Always Open: In-Depth With Joe’s Truck Stop

The greatest success often comes to those who keep their plate full, always looking to add more to it. Cincinnati’s  Joe Macheret understands this, and even embraces it as he leaves his fingerprints wherever he can with his music.

One of the best ways to be the best you can be is to do the most you can do. This is something Joe Macheret knows well, and he carries out without hesitation. He throws in regularly with several bands, all while anchoring his own, Joe’s Truck Stop. Fueled by an undeniable passion he spreads himself onto everything he can, turning every possible second of it into a learning experience. “I’ve been working the sideman role in various other groups while fronting Joe’s Truck Stop for about five years now and the things I’ve learned as a part of other bands has been really important to the progress Joe’s Truck Stop’s over that same time,” Joe told me, explaining the benefits of his activity.

Joe with the Urban Pioneers

“My first main sideman gig was with the Urban Pioneers,” he said, explaining how he got his start learning things the way he did. “After the first Truck Stop tour, my bandmates went back home to their families and jobs and lives and I was stuck on the road living with friends, making memories and mistakes. By the time I got back home to Cincinnati, I was broke, at my pop’s place, not inspired, and didn’t have enough original material to just hit the road, so I started contacting folks out working to see if they knew of any fiddle or guitar gigs. I’d messaged Liz Sloan from the Pioneers, who I’d played a show with a couple months prior, and she quickly responded that I could hop in their van and join up with them for a couple week playing guitar,” he said explaining how he got his start with the Pioneers. “We did two weeks down to New Orleans and back and then a month and half later I recorded on their second album, “Vehicle in Transit”, and another month after that we went on a 45 day tour with two days off. To say that was one of the best ways I could’ve cut my teeth would be an understatement. They were pros. Consummate professionals. And they were good people, striving to write unique, original music that kept alive the old traditions they loved. It was a great example that I saw I could mold myself after.

“Although it’s been about four years since I’ve toured with em, I still sit in with them when we play shows and festivals together. I’ve recorded guitar parts on three of their albums and they are some of the best friends I’ve made not just in music but in life,” he told me with a smile.

Joe with The Tillers (Credit: Chuck Loftice)

“Once I wasn’t with the Pioneers full time I got a full time gig with the Cincinnati string-band The Tillers. I met them through Sean Geil’s open mic at the Crows Nest in Cincinnati. When I’d visit home from school, I’d get out to his open mic, we’d jam, and I’d head back out of town until the next one. When the opportunity came to join up with them, I jumped all over it. I had already been a fan and appreciated what they did so much. Between the songwriting, the musical traditions that were important to me, and the hard work they were putting in, it was a great fit and has been life changing. I’ve gotten to befriend three of the best guys I know and we’ve made lifelong memories on the road and with our fans. I’m excited to continue this journey with them alongside what I’m doing with Joe’s Truck Stop, which they have been really supportive of as well,” he said.

Joining up with the band was an experience that Joe identifies as a very important lesson he’s learned along that way because it wasn’t roses all the way. “Joining up with a such a tight three piece was tough and there were even lot of local folks that weren’t totally into the idea, either. It was kind of weird finding a way to add something new to songs that had been loved for years. They gave me a lot of creative freedom with it, but it was also really important to me that I respected the sound that they had cultivated without me,” he recalled of his start with The Tillers.

It wasn’t easy, but Joe toed the line, and in the end it was right. The impression was made upon him. “The things I’ve seen from everyone between the Urban Pioneers and The Tillers has shown me the importance in professionalism, preparation, flexibility, and experience whether in pursuing my own project or developing relationships with other musicians. The extent of the knowledge this work, and their example has given me reaches from playing the instruments, the ins and outs of the music industry, to how to tour efficiently, how to openly talk to people about their snoring, how to develop a business model, and so much more,” he said with a laugh.

It has been an eventful ride for Joe, but not an unexpected one. Joe knew very early on in his life that he wanted to play music for a living, thanks to his mother and her upright piano that she used to play for him. “My mom inspired me to get into music,” he recalled of his early life. “She was a brilliant pianist. She passed away when I was seven, but if it wasn’t for her I can’t imagine I would’ve been as inspired at such a young age. One of my first memories is of her pulling old books of sheet music out of the piano bench and playing these gorgeous classical tunes, one after another. I was stunned by the music flowing out of the upright. At only five years old I knew I wanted to do that.

“By the time I was finishing up high school, I knew that if I could, I wanted to make it my career. I was playing several instruments by that time and writing my own songs. I went to music school for a bit, but it just never clicked for me. As soon as I got there I saw a bunch of folks, myself included, studying our heroes who didn’t go to music school. They went out and found work. They got their first gig and worked their way up to the next one. After that, maybe it was a residency and then going on tour, but our musical heroes were constantly putting themselves out there, chasing experience, learning the business, and honing their craft,”  he recalled.

The first Joe’s Truck Stop tour at Whispering Beard Folk Festival (Credit: Bill Kuertz)

The experience had left him searching for more, wanting to go his own way, learn the things he wants the way that he wanted, and with school out of the way this is exactly what Joe did. “I left school and went out on a 25 day Joe’s Truck Stop run I’d booked. It was the longest run I’d booked by about 3 weeks and in parts of the country I had never played. It was a beautiful mess of a tour. Some of my fondest memories were made on that run, alongside Sam Franklin on guitar and Chris Griffin on the upright bass.”

