Home » Sounds of Syracuse » The Beat and the Street in Joe Driscoll

The Beat and the Street in Joe Driscoll

I recently ran into Joe after a gig and before ya’ knew it, we started chatting about looping pedals, the biz and the shared admiration for Totonto-based artist, K-oS, along with a few laughs and stories.

Now, I know you’ve heard of him. I’ve heard of him. But, how any of us first heard of him might be from a number of ways or avenues. He’s involved with the community as a good neighbor. He’s been involved with politics. But today, we’re here to talk about his place in the city as a musician.

Chuck Schiel: How are you Joe? Looks like things stay pretty steady for you.

Joe Driscoll: I’m doing well. Thanks Chuck. Yes, I’m staying pretty busy.

CS: Ok, let’s get to it. Characterize what you do, musically?

JD: My primary thing has been live loop sampling. I beatbox, utilizing vocal percussion, and I create a live looped rhythm track from that, then I layer that up with guitar, vocal harmonies, keyboards, harmonicas, and anything else I can throw into the mix. I’ve also had multiple other musical projects throughout the years, but the solo loop thing has been a constant throughout all these years.

CS: You have a knack for using loopers to facilitate your music. How did you gain the interest to do so?

JD: I remember I saw a woman using one in NYC to make some avant garde noise rock. The whole show I was thinking, ‘Man, that thing is so cool, but I wish someone would lay some funk down with it.’ That moment sparked my interest. Shortly after that, my band split up, and I found myself alone, feeling kind of down and out and generally feeling lost creatively. During my live shows, up until that point, I had utilized a lot of beatbox while playing acoustic guitar, doing a mix of folk and hip-hop. With the band gone, the memory of that looping show in NYC came back to me. I went down to the music shop, tried out a pedal, and fell in love with it instantly. When I tried out the beatbox looping at live shows, people went nuts, and I thought – yea, I think I found something here.

CS: What other musical involvements are you engaged with?

JD: From 2010-2015, I worked with Guienean artist Sekou Kouyate, and we did this kind of New York hip hop, meets West African traditional music/reggae vibes. The project was amazing to me: Sekou spoke no English, I spoke no French, but we ended up writing an album together over the course of a few weeks. That first album ‘Faya’ was all written and recorded within a couple of months. That first album was just the two of us, Sekou and I, layering loops in the studio, similar to what we were initially doing live at that time. Later on, we evolved into a four piece band to create a more dynamic live show, and then recorded our second album ‘Monistic Theory’ as a band, an album which debuted #1 on iTunes and Amazon music charts for World Music. We had a lot of great times with that project.

Another great project I organized in the UK was ‘Local Posse.’ We would travel around to all these different UK festivals, and we’d have different friends playing at each festival, so towards the end of the night we would have a collective jam session with all our friends, getting up and improvising. The Local Posse concept being whoever was local at the time was part of the Posse. We paired up beatboxers, blues guitarists, spoken word poets, and jazz pianists. Was another amazing experience. I’d love to resurrect the concept.

CS: Some folks around here know you for your political strides, first. Tell us about your involvements with the Syracuse community.

JD: I kind of stumbled into politics. After living in Europe for over a decade, I came to know and experience single payer healthcare systems, and I really developed a deep appreciation of their benefits. If I caught a cold in the UK, I could see a doctor and leave with some antibiotics for 20 bucks. In America, if I went to the doctor as an uninsured musician, they’d tell me I should go see a specialist, and charge me $600 for that advice. For this and many other reasons, I became a big Bernie Sanders enthusiast, and I soon noticed all my musical buddies in Syracuse were sharing Bernie memes online as well. I thought, ‘Hey, if we throw a fundraiser, we could raise some serious cash.’ I threw it together with a few buddies, and we sold out the Palace Theater on James Street, raising around $25k.

That led to me stepping up and starting to organize Bernie’s campaign locally. I spent the next 6 months or so organizing lit drops, canvassing operations, social media campaigns, etc. I even got to open for Bernie, playing some tunes and saying a few words when he came to speak in Cuse on my 36th birthday. Eventually Bernie lost, and Trump won, and I was pretty bummed about the direction our country was headed, and the status of my city as well, with so much extreme poverty. Bernie kept saying, if you’re frustrated with how things are going, don’t complain, run for office, try to change the dynamics. I ran for local office in 2017 and won a seat as the 5th district councilor, where I served for four and a half years. I recently took on a new role last July, as the city of Syracuse’s I-81 project director.

CS: What do you have to say about the Syracuse music community and scene? What inspires you to go here?

JD: I absolutely love the Syracuse music scene. I got to travel all over the world with my projects, but I always knew one day I’d come back home, because I love this place. So many lovely humans, like Grupo Pagan, Ripcords, and the Brownskin, who I am honored to sit in with from time to time. Colin Aberdeen of Los Blancos was one of the first guys to really support my sound as a young artist, and he really taught me how to make a living as a regional guy starting out. So many groovy down to earth people, and so many folks that opened doors for me on my journey. You can go to the open mic at Maplewood on Tuesday, or Shifty’s on Wednesday, and feel the love in the Cuse scene.

CS: What’s in the near future for Joe Driscoll music?

JD: I’ve been working for a while now on reinvigorating the live looping set. During COVID, I spent a lot of my time in isolation learning how to play drums. I’d love to work some new instruments into the set, and really expand on the sound – same concept but with lots of new layers. I also got about halfway thru recording a new album during COVID, but with my new gig as the city’s I-81 coordinator, that’s taken up most of my time and mental hard drive. I hope to have a breakthrough in the coming months though, and get that new album out. It’s been a long time in the works.

Also, last year I organized the Hanover Thursdays music series with a couple of my good buddies. That’s been really rewarding, being a facilitator for music and vibes, acting more as the DJ/MC then as a musical act. I think it’s a role that suits me well, and I really enjoy it. Hopefully some more of that type of fun in 2023. Definitely planning on bringing Hanover Thursdays back, and maybe some more similar projects.

CS: Do you have anything to say to your fellow musicians – your fellow Central New Yorkers?

JD: I guess I’d just say that in my opinion, I think the biggest problem with both Syracuse and the music scene here is our self-deprecation. I’ve traveled a lot, and this region is truly awesome. A lot of that humbleness, and salt of the earth vibe is what makes us who we are- you know, no big time attitudes, no false pretenses, but a lot of folks get negative as well. A lot of folks knock the scene, or knock the town. If you say a million times, I’m gonna miss the shot – you’re speaking that into existence, you know what I mean? This is a great town, with a great scene. If more of us just believed that, and just acted accordingly, I think a lot of our major problems would be less troublesome.

CS: How do we stay in touch with you and your music, Joe?

JD: You can find me on www.joedriscollmusic.com, but it’s probably easier to follow me on social media: FB joedriscoll, IG & twitter @joedriscoll315

CS: Thank you Joe for taking some time to visit with us, here, at Sounds of Syracuse.

JD: Thanks so much for shining a light on the scene. A lot of great folks around town making great tunes. Honored to get the mention. Here’s to a great 2023.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.