pug's career as a singer-songwriter has been one of ups and downs. After a quick rise, a record deal with Nashville's Lightning Rod Records, and four years of nonstop touring, in late 2013, the musician was struggling. To fans, his life looked big, bold and getting better day by day. But behind the scenes, he'd lost his joy for music, and any sense of a healthy personal life.

Pug made an important choice — to completely step away for about a year to regroup. And it was a wise move. When he returned to recording in 2014, he would write Windfall, an album that very much reflects what it took for him to both walk away and come back. Consider the lyrics to "Windfallen": If you're in it for the windfalls / don't be surprised / when your will to fight wavers and eventually dies / But if you're in it for the long haul / if you're in it to survive / there's not a trench you can't be found / there's not a drought could drag you down.

"If you're going to have a career in entertainment and music," Pug says, "resilience better be something that you have. Even under ideal circumstances, from what I've learned — and I do consider my life to be ideal circumstances, pretty much a bed of roses — it's still very difficult to navigate a lot of the time."

The year away would impact much of what the Austin-based artist was doing and how, including touring. "I've cut it back to a much more manageable pace of shows, to me at least. There are some musicians that absolutely thrive on the road in their own lane, but I'm not one of them. I've found a threshold of about 80 shows a year. That works for me. It allows me to still be really excited for all the shows. And it allows me to pay a little more attention to the detail of each one."

Less touring has also opened up time for a passion project: The Working Songwriter Podcast (joepugmusic.com/podcast). Once a month, Pug talks with fellow musicians such as Joe Ely, Sara Watkins, and his Colorado tour cohort Anais Mitchell.

"I'd been listening to political shows. I'd been listening to, you know, fictional series. I'd been listening to all sorts of journalism, and there was this particular show that I really wanted to hear about music and musicians and songwriters, and I couldn't find it. That's when I just kinda had a moment where I thought to myself, like, 'Oh, well then I just need to make it. There's an opening here.' And it turns out, there really has been. Reception has been great."

Of course, there are always openings for new albums as well, and Pug says he's got his next "about a third written."

"Hopefully, I don't see any reason why it couldn't be out this time next year. This one is going to hew a lot closer to how I originally started playing music. It might just be me on the album."

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