It was during these years that Joe really learned to hone and mold the sound of Joe’s Truck Stop. It was not, however, a process that came about or was driven by design. “I can’t say I’ve come up with it as much as it’s just worked it’s way through me,” Joe explained of the origin of his sound. “I’ve been inspired by and loved so much different music through the years from Bill Monroe to Funkadelic, from Townes Van Zandt to KRS One, from Django Reinhardt to the Legendary Shack Shakers, and there are themes and elements from all of them that I have combined for my own music.”

As he mastered his style through the years his focus slowly started shifting towards the songwriting aspect of his art. Like a true perfectionist he saw the potential for improvement and acted to bring that out. “It actually wasn’t until the last couple years that I became so invested in lyrical weight. I’ve been lucky enough to have played shows with and befriended amazing songwriters like Joseph Huber, JD Wilkes, Sean Geil, Mike Oberst, Tyler Childers, Willy Tea Taylor, Benjamin Tod, and so many more, and those folks have all inspired and pushed me as much as the heroes I’ve studied for years. I’ve really learned to shift my focus from being a well rounded musician on multiple instruments to where story telling and lyric writing have become as big if not a bigger part of my life.”

His years of study and effort came with a payoff back in May as Joe’s Truck Stop released a brand new 12 track album entitled “American Dreams”, their first release since 2014’s EP “Free Showers”.

“American Dreams has felt like a lifetime coming,” he started with a sense of pride. “It’s a fair mix of songs that I’ve written within the last couple years while working on being a better writer, and some that I’ve written many years back that I still love. To make a full length album of original music that I can be proud of has been a dream of mine. I have a fond place in my heart for the ‘Free Showers’ EP, but the truth is I didn’t get as much time to work on it as I would have liked, and I was very new to singing, writing, recording, band leading, and all of that. It was like one big experiment, and maybe even a little overwhelming. I was lucky to have a very good, and patient engineer on those sessions though, Bob Beal at BB3 Studios in New Hampshire, and I’m still definitely proud of that record.”

It’s apparent that Joe considers “American Dreams” to be his crown jewel though. “The music was ready and we had a great group of folks working together on it,” he began as he explained about how the record was made. And while his fingerprints are all over the record, he expressed that those working with him on the project was even more important to him than what he was able to do on the record. “The core band on the album included myself singing the songs and playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, and lap steel. Andrew McPheters was on banjo/vocals, Ben Sweeney on electric guitar, Dave Hathaway on bass/vocals, and Aaron Cordell on drums. That’s been our local lineup more recently and I’m grateful to have had these guys help me materialize these ideas. We were also joined by local music aficionados Ricky Nye, Blake Taylor, Maria Carrelli and members of Over the Rhine, Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle, Krystal Peterson and the Queen City Band. It was a group effort that came together beautifully.”

Unlike with “Free Showers” Joe felt more comfortable all during the process of recording this time around, he recalled. “We recorded with Jacob Tippey (The Frankl Project, Calumet) at a few local studios including Ultraseude Studio and the Martini Church. There isn’t enough I could say about Jacob and working with him. And even if I did take the time to list all his great qualities here, it wouldn’t affect his ego any. He’s one of the hardest working folks I know and emotionally invests himself in sharing your message. You can’t ask for much else as you lay your heart on the line than someone who believes in it just as much as you do the way Jacob did.”

The reception to the album, released in May, has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s given Joe a euphoric sense of pride. “It’s been so rewarding to see folks enjoying and sharing the album all over the world. We’ve been getting a lot internet radio plays in Europe and we’re starting to get a bit of terrestrial airplay here in the US. That’s something I hope keeps growing as I love public radio and see the work so many stations put in quite often as the backbone to a local music scene. I’d like to thank all the stations that have been playing the record and helping spread it with us and for us.”

I mentioned to Joe that oftentimes releasing an album is kind of a plateau of the music process, where things become less hectic trying to get a record done and you just hit the road and play the songs to the people who love them. Joe agreed, but said he wasn’t turning away from the future, not even for a moment. “I’m already excited to get to work on the next one,” he said laughing. “The follow up to “American Dreams” will be a more stripped down acoustic album featuring originals new and old, old time fiddle tunes, and a couple old country blues songs. It’s going to be just as diverse as everything that’s come before it!”

He’s even doing his part to remain active in other groups as well, adding “I still play sets with a bunch of other bands here and there and the spontaneity of this life has made me able to adapt to just about anything. I’ve got a regular gig Tuesday nights (when I’m in town) at Sis’s on Monmouth in Newport, KY with the Northern Kentucky Bluegrass Band. We’ve got a revolving cast of local Bluegrass heroes and they help keep me on my sideman toes, too.”

Through it all, all of the work he puts in with his own band and others, Joe never loses sight of what makes him who he is. He never shies away from putting any kind of work in, and he seems to embrace any calamity it brings, viewing it all as opportunity. Opportunity to learn. To get better. To make a new connection. To just do something he loves.

“Whether it’s through story, melody, or groove, my main objective is to inspire people to connect with their most human side. Away from all the material objects, away from what we think we need. When it’s just words, harmony, and rhythm. I’d like to create something for folks to relate to, to let other folks know it’s okay to feel and that they’re not alone, to help them understand and open up to emotions they haven’t felt, and to be okay with shaking their ass if the song touches them so. Basically, I’d like to help people realize what’s not important, stop caring about it, enjoy their lives, and then that in itself can create a positive karmic feedback loop. You start to feel optimistic, more empathetic and compassionate, there is so much power to music, poetry, and the communities it forms. It has completely changed and defined my life, and I hope to share that with as many folks I can.”

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