Musician offers the gift of music

Musician sees more value in performing for charities than playing for money

By Otis R. Taylor Jr.

Jeremy Joseph writhed as he sang, accompanied by music on an iPod, in front of a small but curious crowd at Conundrum Music Hall in April. Joseph, who records and performs under the name Daddy Lion, an indie-pop act that has been playing in Columbia for more than a year, was the opening band for a PETS Inc. benefit he had organized.

Joseph, a transplant from the Washington, D.C., area, usually plays for a cause and tonight is no different. Daddy Lion will share the Conundrum stage with Can’t Kids, one of the most prominent bands on the scene, Wasted Wine and Reverends for a show that will benefit Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands.

Bands playing a benefit concert for a worthy cause, or for a fellow down-on-their-luck musician, is nothing new, particularly in Columbia, a city where musicians are quick to unite. But a guy playing for free all the time is abnormal.

What gives?

“Once I had done one, it became very addicting,” Joseph said while explaining the altruistic chord that was struck in 2009.

Joseph, who was raised in Bethesda, Md., a D.C. suburb, had read an online article urging the local creative set to, essentially, do something. Joseph decided to put on a Save Darfur concert. His next three benefits were scheduled within months of each other.

“Then I realized it made more sense to space it out, try to get the charities involved and promote better,” he said. “But once you start doing that, you put on a show and it raises some money and brings attention to a good cause, that becomes, like, a responsibility.

“If I don’t do it, I will feel bad about not doing it.”

Joseph said he organized eight benefits in D.C., including one for Partners in Health, an organization known for its work in Haiti, immediately after the catastrophic earthquake shook the Caribbean country in 2010. In Columbia, along with the PETS Inc. show in April, Joseph put together a benefit for the Children’s Trust of South Carolina in July.

In the past, Joseph has notified an organization of his fundraising efforts — or just presented a check. Tonight’s show for STSM is the first time he has contacted an organization to participate in the planning, which began months ago.

“It is inspiring to get a phone call out of the blue from someone like Jeremy, who contacted us this summer to ask if he could hold a benefit concert for STSM,” said Elizabeth Wolfe, STSM’s development coordinator. “When STSM receives such unsolicited support, it means that people know about our work. It means that people care for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. It means that people want to stop sexual violence. That’s inspiring.”

Joseph, who said the most he’s raised at a show is around $600, isn’t the only person performing locally for charity. Patti O’Furniture, a glamorous drag performer, has raised more than $300,000 for AIDS and HIV-related charities by donating all of her tips. Heart ‘n Soul, a party band, is, according to its website, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to playing ’50s and ’60s rhythm and blues for charity.”

There are artists other than musicians participating in the STSM benefit. The arts magazine Jasper coordinated the readings by poets and authors Cassie Premo Steele, Brandi Ballard, Lauren Allen and Ashley Strosnider.

Joseph, who is studying for doctorate in philosophy at USC, won’t be singing along with his iPod at the show because it broke recently. He’ll play guitar. In July, Daddy Lion released “Habitat,” an album that thematically struggles for spirituality in the face of scientific change.

Washington City Paper, a D.C. alt-weekly, reviewed the release. “ ‘Habitat’ seems to pull the bulk of its sonics from a decaying VHS tape of Dave Kendall-era ‘120 Minutes’ — it’s got more strum than fuzz, more midrange than bass, enough synths to please a Brit, and vocals that are a little bit Joy Division and a little bit Husker Du.”

It’s a great love record, this reporter told the 29-year-old Joseph during an interview at Drip Coffee, a Five Points coffee shop.

“Where did you find the love in there?” Joseph asked, thinking his 2010 self-titled debut had been mistaken for “Habitat.”

The love is heard — and felt — in songs like “Disconnected,” where Joseph pleads, “Don’t leave me wondering.”

“That is a love song, come to think of it,” Joseph said, laughing. “But I saw it as more of a love song less to a person and more to a spiritual nature of man.”

Joseph, who played all the instruments on the record, takes the bedroom recording ethos to the extreme. He recorded the drum sequences separately, as in for every song, he recorded the parts — bass, tom, snare, hi-hat, crash — individually.

“This was a very time-consuming effort,” Joseph said, noting the understatement with a laugh.

He later learned that Joy Division, the English post-punk band, did the same on “Unknown Pleasures,” the band’s debut. The technique was done on purpose to avoid bleed through, allowing the drums to be mixed perfectly.

“It did have the advantage of allowing me to isolate each drum track and mix them as best I could,” said Joseph, who already has the music for his next two albums written.

He did most of recording for “Habitat” during last year’s winter break. It’s the holiday season, so most people, one assumes, are more inclined to give this time of year. But why play for free?

“It’s not playing for nothing, because I like the feeling that it’s becoming more than just a music event,” Joseph said. “It’s becoming a community event.”