Loving the alien 

Joseph Lamar sets a new course for one-man bands

'I think that normalcy is vastly overrated," says Joseph Lamar. "I'm starting to realize that I'm definitely, um ... sort of weird, that what I do is actually unique."

And it is. A larger-than-life performer who has so far been confined to smaller-than-life stages, the 23-year-old Colorado Springs native presents the kind of package that's rarely achieved without a record company makeover. His shaven head with occasional warpaint, theatrical attire, and kinetic performances are 180 degrees from the vests, suspenders and self-consciously unpretentious attitudes of bands like the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons.

On the surface, Lamar's androgynous image and '80s-influenced synth-pop might seem like just another form of novelty. But as with Janelle Monae and Prince, they're backed by impeccable songwriting and musicianship. He grew up singing in his church choir, studied theater in high school, and most recently moved up north to major in vocal performance at the University of Denver.

Prior to relocating, Lamar was keyboardist for local band Kopasetik Soul. He also performed in the house band for Zodiac's Sunday Night Soul Session, which was an open-mic style showcase for hip-hop and R&B.

"It's astonishing," he says, "just how many people can sing very well, dance very well, or play instruments very well, and nobody knows."

Now, as a one-man band and electro-pop recording artist, Lamar has demonstrated that he can do all three.

"Often, the audience is as nervous as you are," he says. "There really aren't that many rules, other than to be entertaining, and have something to say, and have fun.

"It takes some people a little while to warm up to what I do. And I'm still warming up to what I do. I'm still learning what my identity is, onstage and off."

While Prince may be his main man, Lamar also has an affection for classic pop and rock — note the flute samples reminiscent of "Strawberry Fields" and the Hendrix reference in the title "Love + War (Slight Return)." Elsewhere, his subtle electronic soundscapes call to mind contemporary artists like James Blake.

Lyrics, meanwhile, can be bittersweet ("Love is lemonade and cyanide") or, occasionally, just bitter ("Fuck you if you won't say hi"). But, as a song like "Realize Me" demonstrates, they can also be very open and honest: "I keep telling myself / There's nothing wrong with me / All I need / Is someone to agree / There's nothing wrong with me / That's what I'm still trying to believe."

Lamar says he's more comfortable in his own skin than he once was, and believes he's not alone in that.

"A lot of it just comes along with being young, you know? And then another part of that is being gay, and just sort of feeling like the odd man out. I always felt sort of strange, like an alien, but now I love that about myself."

Still, there are challenges.

"A lot of times as we grow older, we become a little bit out of touch with our intuition and with ourselves," says Lamar, sounding wiser than his years. "So it becomes harder for us to say the things we truly want to say. And, as artists, you have to be in touch with that sort of childlike fearlessness, by any means necessary."


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