Joe Stevens & Pretend Sweethearts

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American singer/songwriter, guitar and banjoman, Joe Stevens is a third-generation professional musician in a long line of restless westward moving souls. From his roots as an awkward kid with a debilitating stutter, through dark years of alcohol and drug addiction, Joe’s music touches on themes at once specific and ubiquitous, portraying the human condition distilled  where one

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person’s story is truly everyone’s story. A prolific writer, the muse began whispering at the age of fifteen and Joe has produced some untold thousands of songs and essays in his 32 years. Joe began his music career in 2006 as the main songwriter in the Alt-Americana group Coyote Grace. Between 2006 and 2012 Coyote Grace released five albums and toured with the Indigo Girls, Melissa Ferrick, and Girlyman; sharing stages with Chris Pureka, Greensky Bluegrass, Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band, and legends such as Cris Williamson and Lowen and Navarro.

2014 saw the release of Joe’s first solo album Last Man Standing, recorded in Seattle at Empty Sea Studios, co-produced with Michael Connolly. Joe took this new project across the US, 43 shows in three months, a Big Damn Tour indeed. Last Man Standing combines Joe’s distinct songwriting – a strong focus on word craft, with folk roots and old time sensibilities yet with subtly altered meters, progressions, and content – and Michael’s multi-instrumentalist and technical skills – creating a genre-bending mix of folk, indie-rock, and neo-soul that is both alternative and traditional. A dark past and keen insight gives weight to Joe’s words, sung in his signature smokey voice, telling the stories that are his contribution to the treasury of North American Roots music.
Songs of the People was also birthed in 2014; a project where Joe interviews folks and writes a song based on their experience. Creating a cohesive narrative of one’s life is a way to come to terms with the past, solidifying an often times broken sense of self, and honoring the conditions that gave rise to who we really are is one of the gifts of art and songwriting. The first Songs of the People Volume 1 is stated to be released in April of 2015.

Joe’s music rides the edge of the first wave of transgender performers to break through into the public consciousness. The social media explosion combined with shifting public opinion created the conditions that enabled trans and queer artists, a highly marginalized and often isolated subculture, to connect and gain visibility throughout the world. Joe performs and gives workshops on songwriting and queer/trans issues at colleges and universities and is a social justice activist for underdogs of all stripes, committed to honoring their vital contributions to the greater collective evolution.

Pretend Sweethearts’ new record, Becoming the Tender Animal, is loaded with transcendental folk delicacies. With a populist heart, a Sufi spirit and the incurable vagabonding predisposition, the songs draw their essence from many wells. This isn’t cutesy, derivative, middle-class “bluegrass”  this is 21st century folk music passionately articulating hope, despair and vision amid the roots and detritus of contemporary music. Brianna Blackbird and Drew de Man are from opposite ends of America. Mercurial, Bri’s muse reflects the Northwest’s ever-changing weather. The Portland native remembers when Elliot Smith wasn’t necessarily considered cool and knows what it means to practice piano all winter. If Drew’s voice has an occasional twang, it’s real twang  as deep as his abiding love of pedal steel, an instrument he fell for as a child growing up in Georgia.

As they were mastering their first full length album, Becoming the Tender Animal, the Sweethearts were packing up, selling or giving away the contents of their apartment in Portland, Oregon. Six months pregnant, the vagabond duo had made up their minds to move to Bolivia and thus “take refuge in adventure.” The winter rains were falling and friends were coming by for last potlucks and guitar pulls on the floor, walking away with pieces of Drew’s record collection and Beatle boots. They jettisoned prized books, sold the beds, pots and pans right out from under themselves, hopped in the van and drove across the country for one last tour. Just after New Year’s, they took their guitars and five year old daughter and flew away to Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the heart of South America.
Singing about the broken-hearted joys of sleeping alone, the death of Shakespeare’s tragic Desdemona or her own longing to transform into one of many birds, Brianna Blackbird’s vibrant voice has been compared to Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez. Her raw folk honesty is tempered with the studied technique of a music teacher’s daughter, and she picks intriguing figures on a well-worn Gibson that’s probably twice her age.

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